It seems like there’s no better time to read comics than today. From the mainstream superhero works firing on all cylinders, classic reprints finally coming back onto shelves, and other works making its way into comic stores, bookstores, libraries, and even a few airports, it’s a good day to be a comics reader.
Another reason is the explosion of new talent. Take Lucy Knisley, for example. She’s been doing comics for several years now, and I first noticed her thanks to BoingBoing.net running a link about her work, and particular her 2008 book French Milk. The book, drawn in an open style akin to such masters as Herge, tells about Knisley’s trip to Paris with her mother. This autobiographical tale is a travelogue come to life, complete with museum tours, dining recommendations, as well as emotional moments that make biographies so rewarding.
Knisley’s done a lot since French Milk; putting out a collection of short stories, gradiated from the Center for Cartoon Studies, and even signed a book deal with First Second. We talked about all of that, and more, in an email interview just after Knisley returned from another trip to Paris.
Newsarama: Thanks for talking to us, Lucy.
First, a confession -- I admit I didn't know about your work until BoingBoing and Drawn.ca profiles your work recently. Have their profiles brought much new attention to your work?
Lucy Knisley: Drawn and BoingBoing have been really amazing-- I've gotten such a great influx of readers, and it was thrilling to be mentioned on such well-read sites. I'm a little overwhelmed by the attention, but it's been wonderful to connect with so many new people who enjoy my work.
NRAMA: Your artwork style seems very reminscient of European illustrators such
as Herge and Yves Chaland. Some people call this 'ligne clair' style – what led you to draw in this manner?
KNISLEY: I grew up reading quite a lot of Tintin, along with Archie comics. I didn't go about attempting to imitate the Ligne Clair style, but some of that Tintin must've made a big impression. It's quite intimidating to be grouped in the same stylistic category as Herge. Perhaps in fifty years when my line is much clearer and my stories are (hopefully) nearly as beautiful, I'll be more comfortable holding myself to that standard. I hope I bring a individualist touch to the clear line, and allow my hand to influence the clarity a little, but I just love the look of that clear, even line.
NRAMA: Your biggest work to date has been the 2008 travelogue French Milk, which documents a trip to Paris with your mother. When I read it I was immediately wanting to go to Paris - do you get that a lot from readers?
KNISLEY: Quite a bit, yes! Fortunately, I love to talk about Paris with readers, and can blab for hours about the food, and my favorite places to visit there. I'm so glad that my book could entice you to visit. While writing the book (or, keeping the journal, really, in the six weeks when my mom and I were there), I was experiencing things so vividly, whether from my transitional age or my frame of mind, and I think the book connects well with readers because the experiences were so sensory and delicious.
NRAMA: Were the pages of French Milk drawn during your trip, or later as you
KNISLEY: Every page was drawn on the trip. I kept a journal while I was there, drawing in cafes or in the evenings when we'd returned home. Fortunately, my mom was also keeping notes on what we did, so we could compare our journals and remember all the things we'd done during the day.
NRAMA: A majority of your work so far has been autobiographical. Do you see this as your primary focus, or do you plan on expanding to fictional material?
KNISLEY: For now, I'm focusing on autobiographical work. I try to use my comics to reach out to find a connection with readers, and autobio is what moves me most. I have plans for longer fictional work in the future, but for now I'm sticking with what comes naturally at the moment, and that's personal stories.
NRAMA: You also recently put out a collection of your journal comics, called Radiator Days. How would you describe that work?
KNISLEY: Radiator Days is a collection of my short comic works, compiling various projects I did during a two year period or so. It's all black and white, and varies from pieces I drew for anthologies, to daily journal comics I kept during a summer I worked at a cheese shop, fictional comics I drew to expand my range, and comics I did as challenges or school assignments. It's a collection of my work while trying to find my style, and many of the comics differ largely in appearance and tone, so it's an interestingly diverse collection of stuff from a young cartoonist. And it's a chunky old thing, weighing in at about 300 pages.
NRAMA: What are you working on currently?
KNISLEY: I just signed my second book deal with First Second Publishing, and I've been eagerly divingin to my new book project. It's a collection of stories about growing up in a family of "foodies;" chefs, caterers, food-critics and restauranteurs (full-color, around 200 pages). I'm very excited about the book, because I've long admired First Second's dedication to making really beautiful comics and I'm hoping to make this one, as beautiful as possible. It's probable title is Relish, and it'll be out, with any luck, sometime in the next couple of years.
This summer, I released a short-run self-published collection of my recent color journal comics. I was curious about making something pretty, and collecting the color experiments I'd been doing over the last year. It's called Pretty Little Book, and I've been promoting that and my other work (French Milk, Radiator Days, and various anthologies in which I have work) at comic arts festivals throughout the summer.
NRAMA: If I’m reading my research right, you're currently studying at the Center of Cartoon Studies - what's that been like for you?
KNISLEY: Actually, I graduated from CCS last month, in early June. It was a really fascinating experience, to work so closely with a group of people so devoted to comics. I spent two years really concentrating on learning about comics, and developing as much as I could in that period of time. It's an intense environment-- My class was almost entirely male, and we were sequestered in a tiny town in Vermont, where we slept, ate and cranked out comics. Everyone came from different places and backgrounds, and our comics were all so different. I met comics heroines, such as Lynda Barry and Alison Bechdel, and worked under the patient tutelage of legends like Steve Bissette and James Sturm. When people ask where I got my masters degree, it's always fun to reply, "Cartoon college."