In this third part of our King Con spotlight panel with the How to Understand Israel artist, we discuss the importance of distance in memoir and the illusion of objectivity in journalism.
You were putting work up on Flickr when you first started. That material wasn’t necessarily directed specifically at people who read comics.
It was just a platform to get work out there.
Right. But then I guess I sort of just fell into the comics world. I met Julia Wertz through Flickr, because she was also posting comics on there, at the same time. And she knew all of these people who were doing comics in San Francisco. And then, through Tom Hart, who I met through another friend, I was introduced to the Brooklyn comics scene.
So I was just gradually getting to know people, and then I learned through them that ‘oh, there’s these conventions,’ and ‘oh, this is how you Xerox minicomics.’ I went to a workshop at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art that showed you how to make a zine and how to do layouts and things like that.
I made my first mini-comic, and then I learned that I could take it to the convention and trade it, and then I started to meet all of these other people doing this. And then, all of the sudden, you’re in the middle of this little world, where everyone is doing this. It’s like Hicksville.
How different is the work in the final book from the stuff that appeared in the original minis?
They look really different, because they’re in color, and I think the drawing is a little bit better.
It was completely re-drawn?
Yeah, I completely re-drew it. I had started making the book chapter-by-chapter. The idea was that I would serialize it and then maybe one day I’ll be ready to have a publisher.
When Vertigo found me, and they wanted to put the book out, I decided to re-draw those first two chapters, because they looked crappy. They were in black and white and they were in a kind of different sizing than what Vertigo wanted the final book to look like.
So I re-drew them and I kind of re-wrote them a little bit. I used the mini-comics as kind of a rough draft. I changed a lot of the panels, but I kept a lot of the compositions the same.
You spoke before about the importance of removing yourself from the source material with time. Did this afford you another level of that, when you went back and re-drew these a couple of years later?
Yeah. The farther away you get from it, the more you’re kind of zooming out from the whole thing. But, I don’t know—I’d already been thinking so much about the whole trip, and I’d already taken a lot of notes, so it wasn’t really that hard to get back into those moments and remember what they were like. My boyfriend at the time was helping me with the editing on this, and whenever I’d get to the point where I didn’t know what to do with a scene, he’d say, “just imagine that you’re back there. What did it feel like?”
Was that the extent of his writing help?
No, no. He helped immensely. He has his own line in the Acknowledgements section. But that’s a really helpful piece of advice. It may sound really obvious, but it’s very different from how I was usually thinking about writing, to put myself back in that moment. When it comes to looking at a period in your experience, moment by moment, you have to be able to put yourself back into your own shoes. You have to be able to empathize with your past self, which is hard to do, because you look at your past self, and it’s like, ‘what an idiot.’ But I think you have to have some sympathy for that person, and understand why they were thinking that way.
It’s similar, in sense to going back and looking at your own work. I know you had said that you had taken it down because you were a bit embarrassed by it. But this is really the narrative approach to doing that.
Where you always going to be a character in the book? You wanted to move away from memoir a bit. Where you always the focal point?
In this book, I didn’t want to move away from memoir. The whole thing takes place in my head. So, yeah, I’m a character in it. For the next book, I plan on being a character too, only because I want to emphasize the fact that this is a subjective work. This is not supposed to be teaching you about something from some kind of weird, elevated objectivity. I don’t think that exists in journalism, at all. You can try, but there’s always going to be someone who is collecting the data and telling the story.
And it’s important to draw attention to that fact?
I think so, yeah. There are certain articles that will say something “when I talked to the King of Jordan…” That kind of stuff brings you back in and reminds you that there’s a person making this stuff and that the information isnt just being plucked out of thin air.
[Concluded in Part Four]