Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Page by Paige in HEBREW!

This sorta blows my mind to reveal...
Page by Paige has been printed in Hebrew!

It is really surreal to flip thru the book that YOU drew but you can't read a lick of it.  Even the words I hand-painted have been perfectly altered! Israeli illustrator Alina Gorban really did an amazing job with that task. Also, the book is read right to left so that makes it especially bizarre to flip through, since everything now looks backwards. Backwards. Wow, I can't even imagine what new kids will pick up this book and what they might take away from it! I'm a lucky author indeed...

In conjunction with Israel's official "Month of Reading" (June) I was interviewed by The Notepad, which is an online magazine for children's literature and culture. (Article by Yotam Shwimmer.) Since the article is all in Hebrew, I thought I'd include the English version below! Sorry if it's a bit long-winded.

  • When did you first read a graphic novel and what impact does it had on you? Do you think this genre is more reasonable or effective for young adults nowadays in terms of the artistic expression?
I first read a graphic novel when I moved to New York in 2007, and the timing couldn’t have been better. Because when I moved from my small Southern town to the big city, I was excited to get to know the New York art scene. I went to the gallery opening, museum exhibits, and I was reading a lot about contemporary art. But much to my dismay, I didn’t like most of the new art I was seeing.  In my opinion it was boring, had no emotion resonance, and simply wasn’t SAYING anything. It implied that in order to say something truthful, it must be ugly or banal.  It invited consumption rather than interaction or conversation. Then there I was going around to galleries trying to find where my heart-on-my-sleeve artwork fit in, and people seemed more concerned with where I went to school rather than what I was trying to say. I was getting really frustrated, wondering, “Where were MY people?!”

Then someone gave me a copy of “Fun Home” by Alison Bedschel, and it was such a breath of fresh air. Here was someone telling a story that was beautiful, insightful, funny, and kept me thinking about it for days afterwards. Then I read “Blankets” by Craig Thompson, and this was the clincher. There was a page with no panels and no words, just a beautiful drawing of two figures walking through the snow. I thought, “You can DO that??” My work was in sketchbooks for years, and I loved that intimate hand-held format.  Of course I didn’t belong in the galleries, I needed to be in books. And these graphic novels showed me here under my nose was the medium ultimately flexible enough for someone like me, that this was where I belonged. I started reading all the comics I could get my hands on.

I am such an advocate for comics as a form of self expression! Especially for young people, who grow up surrounded with sequential storytelling through film, television, and video games. Contemporary visual culture isn’t painting, sculpture, and still images...it’s moving pictures, multi-disciplinary, and immersive experiences. So we need to keep up with shifting aesthetic platforms if we want to connect with how the next generation thinks. Comics incorporates writing skills as well as visual storytelling, it can be done alone or collaboratively, it can be made digitally or on paper, it can be sketchy or eloquently painted...it is adaptable for whatever your style is. All you need is pencil, paper, and dedicated time...and you can create a whole new world. You can show us the world in your head.
  • Does Page by Paige is based in some levels on your life as a teenager and as an artist to be?
If I based Page by Paige on my REAL teenage years, it would have been such a boring book! I was such a introverted nerdy overachiever in school. I was in the marching band, played violin in the orchestra, drew comics for the school paper, and was a Girl Scout. I loved sci-fi, fine art, and being as invisible as possible.  I wanted Paige to be someone who I would have enjoyed reading as a teenager, someone slightly more evolved than me so I could learn from her while still finding her relatable.  Paige is based more on who I was in my early 20s, which is when I first started making art for myself. She’s like the timid self-doubting side of my personality, who wants to be more but struggles to grow out of her comfort zone because she is so sensitive.

The book was also sprinkled with some of my experiences from when I moved to New York, because that was a challenging period when I turned more to my art for support. When things get rough is always when I rely more on my art to help me through. Many things in the book were inspired by real life experiences from here and there, strung together like beads on a necklace. For example, in the book Paige does street art under the name Finch. I have done some myself under the name Karat, but focused more on hanging brass etchings.

  • What drove you to create Page by Paige? And why did you decide to write a graphic novel rather than an illustrated YA novel, for example?
In school I studied education, and after getting my Master’s degree I actually taught art in the public schools for a couple years. This was where my artistic journey really began, because I felt like I didn’t know how to teach someone else how to truly be an artist if I didn’t know how to be one myself. I wanted to understand creative thinking, where inspiration comes from, and how to maintain sustainable artistic practices outside the structure of school in the real world. So I bought a sketchbook and started drawing everyday, deciding to use myself as a guinea pig. 700 drawings later, I finally started working on loose paper and sharing my work with others. It was a very humbling, private process of self discovery. But it was my own art therapy where I developed my own language of metaphors with which I could understand the world and myself.

I got the opportunity to pitch a graphic novel to Abrams Books, but at the time my work was illustrative rather than comics. I was stubborn and didn’t want to change my style, but I knew this opportunity was once in a lifetime. I had read only a dozen graphic novels by this point, so it seemed incredibly intimidating for someone who never took an illustration or writing class.  But I thought, hey, this is a way of teaching what I’ve learned about finding my voice as an artist, which can be an isolating, humbling, soul-searching process. Most people give up. So I decided I would try to make a book that would simply encourage people not to give up. To teach through narrative rather than by standing in front of a classroom. As children we all naturally draw, sing, dance, build things, tell stories, and play. (Play is essential to develop creative thinking.) We all just stop doing these things along the way for a variety of reasons, mostly because we become self-conscious about it. But as humans we NEED to express ourselves and play to maintain emotional health.

So I took off three months from work and decided to write this graphic novel, but only if I could do it in a way that was authentic to my whimsical illustrative style. So it flips between traditional sequential panels (portraying Paige’s reality) and my splashy illustrations (portraying Paige’s imagination). This book was definitely my stepping stone into comics as a format. In my new book I really made an effort to weave the “imaginary element” more naturally through the panels, exploring more thematic metaphors rather than sticking to just the visual metaphors.
  • In your experience, how Publisher and editors capture graphic novels? Do you think the industry in the U.S.A is treated graphic novels as a respected genre?
Graphic novels have definitely been  growing in popularity in the United States over the past decade, and have been gaining more acceptance in schools/ libraries.  As an educator, I think graphic novels are great for more reluctant readers who might struggle with traditional books. I know I would struggle with reading sometimes, because I was a visual learner and would have to visualize the story as I read it in order to keep the characters/story straight. Also, since comics has both verbal and visual components it actually utilizes both sides of the brain. Even though it has gained popularity, graphic novels as an art form are still considered to be in the “low brow” category along with things like street art. Which in my mind makes us the avant garde, since we’re the ones making boundary-pushing content out of love rather than profit.

Publishers are looking to expand their graphic novel libraries, I think for many reasons. Comics are gaining more acceptance as a literary form, they’re being included more in school curriculums, and Hollywood mines the comics world for new content for films/ TV shows. One current trend is adapting classic books into a graphic novels, which I don’t see as replacing the original work but rather presenting it as something fresh and accessible for a contemporary audience. If publishers were not seeking out more comics, I don’t think I would have had the opportunity I did to pitch my book. There is especially a need for more female voices in comics, because there is a growing female audience and they might not necessary relate to stories of macho superheroes.

  • Tell us about the design of the plot in Page by Paige. How did you use the structure of the book as an object in the genre of graphic novel to reflect the interesting relation between the themes and the plot and the way they are being designed through the drawings?
I love duality. In traditional comics you often see the different aspects of a person’s personality portrayed externally by having a character with an alter ego, secret superpower, or evil twin. But as an introvert, this process is more of an internal journey. So how could I make an introverted character externally dynamic and interesting?? That’s when I decided to show her imagination woven throughout her reality, make the internal process external. Which really does show how my brain works. I’ll be present and talking to you one minute, then I get swept into my head with some crazy idea and I’m totally not paying attention.  Someone asks how I’m doing, and I often think in pictures before words. With Paige in particular, I wanted to show the difference between who we present publicly versus who we are actually in our heads. Creative expression is such a good stepping stone to bring the inner you out for the rest of us to enjoy.
  • The book is burst with visual images that reflect both Paige inner world and creative spirit and the reality she describe in her sketch book. Plus, your book is a great example for an Ares poetic piece that use the pattern of a diary to says something about creativity. Please share with us your comment on these issues.
I suppose Page by Paige does have the spirit of a diary, but uses the sketchbook as a more visual platform. I’ve always loved the intimacy of sketchbooks and diaries, how you get the feeling you’re holding part of someone else in your hands. It feels less censored in more honest. It can be a bit voyeuristic, but if you connect with the character I think this can only increase this feeling of trusted intimacy. Which can otherwise be hard to accomplish considering many modern readers might be too jaded to really care about a character. But I suppose that’s why I wrote Paige for people who are like me, as thought I could go back in time and give myself a book. What did I need to hear? What sort of model did I need to see? What would have helped me work though those obstacles on the way to finding my voice and becoming myself? I always kept journals and they helped me work though problems before I could even talk to other people about them. My sketchbooks then replaces the journals. But all my art always starts with writing first, then from there the visuals come into focus. If I don’t write or draw about my feelings for a few weeks, man, does it show. I get really cranky and emotionally pent up but can’t talk about it. Thoughts simply come out easier through my hands than my lips.
  • In your book you describe the first steps a young girl is doing towards adulthood and accepting herself. Since her sketch book is her diary and the drawings increase her thoughts and emotions through the visual images – how did you find the correct balance and the perfect dose of self-study without make it too obvious or overwhelming?
One problem making a story that is rooted in personal experiences is that it can easily be unrelatable to other people.  But this makes it a good challenge, because instead of simply being self-indulgent you have to decide what you’re really trying to say. What’s going on at a deeper level. Focus on those underlying themes and then build your world on top of it. After all, I make stories so I can better understand myself but not so you as a reader can understand ME better. I want it to help YOU understand yourself better. So how do you walk that line? For me, I do this through my language of metaphors. dBecause people interpret metaphors totally differently, and they leave room for the reader to apply it to their own life. You can personalize the moment and put yourself in the character’s shoes. It’s my way of being as specific as possible but still trusting the reader to interpret it according to their own unique perspective.

  • Please tell us about your new graphic novel.
My new graphic novel is called “Will &Whit,” and it revolves around a 17 year-old character named Wilhelmina (“Will”) Huckstep who makes lamps because she’s scared of the dark. Her shadows are alive, expressing her fears and insecurities. The story is set in the summertime in a small town Virginia (based on my hometown) where old-fashioned Will longs for unplugged adventures with her quirky friends. She gets her wish when a hurricane named Whitney comes to town and knocks out the power, which brings everyone together and they actually put on a fun arts carnival. But the flip side of the blackout is that Will finally has to face her fears. This story is about chaos and control, strength through vulnerability, technology and community, friendship and love, and yes, death.  This book was quite a cathartic experience for me.

I’m actually developing this graphic novel as a multi-disciplinary musical for young people, which I am thrilled about! Yet I’m admittedly intimidated, because it is a whole new format for me.  Page by Paige models how to get a sketchbook and start making art for yourself, which is more of a solitary journey. But Will & Whit takes this a step further by modeling how to create community, how to support each other and combine forces to make something bigger together. Turning the story into a musical is my way of bringing the lessons I’ve learned working with a variety of artists here in New York to mainstream America.

  • Since the industry is going toward the digital medium, what do you think is the strength of the graphic novel as a genre (that will or could be create as a digital book), and could it gain from the digitalization? 
Some people fear that people will stop reading paper books all together as digital content grows, but I really think there is an audience for both.  I feel like digital books will continue to grow in popularity since it’s convenient and and reading tablets are becoming more affordable. Paper books might simply become more a niche market for enthusiasts, similar to the place that vinyl records have in the music industry.  In my mind, I predict that the superhero comic industry will turn mostly digital because let’s face it, who has room to store all those long boxes of trade comics? Also, they come out on a weekly basis so a downloadable comic is perfect. Whereas I think the indie comics world will remain more in the paper market. Because indie comic fans like myself see it more as an artistic format and prefer having that physical connection with the page. We geek out over the production quality. We want to hold a book in our hands, carry it around in our bag, pass it along to a friend. 

I have seen some interesting uses of the digital format (like “Power Play”), but these are the ones that are designed FOR digital.  But they have a different feel than comic books, they rather lean more towards motion comics or storyboarded film. They utilize panel-to-panel storytelling without the need for a multi-panel page layout.   I’m not opposed to entering the digital realm myself, but that’d be down the road and only if I got a really fun idea. I like exploring different formats and media all the time, so if I went digital it would be an idea that I could ONLY do that way.
  •  What – to your opinion – makes a good graphic novel?
Graphic novels are a truly unique format, combining visual storytelling with written narrative in an intimate package. I think the best graphic novels are the ones that take advantage of its flexibility and create a world you can really lose yourself in.  I like inventive layouts and compositions that surprise me from page to page. I love when people bring in other techniques like photography, watercolor, or collage. I enjoy it when writers allow the art to speak on its own rather than clogging up the pages with too many words. I like pages that breathe and invite my eyes to linger. I’m a sucker for good craftsmanship, especially expressive linework. Besides technique, I like stores that are honest, resonant, and brave. Don’t talk down to me as a reader, just trust yourself and trust me. If an author pours their heart and soul into the work, you can see it and feel it. That’s what captivates me the most.

In other news...
I got specifics for Heroes Con in North Carolina this upcoming weekend! I'm sharing a table with Brooklyn illustrator Sara Woolley in a prime spot on Indie Island, table #1029

And my Young Adult Graphic Novel Panel? It's at 12:30 on Saturday in Room 206. Moderated by Christopher Irving and featuring myself along with Chris Schweizer (Crogan’s Adventures), Maris Wicks (Primates), and Jim Ottavani (Two Fisted Science).

Currently Reading: Walt Disney: the Triumph of the American Imagination...by Neal Gabler.

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