Wednesday, September 30, 2009

You'll Never Know, Book One: A Good and Decent Man

Carol Tyler was a VIP at the 2009 Small Press Expo. I had never read anything by her before this weekend. I had seen her name, and read a very little bit about her, but that was it. That was another one of those situations where my ignorance is my loss, whether I realize it or not. Fortunately for me SPX was there to help me. I attended the Q&A that comics critic Douglas Wolk did with Carol on Sunday of the show. I am really glad I did.

Listening to Carol Tyler talk was a highlight of the show for me. I think a lot of the creators and exhibitors there would have been greatly served by hearing the parts of her story and her approach to cartooning that she shared. She spoke at length about her new book from Fantagraphics that deals with her father's time in World War II and his long silence about it. Part of what was really driven home in her talk was how her father's story is not an exceptional one, how from the time of the war forward he was part of a great fraternity that includes pretty much anyone that has gone to war, and his tendency to be closed lipped about it is the rule of his era.

Her father is a poster child for that era in my opinion. He pursued the woman he was attracted to, he was a bit of a goof and a wise-acre when he was younger, he served his country because it was what people did, and after the war he didn't speak of it for decades. He was crusty and could be a real son of a bitch, but he did what he had to to support his family. I could go on further with traits like that. All of those things make him identifiable and also give the story it's impact.

We are served the story in the context of the artist herself. Her husband left her and her daughter, and she is doing what it takes to keep things going for the two of them. Throughout her life she saw evidence of his involvement in WWII, but it was not a subject her father would talk about. It was an empty space in his story that she thought must hold some clues to understanding him as she knew him. His unwillingness to talk about his war-time past ended with a phone call she received from him one day, and that kicked off what would become the impetus for this book. The book contains an account of her life at the time, focusing on the rebuilding of a scrapbook of his army days, and recounting his story from that time.

The art is wonderful, and I believe she said it was done entirely in inks. Her style is one of cartoony but expressive and identifiable people set against lush and beautifully detailed backgrounds that are just superb. Her caricature of herself is one of the most honest representations I have seen from an artist. The book itself is over sized and reminiscent of a family album in its dimensions. She stated in her talk that she wanted it to be something you really had to sit down with and take slowly, rather than some other format more fitted to a fast read. It was a real pleasure hearing her talk, and also having her sign my copy. I am sad that I have to wait until the end of 2010 for the next installment, but I am certain it will be worth the wait.

One of the things I was most affected by was her imperative to collect and tell people's stories. She has her class do exercises in that vein, interviewing real people and relating real stories. She speaks of the stories she has collected that she hopes to actually produce some day, and it is just magical. It's hard not to be affected by the enthusiasm, or impressed by that gift for seeing things that way. If you have a chance to meet her, or see her speak about anything, really, I recommend it.

Here is a link to Douglas Wolk's write up of this book in the New York Times.

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