A Father and Daughter: Carol Tyler on You'll Never Know

You'll Never Know

Carol Tyler has been successful as a comedy performer and as a painter, but her first love is comics. She’s been a strong voice in the independent scene going back to the late 80s when her autobiographical strips appeared in Last Gasp’s Weirdo.

Since then, she appeared in dozens of anthologies and magazines and in 2005 published the well-received book Late Bloomer. She has a new book coming out later this spring (around the end of April), titled You’ll Never Know: Book 1: “A Good and Decent Man”, a memoir ostensibly focused on her relationship with her father. Finally opening up to her about his experiences in World War II, her father shares stories here that he had never told anyone in forty years. However, as family is a tangled web, Tyler’s book ranges beyond her paternal connections and explores corners of her life as a daughter, a mother and a wife.

She took some time to answer our questions about You’ll Never Know and family.

Newsarama: I love how you changed your page designs to accent the “voices” of yourself, your father and your daughter. At what point in the creative process did that idea take hold, and how difficult was it to find the appropriate graphic style for each of you?

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C. Tyler: I knew from the beginning that I’d be juggling many different stories, points of view, voices, eras and so on. So for the sake of clarity, I had to figure something out visually – although not everything was nailed down at the beginning. But that’s part of the fun of doing it.

I’m kind of an intuitive worker when it comes to inventing visuals. And a perfectionist, always trying to draw better. I trust in the little things that happen while playing around with the ink. Try a little of this, a little of that. If it looks good, use it. If not, prepare to be embarrassed. Or frantically redo the panel before it goes to press.

NRAMA: Trying to understand our fathers and what they’ve passed down to us is a very common theme, even in comics where Art Spiegelman and Alison Bechdel explored it to great effect. What is it about learning to understand your father that drove you in creating You’ll Never Know?

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CT: I’ve been telling stories about Dad and Mom since way back in the 80s with Weirdo. Most of those stories were reprinted in my last book Late Bloomer, which is still in print if you want to read more. My parents are an endless source of inspiration. However, it was rather recently that Dad told me this war stuff. I’m sure you’ve heard about how WWII veterans are dying out at an alarming rate, so considering his age, I felt a tremendous responsibility to do it now. He’ll be 90 this year. As will my Mom.

NRAMA: Another of the family themes is your relationship with your mother and with your daughter, as well as how your mother related to your father, and you to your then-separated husband. Were those elements you set out to explore, or did digging into one relationship automatically open up threads through the rest of your life?

CT: Yes, I did set out consciously to explore them. It was an unavoidable, snarled-up ball of convoluted interconnected threads that began in Late Bloomer with “The Outrage.” That story ended with a ‘to be continued’ and it does in fact continue in You’ll Never Know. I think at one time I was going to continue the themes from “The Outrage” in a separate book called 1997, but ultimately couldn’t see extracting it out. It fits here.

NRAMA: The entire book seems like a struggle to balance three roles: daughter, wife and mother. The book even looks like a family scrapbook. How much of these books are about deciphering your life as a woman today as much as it is about the relationships you explore?

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CT: No need to decipher my life as a woman any more. I figured it out years ago and it’s really quite simple: Hippie Chicks Rule – which is actually what the bumper sticker on my pick-up truck reads.

NRAMA: (laughs) You retell several of your father’s stories about WW2. Which was the most powerful story to you?

CT: I waited 35 years for him to tell me anything and then one day I heard it all. Because of the way it was presented to me, it’s entirely interesting. I can’t discern. So I’ll have to say all of it, the whole thing. Truly. It’s all very powerful to me.

NRAMA: You used several found objects in the book, including a letter from your father and his drawing of the Panama Canal. It adds a lot of authenticity to the reading experience. I imagine that they also add history for you?

CT: Yes, I was lucky to have original materials to work with. Like photos he took at Camp Forrest in Tennessee. And his Lane Technical High School notebook is priceless. There’s so much stuff. We are a family of interesting personal artifacts. No Tiffany Lamps or Civil War buckles, but yes, the kayak Dad built from scratch when he was 8 is still hanging up in his workshop, coated with decades of ‘old-growth walnut’ sawdust. He just built a roll-top desk last year. And I’ve got plenty of my own interesting personal artifacts. We all do. Precious memories are the subject of many a song and countless old cross-stitch samplers.

Besides, I am an archivist and a historian at heart. My idea of a good time is going to a rare books room. Researching WWII for this story has been a joy. I’m honored that I had the opportunity to do it.

NRAMA: Justin, your husband is also a cartoonist, and a very influential one at that. Do you compare notes on your works? Does it give you perspective for you each to explore your lives through your work?

CT: Justin is a comix biggie and all Props go to him. But for the most part, we do not compare notes. I’m proud of my individuality and work ethic, and I insist upon maintaining my independence as an artist. Occasionally during the editing phase I will seek his advice, but never when I’m in that creative/muse-y thing.

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Truly the person who has had the most creative input on this book is my sister Ginia. Her perspective and enthusiasm have been invaluable. As has been my Mom’s contributions. There’s an emotional component I get from considering the work through them. And of course there’s Dad who’s perfect by being completely Chuck Tyler at all times.

NRAMA: What’s coming up in volumes 2 and 3 of You’ll Never Know, and how will they complement or diverge from the first book?

CT: Books II & III extend the story. A lot more getting down to the nitty-gritty. The five main characters all go through what they need to in order to reach the dramatic conclusion. Book I, ‘A Good & Decent Man’, gets the party started. Book II goes on to explore the ‘Collateral Damage’ and Book III, ‘Soldier’s Heart’, is the completion. It’s exciting, so stay tuned!

NRAMA: For that matter, with the growth of graphic novels, why did you choose to split You’ll Never Know into three books?

CT: There are some pretty weighty subjects to explore and I had to come up with a way of managing the intensity. Also, I couldn’t help but notice those calendar pages turning more quickly for Dad. Realizing that I work kinda slow and that a graphic novel takes forever to write and draw … Let me put it this way: I just wanted him to be able to enjoy some of the hoopla that comes with the release of a book as soon as I could make it happen.

You’ll Never Know: Book 1: “A Good and Decent Man” ships in late April from Fantagraphics. C. Tyler can be found online at BloomerLand.

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