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by Corey Dahl
Lighthouse’s Art + Lit series typically looks at paintings and books that are created independently of each other, by separate artists and writers, sometimes hailing from completely different eras or areas of the world.
But what happens when the artist and the writer are the same person? When the art and the story are one piece?
At this month’s Art + Lit, Lighthouse instructor Lindsey Drager and Stan Yan of Art Students League Denver will talk about the same work—Jules Feiffer’s graphic novel, Kill My Mother—and all the ways it combines story and art.
To get ready for their talk, I chatted with Stan about graphic novels, Jules Feiffer, and the movie Blade Runner.
Q. Many people might say that graphic novels and/or comics aren’t “art.” What would you say to them?
A. They’re right: They’re art and literature. There are a lot of great artists that can’t effectively draw a graphic novel and a lot of great writers that can’t effectively write a graphic novel. A decent graphic novel has to be a complete marriage of picture and word, designed for the page that it is printed on. A good example of what some may consider a great novel that didn’t translate to a great graphic novel series was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K. Dick. Dick’s narrative style is very conversational in nature and tends to jump around a lot, often with a loose connection to chronology, and didn’t have much of a close relation to the great Ridley Scott interpretation in Blade Runner. As a result, some Dick purists clamored for a truer interpretation, which was provided by Boom! Studios. The goal of the publisher was to create the comic with text verbatim from Dick’s book. Artist Tony Parker did an admirable job at illustrating this series, but because the artist was often forced to illustrate images that were often only remotely related to the current text, it made for what I deemed to be an impossible read.
Q. What makes Jules Feiffer’s work stand out in this genre? Is there anything different or uniquely interesting about it? Is there anything he does better than other graphic novelists?
A. Feiffer’s writing has always been the strength of his work, but his art certainly has a spontaneous organic quality to it that can make for dynamic storytelling. I do see the decade of working for [cartoonist Will] Eisner seeping through in his material, and a lot of what I try to do in my own work are things he incorporates into his work, including his use of watercolor, his highly dialogue-driven approach to writing, and plot twists. Feiffer’s approach may not make him unique, but he, like Eisner, has been an innovator. His Tantrum was described as a “novel in pictures,” before the term “graphic novel” had even been coined.
Q. While prepping for this talk, did you come across anything that surprised you or that might surprise others?
A. I wasn’t familiar with Feiffer’s work before this. So, the fact that Feiffer had crossed paths with so many of my own influences, like Eisner and the Village Voice, and I wasn’t aware of his work was definitely a surprise to me.
Q. Anything else you’d like to add?
A. A lot of Feiffer’s approach to creating Kill My Mother appeals to things I try to incorporate in my own current projects and hope to be able to do in my future projects. As I previously mentioned, his use of watercolor is something I am doing now in my own work, and I really appreciate the artful, Eisner-esque use of vignettes. I also noticed Feiffer pushes his stories forward with dialogue as opposed to captions, really embracing something I also try to do. “Show, don’t tell.” His use of a female hero is something I hope to be able to pull off authentically, and I also hope to do a period piece with one of my upcoming middle-grade graphic novels in production.