Oh also, J. Caleb Mozzocco wrote at Robot 6, Comic Book Resources:
What am I reading? As much as I can while still having time to eat, sleep, shower and occasionally get a little work done—as per usual.
My own personal Possible Review pile had a lot of great stuff in it this week. I just finished—like, a few hours ago—Vanessa Davis’ Make Me a Woman, a gorgeous, nine-by-twelve-inch hardcover collection of select autobio strips and short, sketchy diary comics from over the course of six years or so.
It was a really revelatory read for me, in large part because while I knew her name and had read some work over the years, I’ve never read this much Davis at once, and the volume of this, um, volume really transformed the way I saw her work. I think it will be a great library comic and a great coffee table book, as while there are a ton of pleasure for those of us already in love with the medium, a lot of Davis’ strips seem like the sort “civilians” would be interested in as well. That is, I think Make Me a Woman will have rather broad appeal.
APE was insane! Here is blurry proof:
(This is Rina Ayuyang, me, Renee French, and Lynda Barry. Gulp!!)
Then I went to Portland to do a book thing/slideshow with Julia Wertz at Reading Frenzy.
In the meantime, a lot of cool things have occurred on the internet. I really wish I'd been posting these links as they all went up, but I've been freaking out on this book tour!
Here are some really great reviews for Make Me a Woman. I was so excited and happy to read these:
Cartoonist Vanessa Davis works in the cluttered, autobiographical mode of Lynda Barry and Aline Kominsky-Crumb, filling her pages with observations about culture, relationships, and the obsessions of youth. But Davis is very much her own person and her own artist, and Make Me A Woman (Drawn And Quarterly) is one smartly designed collection, combining Davis’ short stories—mostly three-pagers about being young and Jewish in Florida, New York, and California—with pages from her sketchbook. The result is a book that’s more casually revealing than typical autobio comics, recording both Davis’ fully formed insights into her own life and the tossed-off anecdotes and incidents of her average day. Davis is bright and funny and doesn’t take herself too seriously, but she does honestly grapple with her faith and her family in ways that keep Make Me A Woman from being just page after page of self-absorbed scribbling. Whether Davis can sustain this style and tone for more than just short pieces remains to be seen, but she doesn’t necessarily need to go long when she can pack so much humor and insight into a single drawing… B+
Romancing The Stone: Old School Mash Notes
I just finished “Make Me A Woman” by Vanessa Davis, and I feel like I’ve made a friend who I want to hang out with more. I didn’t want the book to end, and I identified with so many of these comics that I'm starting to think Vanessa and I were either cousins or went to Hebrew School together.
It all started on a trip to the comic book store. I was wandering around, trying to find something to read. To be honest, I haven’t been that smitten with anything in some time now, and it was beginning to feel like a bit of a chore to read and write about a comic each week. I picked up this book at random, unaware that it was "new", and the next thing I knew, I was engrossed in the story of Vanessa’s Bat Mitzvah experience.
I know, right? Has anyone every captured this in a comic book? (That's a rhetorical question. I'm sure somebody has.) But this was the first time I'd read one, and the first time I've read anything about that particular experience in a way that takes me back, personally. I rarely (almost never) reflect on that time in my life, but when I do, I usually just marvel that I found the time to practice and memorize a portion of the Torah.
For me, these are very specific "American Jewish Girl" moments that are usually only talked about and relatable in the short time frame in which they actually happen. That period of time, from about 1st grade through 8th grade, the main thrust of all the religious school training that we young Jews have...it's a very specific experience, but it isn't one that has much to do with my adult life, and it isn't one I reflect upon very often. To open a comic and read about it, to have something so specifically relatable to me, but to also get a feeling that it could be a little more universal than I previously expected was like...coming home? I'm digging around here, but that's the only way I can describe it. I felt this comic, on a gut level, but it came out of nowhere and I'm not confident that I'm going to be able to verbalize it very well.
Much later in this collection of comics, there was a series of frames dealing with being an adult Jew in the world, and Davis wrote “I feel lucky to have been brought up in this broad-minded Judaism, that lets me belong, even when I pull away.” It's such a lovely way to crystalize the experience, and I’ve never heard anyone express gratitude for Judaism in that style. It struck me again: this is something I'm relating to on a basic, barely remembered level. These comics aren't about me, but my relation to them, my response to them--it's something further than mere identification. The last thing I’ll say about the whole Jewish-thing (maybe) is that Davis simply references it is as a part of her upbringing. She’s not constantly trying to crack Jewish jokes or throw in a bunch of oy veys. It felt real, it felt honest. It shook me, but not in a negative, overly melodramatic way. To be honest, the most accurate word I'd use for it is that it felt cool, reading something that wasn't corny or overly sentimental.
The other thing that strikes me so much about this book is what Davis is able to capture. There are moments in my life that seem so full, whether they be full of pain or joy or love, but moments and memories that overflow with feeling and meaning. In my life, I tend to try to put those moments into a song or poem. (Often unsuccessfully.) I know how hard that can be, and reading Vanessa’s book, I developed a great love and appreciation for comics as a medium of personal expression. Only in a drawn picture with word and thought balloons can some moments really be captured, it seems. Sometimes, she abandon comments or editorializing, just simply relying on the a particular drawing to deal out a moment that makes its significance known and felt.
Beyond the Judiasm, I related to so much of "Make Me A Woman". Vanessa references places and even a few people in NYC that I’m familiar with. She captures that slightly miserable feeling of dating in New York (and possibly anywhere) by depicting the behavior of single guys and girls and the things they say in a stark yet careful way.
I also adore the way she frames herself and illustrates her own quirks. Particularly sticking out in my mind at the moment is a series of pencil sketches that start with her narrating, “Lately I’ve been experiencing these desperate pangs for people I know...” That sentence alone is hilarious and I know exactly what she was talking about! But then the sketches that follow make it even more hilarious.
This is a wonderfully dense collection of work and I loved every minute of it. It’s a wonderful journey through a life, and the comic critique of Crumb is in just the right place. At no time did I find Vanessa’s (you like how I’ve just gotten so friendly with this person I don't know at all that I’ve taken to calling her by her first name this whole time? No “Davis seems...”. Just “Vanessa is..”. I think that is a reflection on how this book makes one feel like they know her and feel like a friend of hers after reading it) work seem full of ego. As I read her critique on Crumb where she says “Is this why people think auto-bio cartoonists are really self-indulgent assholes?”, I thought “Oh yeah! That IS what I usually think when I've tried to read auto-bio comics!”
It’s true, I have to admit. I’m almost always like, “Ugh....why are you illustrating a totally uninteresting story about your life to me?” But I do not feel that way about these comics/cartoons at all. In fact, there’s always some point beyond “sharing” for each of her anecdotes and tangents. Whether it be simply a form of relatable self-deprecation that seems charming through her comics, or capturing complex relationship dynamics in a fair way, every picture is engaging, fun to look at, and full of life. I’m so glad that I had this opportunity to read this. I’m looking forward to keeping up with Vanessa Davis in the future.
-Nina Stone, 2010
MAKE ME A WOMAN
By Vanessa Davis
176 pages, color & black and white
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Vanessa Davis’s comics are not, at a glance, the sort of experiences that would be universally understood. A love/hate relationship with Jewish boys, going to fat camp, celebrating the High Holy Days, a mother who uses slightly inappropriate and sexually tilted words. "That’s not me at all," you’re probably thinking. But what makes Davis’s comics in Make Me a Woman so good is that somehow, she makes everything relatable to the reader, no matter what their background. Boiling down the emotional experiences of each story to their core, there’s a lot to connect with. And more importantly, fall in love with.
The stories in Make Me a Woman are a mixture of recollections and every-day journal entries, and each have their own particular charm. I was initially familiar with Davis’s comics through her more structured stories, where she picks a specific portion of her life to focus on and then tells it to us over the course of several pages. There’s a lot to love there, with stand out stories including the camaraderie and friendship found at fat camp (I totally want to go now, too), trying to live up to expectations (the last two panels in particular are killer), and "going home for Christmas" (which probably sums up everyone’s family experience at least once in their life). Davis is remarkably unselfconscious in her stories, presenting herself in a relaxed, humorous fashion. It’s that utter lack of a wall between her and the reader that helps make each story so relatable; it invites you in and lets you match your own similar emotions to the ones she experienced, making each story feel like you were somehow there.
At the same time, though, Davis serves up less structured snippets and vignettes from her life throughout Make Me a Woman, and I found myself slightly surprised at how much I loved them as well. They’re usually just a brief moment or scene, recorded in comic form for posterity’s sake, and yet somehow they become engrossing. It helps that Davis doesn’t present these as throw-away pieces, or something that doesn’t deserve the same amount of attention as her full-length stories. Even if it’s just a short conversation on an elevator, Davis brings the people she encounters (as well as herself) to life, making you feel like you’re sitting in the corner and observing all of these moments yourself.
One of the things I found the most interesting about Davis’s Make Me a Woman is her approach to page layout and the traditional idea of panels. For some of her full-color stories done for other publishers (like her Tablet stories) there’s a traditional look to her layouts. Stories move from left to right, usually in rows across the page, separated by her words that form gutters separating the columns of art. It’s in her black and white stories, though, that Davis instead uses the entire page as a single, large art form where the image flows from one moment to the next, the passage of time unencumbered by panel borders or separations. As your eye moves across the page, each drawing bleeds into the next, but it’s still incredibly easy to follow. It’s a beautiful technique, one that is hard to pull off even as Davis makes it look effortless. It’s a different type of storytelling than most people are used to in comics, but it’s one that I hope Davis never abandons.
As for the figures within the art, Davis draws people in a relaxed and realistic manner. Davis draws herself so close to reality that when I met her at the Small Press Expo this year I was able to instantly pick her out of a crowd. From the way her hair falls around her face and shoulders, to the freckles on her cheeks and nose, she looks as attractive and down-to-earth on the page as in real life. She’s remarkably good at capturing other details like posture and body language, too; from laughing over a silly note left on food, to a nervous swig from a bottle of beer at a club, people move and act true to life. It’s hard to say whether I like her black and white or color art more; while the black and white drawings come across as much more intimate and personal, she has a strong sense of color that pops off the page without ever looking garish or out of place. It’s a great look and each new page made me fall in love with her art all over again.
When reading Make Me a Woman, it’s hard to not feel like you’ve somehow become friends with Davis by the book’s conclusion. She lets you into her life and share her thoughts, and in such a welcoming, friendly manner. If hanging out with Davis on a regular basis is even half as enjoyable as her book, her boyfriend, family, and friends are all extremely lucky people. This is, easily, one of my favorite books of the year. Highly recommended.
CR Review: Make Me A Woman
Creator: Vanessa Davis
Publishing Information: Drawn and Quarterly, hardcover, 176 pages, October 2010, $24.95
Ordering Numbers: 9781770460218 (ISBN13), 1770460217 (ISBN10)
Here's how effective a cartoonist Vanessa Davis has become: during one of the many cartoons involving her mother, I actually found myself looking at the picture of Davis when I was surprised by what her mom had said. I wanted to know if I heard correctly, and if I had, what her reaction was so I could then offer my own. This kind of conspiratorial glancing doesn't happen to me a whole lot in life or in art, and certainly never has with cartoons. Make Me A Woman sneaked up on me, and I went into the experience with my eyes wide open and full of admiration for the best of what Davis can do. She exceeded my expectations.
My respect for Davis' cartooning is almost solely derived from a series of water-colored on-line cartoons she did for Tablet, an on-line Jewish general interest publication firing off in a half-dozen different direction (this promising cartoonist, that award-winning blog). One of the great advantages of the Internet is that what may be lost within the framework of a magazine or simply one of the features takes on single-click primacy. I thought many of the cartoons, reprinted in this volume, extremely pleasurable and diverting, side journeys into a life and lifestyle I had no hope of understanding. Key to Davis' explorations into certain aspects of her life was how she portrayed herself, basically as one of those smart, slightly self-deprecating, openly endearing comedic anchor figures that gives all the good lines to everybody else but is so central to the proceeding that she can knock you flat with the tiniest shift in communicated perspective. They were sort of like the best workplace coffee-room stories ever, but they were also very pretty, very evocatively and appealingly depicted -- not unlike certain moments within Lewis Trondheim's diary strips, although with less of a virtuoso flourish and more frequently a significant part of the narrative flow as opposed to something that broke with it. Davis' art almost never says, "look at this." She already has your attention. I looked forward to nearly every installment this book publishes with palpable anticipation.
This collection is not just the Tablet strips, and at first I thought the inclusion of the black and white material might be a problem. These are strips and stories with a generally broader autobiographical focus. Most look like they were developed on the sketchbook page, whether that's their origin or not; the final results appeared in a variety of publications. I prefer the color work. And yet the more I read Make Me A Woman, and I have a few times now, cover to cover, the more I realize the great gift of these strips with which I'm less familiar is the shift in perspective and tone and how that adds to our overall understanding of Davis as a character and as an author. There are very few strips where she slips outright into John Porcellino style reflection, but those that do pack a punch because you know that moment breaks with a mighty river of amusing patter and biting, slightly daffy humor. You can almost feel her slowing down, taking stock. There's a terrific strip in the book where she visits friends in Portland and has to negotiate the comfort of being surrounded by like-minded people with the feeling that their lives are moving at a different pace than hers -- she never comes down hard on one side another; it's pitch-perfect observation-based writing. By the end of the volume it's not hard to see how the title might actually have some meaning beyond simply being a compact nexus of self-referential jokes (they're easy and fun to figure out: the childish activity played against the fleshy curves; the call-out to one's bat mitzvah, etc.). It's good to know that only do we get the pleasure of watching Davis' extended reflection on life and self, but that she herself seems to have benefited from the experience. I liked this book an awful lot.
Douglas Wolk said, "Don't ask, just buy it!" over at Comics Alliance:
MAKE ME A WOMAN
Vanessa Davis's quirky, personal, funny-moment-centered comics about Judaism and life in her twenties, on "Tablet" and elsewhere, are a consistent delight--the only thing I can really compare them to are Lewis Trondheim's diaristic comics, and that's not too close. This big hardcover anthology of her recent work is awfully handsome, too.
I’ve really been looking forward to Vanessa Davis’s new book, Make Me a Woman. I’m a great admirer of Davis’s zaftig ladies and of the minimum of lines she uses to describe them—round, undulating, bumpy, and squiggly, but always lively. The image blown up on the cover is a great example: The long, rubbery curve of the figure’s leg, foot, and arms, the off-kilter half-moon toenails. The tiny smudges of red polish outside the lines, which signifies her imperfect painting technique, is splendid. I also love her characters’ upturned noses, bubble mouths, and the occasional double chin. She’s generous in the way she draws people, not just in size (not everyone is voluptuous) but also in breadth. These autobiographical comics—divided between published strips and pencil drawings from her daily diary—are often as much about her as everyone around her.
Wimmin’s Comix debuted in 1972 as a forum for women cartoonists to publish work that dealt with issues they were interested in and to represent themselves in more realistic terms, and much of this work took the form of autobiography. The popular lineage of these diaristic narratives can be traced to the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century diaries kept by women as a way to be involved in the construction of literature and to depict their daily lives in relation to the world. But it wasn’t until the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and artist/writers like Marie Bashkirtseff and Anaïs Nin, that diaries changed from factual records to a place where anything could be—and was—said; these more recent versions were revelatory of women’s psyches, a means of awareness and therapy. Davis, however, has found a balance between observation and confession in her autobiographic approach to comics.
Hers isn’t autobio as an event-driven narrative (Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, David B.’s Epileptic,
David Small’s Stitches) or as scathing self-analysis (Ivan Brunetti’s Schizo, Joe Matt’s Spent). Instead, Davis probes life’s mundanities over a long period of time. Harvey Pekar is the exemplar of this mode: quotidian obsessions, annoyances, and joys writ large over the course of many years’ worth of work—the “autobiography written as it’s happening,” as he described American Splendor. Bechdel did it, too, with Dykes to Watch Out For. And Davis’s comics hew more closely to Bechdel’s: There’s a buoyancy to their stories, and the sense that a span of time, presented either as stretches of many years or as excerpts, leavens the more terrible events that life brings. (A fiction equivalent is Love and Rockets.) It’s a kind of realism that I think only long-term comics narratives can create.
I hope it's okay that I'm copying all of these blog posts. If not, just holler!
In addition to reviews and profiles, I also did a couple of INTERVIEWS, including two podcasts:
The Ink Panthers with Mike Dawson and Alex Robinson
Inkstuds with Robin McConnell
and, today, Memoirville, at Smith magazine, with Lisa Qiu!
Finally, here's a writeup of the panel discussion I took part in last week at the Cartoon Art Museum, along with Trina Robbins, Sharon Rudahl, Caryn Leschen, and Laurence Roth, for the "Graphic Details" show that is up now, organized by Sarah Lightman and Michael Kaminer (who also spoke at the panel), over at the Forward blog. This show is up until the end of the year and it sounds like it'll be traveling quite a bit over the next couple of years.
As soon as I find my shapewear underpants, I'll be ready to leave for San Francisco to participate in the fantastic, fun Alternative Press Expo this weekend. I've been traveling over the last couple of weeks, and as much fun as it's been, I don't know if I'm cut out for the touring lifestyle. As I mentioned before, I can't find my underpants, and there's old milk in the fridge. Good thing I'm escaping again! Here's a rundown of what I've been up to and where I've been and where I'm going:
2. I'll be at the Drawn & Quarterly booth over the weekend. Um, so the other D&Q artists who'll be there this weekend, besides me, are Dan Clowes and Lynda Barry. So please come by and say hi and bring me a paper bag to breathe into. Looks like I'm signing 1-3pm on both Saturday and Sunday.
2a. So besides Make Me a Woman, I have a new story in Zack Soto's Studygroup #4, which is the first new issue in a looowwng time, debuting at APE! So that's exciting. Pick it up this weekend! And if I ever get off this computer, I'll have some Kitchen Conniptions in tow as well.
3. Earlier this week, I was in Los Angeles at the amazing Skylight Books in Los Feliz. They have a shop cat, Franny.
4. I went to the Center for Cartoon Studies, in adorable White River Junction, Vermont! On the most perfectest leaf-peeping weekend of the year, lucky me! I conducted a lil' lecture where I showed work from highschool to a roomful of patient cartooning students. Then a watercolor demo.
Here's a proto-comic I did about my highschool boyfriend. He said, "Why yes, Socrates is more important to me than you are." An autobio cartoonist was born!
OK, I'm off to ravage the hamper again! See ya this weekend. xo
ps. Some neat links and interviews and reviews went up too, this week, but I will post them later! Runnin' late!
1. The Daily Crosshatch posted Part 1 of an interview I did with Brian Heater, in which I discuss sitting around, laughing contentedly at my own book for hours and hours.
2. Found this insanely flattering description of my book on the Quimby's webshop.
3. This nice and neat little interview just went up on David-Wasting-Paper cartoonist survey blog.
4. I'll be reading and talking about Make Me a Woman tomorrow, at the Strand, in New York City! With Marjorie Ingall!! Life is good.