The Frankenstein story may be familiar to most readers, but a new graphic novel combining watercolor, pencils and collage offers a trash-heap twist on the age-old tale.
"It's a whimsical imagining of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch," said artist/author Rachel Hope Allison. "In my story, it comes to life. I compare it to the Frankenstein monster because it's kind of dangerous and gross, but it's also just-born and childlike, and wants to have an emotional connection with things around it."
I'm Not A Plastic Bag comes out April 18th, just in time for Earth Day. The story, which is told entirely without words, makes a fictional character out of the real-life Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where discarded plastic bottles, lids and bags swirl into a giant concentration of floating trash in the ocean."We follow different pieces of trash at the beginning of the story, and follow them through the wind or the water, as they all make their way out to the ocean," Allison said. "And they swirl around and create the garbage patch, and then it comes alive. It ends up searching for its place in the beauty of nature."
I'm Not a Plastic Bag is being published by Archaia in association with JeffCorwinConnect Inc., a multimedia company launched by Jeff Corwin of Animal Planet fame. The graphic novel begins with Allison's graphic novel, but is followed by illustrated information about marine debris and ocean pollution."Basically, at it's heart, I hope I'm Not a Plastic Bag is a good story, regardless of the fact that it's about a real environmental problem," Allison said. "The politics around anything 'green' so often just polarize people and shut down further exploration — and the garbage patch is such a strange, fascinating phenomenon on it's own, I wanted to be able to appreciate it on it's own terms. For me, I could do that best with a story about loneliness and longing and hope.
"So I hope it's not just educational for people," the artist said. "I hope it also inspires them get excited about nature and use their imagination."For the graphic novel's unique look, the artist layered collage with her usual style of drawing and painting in watercolors.
"When I figured out that I wanted to do a story about the garbage patch, I started trying to draw the garbage in pencil, but it didn't really capture what I wanted, so I started playing around with collage. I love the textures. It made a lot more sense," she said.
For the collage portions of the art — used mainly on the patch monster itself and the expanses of water — Allison shot photographs of water and trash, but then manipulated them with her own art."I would print out the pictures, then paint over them and draw over them. Then I'd cut it all up and collage it into the design, drawing over it some more," she said. "So some pieces in the book are collage, and some pieces, like the animals who come in and out of the story, and the people and places, I drew myself."
The artist originally completed the work for her MFA, but after the project was completed, she sent it out to publishers, hoping the book would get published.
"I ended up just self-publishing it in 2009, mostly for myself and friends," she said.What happened next, she calls "dumb luck."
"The next year, I went to a friend's wedding, and I brought a copy for somewhere there, and I happened to sit next to Mark Smylie's brother at that wedding, and Mark Smylie is the [founder and] chief creative officer at Archaia," she said.
"It was really random," she said. "It just kind of came out in conversation that I had done this, and I happened to have it on me, so I showed it to him. And then it got rolling from there."
Allison said the book is all ages, although it does have a bit of a sad theme of longing. "It's something that all ages can enjoy," she said. "It's got some dark moments, but when I was a kid, I think some of my favorite stories were actually quite dark and kind of honest about dark things."Now that I'm Not A Plastic Bag has been published, Allision hopes she can do more graphic novels. Although her days are spent working for a firm does communications for nonprofit organizations, she spends evenings and weekend doing her own projects.
"I love the form," she said. "This is my first time working in this format of graphic novels, but I would love to do more."