May. 3rd, 2009

starlady: (coraline)
First off, I still have three two Dreamwidth invite codes. Leave a comment to this post, or send me a private message on LJ with your email, if you would like one. Slight preference will be given to mutual LJ or RL friends, but I think on Wednesday morning I will release my codes into the wild if no one claims them before then.

So I went up to New York yesterday for the "International Graphic Novelists" segment of the PEN World Voices Festival. Over the course of three panels I heard Neil Gaiman, Emmanuel Guibert, David Polonsky, Shaun Tan, and Tatsumi Yoshihiro speak about comics and their work. It was quite an interesting set of panels (though I was sad that there didn't seem to be much crossover, and that I forgot my copy of The Graveyard Book to be signed, and that Kinokuniya didn't have any of Tatsumi's work in Japanese), though I was sort of miffed that out of the nine people total who appeared on the stage, only one of the interviewers and the interpreter were female. Alison Bechdel and Fun Home were name-checked in the second panel, but come on, where's the gender equity? Comics aren't just by (or for) men.
  • Both Gaiman and Tatsumi admitted that in some ways they miss the old days when comics were hated and feared; as Gaiman said, "there's a lot of freedom when you're creating in the gutter." Not, however, that the state of gekiga in Japan is really much better these days; when asked about it, Tatsumi attributed it to the lack of a readers' revolution in manga consumption, and lamented the freedom that the "rambunctiousness" of the weekly magazines afforded before their demise in the 70s.
  • While the subject of politics in comics, and in art in general, was more danced around than addressed, Gaiman did say that he thought that "At any point that you are saying things that other people do not want said--writing about people others don't want written about--it's absolutely political." Tan and most of the rest said that they thought that any time you write about people, the political is always there, but Tan said that he thought the responsibility of the artist is honesty, and that politics flows from that. Tan also said that the act of drawing is about defamiliarizing yourself with the everyday, to take nothing for granted, which he finds very similar to the immigrant experience. David Polonsky remarked that the artist's job is to make sense of things that most people only feel.
  • Tatsumi's monumental manga memoir 漫画漂流 has just been published in English as A Drifting Life (flipped, unfortunately, but otherwise gorgeous), but when asked he admitted that he changed the protagonist's name and the names of people in his life so that he could be completely honest about the events of his life. He cited the Japanese 私小説 (I-novel) tradition as precedent for this, but I was reminded of what Guibert said about biography (he's done graphic novel biographies of two his friends), which is that in a hidden way it is autobiography, since it's filtered through the biographer.
  • Shaun Tan said some of the most interesting things of the afternoon, to my mind, when he explicitly situated his work in the space between graphic novels and picture books--his wordless graphic novel The Arrival is printed like a picture book, but has no words (so that it would be universal, he said, and to lengthen the viewing experience) and uses panel layouts at times--which he said he lifted from The Snowman. He also said that he was inspired by photo albums, which tell a choronogical story but lack narration, which one fills in as one looks through them, so that the story resides somewhere between you and the photos themselves.
  • Similarly, Guibert said he was inspired to create The Photographer after noting the similarity between panel layouts and contact sheets of undeveloped photos, though, as he said, when photographs and drawings are juxtaposed (as he does in his work), "there's always one trying to kill the other."

They sold out of The Arrival right before I got to the sale table, so I bought Shaun Tan's new book Tales from Outer Suburbia for him to sign instead. I read it while on my way home on the train (side note: I ♥ trains so much), and I was utterly charmed. I've liked Tan since I first encountered his illustrations in Pretty Monsters, but he himself gives Kelly Link a run for her money in his strategic deployment of oddness, in his twisting reality just a bit differently from what we know. I'd say that TfOS is suitable for older children (8+ maybe? I don't know about children), since one of its stories, "The Amnesia Machine," is the most trenchant two-page criticism of George W. Bush's administration (or of John Howard's government, since Tan is Australian) that I've ever encountered, and its mordant humor only heightens its creepy effect.

I also went with some friends to the redhead, which is an amazing (and pretty decently priced) New Southern restaurant on the east side just south of Union Square. The fried chicken was glorious, my cocktail quite tasty, and the bacon peanut brittle pretty damn delicious. Check it out if you get the chance.

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