The shapeshifter is one of the most misunderstood character archetypes. It is familiar while also shrouded in mystery. And you can find some in unexpected places. How about Kafka’s 1915 classic “The Metamorphosis”? In the novel, Gregor Samsa turns into a cockroach. That makes him a shapeshifter. Alright, I said it. Not a pretty sight. Not something out of Harry Potter. And yet, Kafka would have you look within and ask how close you are to the life of an insect. In Chris W. Kim’s new graphic novel, “Herman by Trade,” he takes a decidedly offbeat approach to shapeshifting. In the case of his main character, Herman, he emerges from a Kafka-like existence and is saved by his unique ability to shape shift.
The post-screening Q&A.
Kim begins with some spot on workplace satire that mirrors the bigger picture that lies ahead. Herman is part of a sanitation crew based at the city waterfront. Within the pecking order, Herman is viewed by his co-workers as a dowdy stay-at-home. But Herman has other plans when he goes to a special screening of a cult hit movie. He knows enough to go in costume. But he knows nothing about this celebrated film until he asks the girl at the ticket booth. She informs him that “Gare” is an intimate portrait of street performers. That’s good enough for Herman to join the die-hard fans in the crowded theater.
Art imitates life imitates art.
With a light and subtle touch, Kim reveals Herman’s journey. It all begins that night in that movie theater. MIO, the film’s director, announces to wild applause that she is going to film a sequel to “Gare” and she invites anyone in the city to come audition at the waterfront. Herman’s fate is sealed. He must be part of the excitement of this momentous event. And, as this graphic novel unfolds, one can’t help but be captivated by Kim’s ambitious vision. He has the backstory of the film and its sequel; the mileu of film buffs; and Herman emerging from his inner world to a much more complex inner world.
Reading HERMAN BY TRADE.
Herman’s goal to be cast in MIO’s new film turns out to be pretty daunting. How will Herman succeed while being so out of his element? In order to even survive, Herman must adapt and that involves shapshifting! Herman, despite all outward appearances, is no cockroach! Kim’s artwork is a marvelous mix of delicate and exuberant. He gently and slyly guides us. All the while, we are viewing not a roach, but a caterpillar emerging from its cocoon in order to triumphantly spread its butterfly wings.
Reading Chris W. Kim’s “Herman by Trade.”
HERMAN BY TRADE is a 120-page hardcover, published by SelfMadeHero, an imprint of Abrams. For more details, visit Abrams right here.
THE BEST WE COULD DO, by Thi Bui and published by Abrams ComicArts, is one of those rare graphic novels with an in depth family theme. This sort of book belongs in the select group of titles like PERSEPOLIS and FUN HOME. In fact, you usually need to turn to the superhero genre, with all its universes and lineages, to find a story in comics that focuses on anything remotely to do with family. I say this tongue-in-cheek but it’s fairly true. Anyway, anytime you add family, you are likely adding something interesting to your story. What happens in Bui’s graphic novel is thoughtful, funny, and totally interesting. When was the last time you read an epic saga about a Vietnamese family? Well, this fills that void in a very compelling way.
Page excerpt from THE BEST WE COULD DO
Thi Bui studied art and law, thought about becoming a civil rights lawyer, but became a public school teacher instead. Someone with that kind of background is just the sort of cerebral and sensitive type of person who gravitates to creating comics. Bui was born in Vietnam and arrived in America with her family as a refugee from the Vietnam War. Her immigrant experience, without a doubt, is part of a continuum that will outlive our current political machinations. This is a story that goes beyond that and addresses the struggles that any family will confront as one generation must come to terms with another. It is also a story about finding one’s self both within and outside the context of family. As Bui discovers, close proximity to family does not necessary mean close ties to family.
Page excerpt from THE BEST WE COULD DO
Overall, Bui has adopted a solid alt-comics approach to her work. It has that intimacy and spontaneity that evokes work coming out of a sketchbook. While Bui is not a career cartoonist who has honed years of experimentation with comics, she provides an engaging and polished style. It will be interesting to see if she chooses to further develop her work in the comics medium. She has created a beautiful book.
Page excerpt from THE BEST WE COULD DO
“The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir” is a 336-page hardcover available as of March 7th. For more details, visit Abrams ComicArts right here. You can purchase through Amazon right here.
The world of Andy Warhol is our world. His art, inextricably linked to his persona, resonates with us today on an uncanny level. Along with a select few artists like Picasso, he has broken through, reached immortal fame with the general public. When a new book or movie comes out about him, we feel we’re dealing with something familiar. The new graphic novel, “Becoming Andy Warhol,” written by Nick Bertozzi and illustrated by Pierce Hargan, seems to tap into some new ground by presenting us with more of the human being that was Andy Warhol (1928-1987).
Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, with my own art ambitions, I was keenly aware of Warhol as I digested his art through the media. What I saw of the person was actually quite minimal. There was that exaggerated deadpan pose, that would be taken up by so many artists of the next generation, like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Who Warhol really was did not seem to matter. The fact that he was gay was never brought up in the mainstream media. But one thing was clear: Warhol was a significant artist breaking new ground.
What this graphic novel attempts to do is humanize Warhol to better understand the man and his art. He was certainly not a passive eunuch. The most distinctive contribution this book makes is to show Warhol as an active and sexual being dealing with relationships, and strategizing his career. His career did not just emerge one day fully formed and he did not have all the answers. In fact, there’s some wonderful scenes in the book with art critic Henry Geldzahler guiding his friend along. When it came to attempting to answer rather pompous questions from the media, why not simply respond with enigmatic non-answers? This approach, Geldzahler advises Warhol, will make him a star.
Warhol was certainly more than capable of explaining his methods. More than anything in the world, he wished to share his insights with the Pop Art kings Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. But, when they saw themselves as on a separate plane from Warhol, it did not faze Warhol. What we see in this graphic novel is a Warhol who, despite setbacks, maintains an internal compass that keeps him on his path. He is a determined and driven dynamo. The book focuses on Andy Warhol from 1962 to 1964, those critical years which see him make the break from a hugely successful career as an illustrator, dive into a fine art career, and never look back.
Warhol at Work
A grand biography is one of the most suitable of subjects for a graphic novel. Bertozzi and Hargan turn Warhol’s journey into a most engaging story, one that gains much from the way that they tell it. The challenge here for Bertozzi was to present a story that many of us already know to some extent, while only relying upon books and resources commonly available. What is so new and compelling to tell? It becomes a matter of what to bring to the foreground. I believe Bertozzi does an admirable job of choosing what bits to use that add up. Hargan does an equally good job of tuning into an irreverent depiction of the man. His Warhol becomes an accessible comics character in his own right. As you read, you can get lost in conversations and the whole pace of things from a certain era.
Andy Warhol was already Andy Warhol at the start of this story insomuch as he wasn’t going to let anyone or anything get in his way. And, when it seemed time to choose whether to abandon parts of who he was in favor of a more mainstream presence, he knew where to draw the line. There’s a particularly effective scene where the renowned architect Philip Johnson admonishes Warhol to drop all of his rough trade friends while, at the same time, he ponders which of the boys he might get to bed. While far from perfect, Warhol proves to stand for something. By defying Johnson and others, Warhol stayed true to himself and would go on to make history. I’m sure that Bertozzi felt compelled to articulate these finer points about Warhol.
BECOMING ANDY WARHOL by Nick Bertozzi and Pierce Hargan
“Becoming Andy Warhol” is a 160-page hardcover with two-color illustrations throughout, available as of Oct 4th, and published by Abrams ComicArts.
Olivia Olson has much to celebrate and share with fans. She is in the unique position of getting to do a lot of cool and creative stuff with her dad, comedy writer Martin Olson. For starters, both are voice talent on the animated series “Adventure Time” on Cartoon Network. This is one of the most creative, quirky, and strangest shows on television. If you know the show, all I need to say is: Marceline the Vampire Queen and, her dad, the Lord of Evil, Hunson Abadeer! It was Adventure Time’s very own creator, Pendleton Ward, who recruited Olivia Olson, and later on Martin Olson, to become part of the show and the rest is history.
Marceline Vampire Queen and, her dad, Hunson Abadeer stealing her french fries
As Olivia describes in this interview, it was just a natural progression that led her to follow in her father’s footsteps into show business. Sure, it can be a harsh business but, with the right guidance, special things can result.
In the case of this father and daughter, it has led to not only performing together but also writing together. The first Adventure Time book was “The Adventure Time Encyclopedia,” written by Martin Olson. And that sparked an interest in Olivia to join in.
Olivia Olson and Marceline the Vampire Queen
Now comes a new book that goes even further, “Adventure Time: The Enchiridion & Marcy’s Super Secret Scrapbook!!!” You can read my review here. This one is a collaboration between the two. Martin Olson focuses on the Enchiridion. And Olivia Olson focuses on Marcy’s Super Secret Scrapbook. But there’s more to it than that and we cover it in the interview.
One thing that Olivia wanted to point out is that this book is not only two books in one. When you think about it, it’s actually four books in one! You see, the Enchiridion covers two separate books: one for Heroes; and one for Wizards. And Marcy’s Scrapbook is actually two books: a journal by Simon Petrikov, aka The Ice King, the man who raised Marceline; and a journal by Marceline.
The full interview with Olivia Olson follows and includes the podcast at the end.
Henry Chamberlain: I read that the idea for this book began on a subway ride in New York City with you, your dad, and editor Eric Klopfer. Would you tell us about that, what you were anticipating doing on the book?
Olivia Olson: It’s a funny story since originally I wasn’t going to be part of the writing process. I helped a little bit for our first book, the encyclopedia for Adventure Time. That was mostly my dad writing it and I had so many notes to give him because, at the time, he didn’t know too much about the show. He said, “How about if I keep the wrong information and you keep correcting me throughout the book.” That was my first little snippet of writing. We were at New York Comic Con, with the first book being so well received, and we just thought we needed to do another book. The first book had been successful. And we knew how much my dad wanted to tackle writing the Enchiridion.
At the time, we didn’t know how we were going to fuse the Enchiridion with Marcy’s Scrapbook. That came about way later. We sort of tricked our publisher, Abrams, into having me be a co-author on the book. I wrote my segments and submitted them and then, after they provided feedback, we revealed that the writing was mine.
HC: There’s such a literary quality to Adventure Time stemming from the original creators, your dad. And now you, part of the next generation. Would you describe to us growing up in that world, being exposed to all that creativity, getting to write with your dad.
OO: It’s so funny because, when I was a little girl, I always wanted to act and sing, all that kind of stuff. My dad, being in the business, did not want me to have anything to do with it since, you know, it’s hard on children being part of that. So, he frowned upon it. But here I was growing up among all these comedians and writers and actors so it was kind of impossible for him not to expose me to the world.
Not in a million years would I have thought that I’d be performing and writing right alongside him. It is such a funny coincidence as I grew up in animation. I grew up with all these people who worked in cartoons. But I never really thought that was to be my path. I always thought it would be more like Beyonce or Mariah Carey. It’s just so weird. People like Tom Kenny and his wife used to babysit me and my brother. Now I get to play a character with Tom Kenny. And I get to write with my dad.
HC: From what I observe, it looks like it’s all coming together naturally. For instance, your dad never considered himself an actor, even though he has that performing background.
OO: We joke about it. We’ve been doing this all our lives and now we have a job where we’re getting paid for it. Adventure Time has provided all these amazing outlets. I started off as an actor. My dad started off as a writer. Now, five years later, he’s an actor on the show and I’m a writer. It’s really amazing that Pen Ward, the creator of Adventure Time, gave us these opportunities to not only work as father and daughter but explore the range of our talents.
HC: You have a very distinctive voice and style for Marceline the Vampire Queen. And you bring her to life so well in this book. This is quite a unique two-books-in-one. Could you describe your take on your writing process–and how your songwriting background comes into play. I can think of some lyrics that you include in the book.
OO: There’s definitely a lot of poetry and lyrics spread throughout the Scrapbook part. It’s funny that we pitch it as a two part book because, if you really delve into it, you see that it’s a four part book. The Enchiridion side has two parts, one for Heroes and one for Wizards. And the Scrapbook has a journal by Simon Petrikov followed by a journal by Marceline.
The Scrapbook was originally going to be something completely different. I wrote summaries for every episode I’d ever done. I was following along with each episode and wrote a diary entry for what Marceline might write on that particular day. That’s what we originally submitted and then we end up scrapping all of that. We wanted to dive deeper into the backstory since Marceline is such a mysterious character. We really wanted to cover the Mushroom War and how tragic her story really is.
It was when I added the poetry that it kicked in. I had never written a work like this before. It was something new. I definitely started off by writing a lot of poetry for it. And that made me feel more connected to my character.
Marceline in “Stakes” from Adventure Time on Cartoon Network
HC: What do you hope readers will get out of the Scrapbook? I am thinking that, for young readers, they will get a fuller appreciation of how a character is depicted in a different medium. You see Marceline one way in an animated format and you see her in a different way in a literary format. Can you speak to how the character can do different things in different media?
OO: I think all the work outside of the actual series, and that includes the video games, comics, anything like that, is technically not canon to the show. We worked extremely hard with everyone involved to have our contributions match as closely to what is happening on the show. And that was a huge help in having us align with “Stakes,” the new mini-series that’s just come out. It gave us a platform to jumpstart where Marceline was going next and learn more about her.
I was so excited about this since Adventure Time fans really get down and dirty with everything. That’s what is so great about the show. It sparks the imagination. Fans have all these theories about what’s going on in the show. We went through so many drafts to stay true and do justice to the show. I was really impressed with what we ended up with, being able to go deeper into the characters, taking a different approach from the random humor the show is known for. When the show began to dig deeper into the characters, we wanted to do the same.
The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
HC: What are you reading now or what sort of books do you like?
OO: Right now, I’m reading a zombie apocalypse book. It’s called, “The Girl with All the Gifts.” It’s 20 years after a zombie outbreak. You start with all these children at a playground. You don’t know why they’re being treated so poorly. They’re half-human and half-zombie. They’re hybrids. I was drawn to it since Marceline is a demon hybrid.
I like all kinds of books. I’m definitely not someone who judges a book by its cover. I’ll be at the airport and give anything a try.
HC: What sort of music are you currently listening to?
OO: Well, I like how Apple iTunes organizes your music and makes suggestions. It has me now listening to Justin Bieber. My boyfriend wasn’t a fan but now he is. I’m also enjoying the oldies, like The Doors.
HC: Any new writing projects brewing?
OO: I don’t want to jinx it but we’re in talks with my publisher, Abrams, about a new book. And I’m working on new music. I’d say, right now, I’m not reaching a quarter-life crisis but more of a quarter-life reprocessing of what path I want to take. I’ve been so fortunate to be so successful at such a young age. So, if there are any young listeners out there, don’t worry about having to know what you’re doing since I don’t always feel that I do.
HC: I think you’re on a great path. I foresee more of the same with new discoveries along the way.
OO: Yeah, I’ve been extremely fortunate. I’m a lucky girl but I always want to top myself and find what’s new.
HC: Well, great. Thanks so much, Olivia.
OO: Thank you, Henry. This has been a great chat. Really great questions.
The podcast is below:
“Adventure Time: The Enchiridion & Marcy’s Super Secret Scrapbook!!!” is published by Abrams. Visit them right here. And be sure to catch Marceline the Vampire Queen on Cartoon Network right here.