Always Goodbye by Ray Hecht. 88 pages. TWG Press, 2019, paperback, $5.99.
With great insight and humor, Ray Hecht shares his life with the reader in his autobiographical graphic novel, Always Goodbye. This is an ambitious work as Hecht takes stock of his whole life thus far. Hecht sums up his life, year by year, and he’s up to the challenge. He’s definitely an interesting subject: an artist, filmmaker, journalist, and author. What he’s doing here is giving the reader a window into what he’s done all his life: traveling, observing, and creating art. Like the results of a conversation between good friends, this graphic novel provides many gifts.
The theme of the book is found in the title. While traveling can be enlightening and full of adventure, it often comes at a price. And, of course, all travel is not completely voluntary. A lot of the nuts and bolts of travel are not glamorous and bring in a whole lot of issues including the trauma of displacement.
No doubt, Ray Hecht is doing exciting work with comics, both as a creator as well as an instructor. And he certainly has a wonderful track record of prose novels, including South China Morning Blues and The Ghost of Lotus Mountain Brothel. Hecht is an artist down to his bones and I definitely relate to that. Hecht has harnessed a creative drive that’s led to compelling work. Anyone interested in the inner life of an artist will get a lot out of his latest book. If you enjoy a hearty work of autobiography, this will appeal to you. Hecht’s comics have got enough of that quirk factor that earns him a place within that fine tradition of auto-bio comics that includes such luminaries as John Porcellino, Tom Hart, and Lynda Barry.
Always Goodbye is published by TWG Press and available right here.
Just like “Ophelia,” in John Millais’s 1852 painting, submerging in the waters, so too 15-year-old Minnie Goetze floats and then descends the depths of her bathtub. We see her nude body sinking down the blue-green of her own misery only to resurface as a finely-drawn portrait by the same Minnie Goetze. Welcome to “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” based upon the book of the same title by cartoonist and writer Phoebe Gloeckner. This is Gloeckner’s fictionalized account of her sexual awakening, circa 1976, at the age of 15 at the hands of a 35-year-old man, the boyfriend of her mother. By all counts, this is a story of rape and incest. Through poetic license, the raw source material is transcended and another transformative story rises from the brackish waters from which it came. And it is up to audiences if they will accept such a journey.
Phoebe Gloeckner took her reality of rape and incest and shaped it into fiction. And then writer-director Marielle Heller took that fiction and adapted it for her film. With a safe distance from the actual events and persons, an uninhibited and honest story is possible. It turns out that 15-year-old Minnie Goetze appears to be empowered by the sexual relationship with 35-year-old Monroe. It’s San Francisco in 1976, experimentation with sex and drugs is in the forefront. Minnie, ill-equipped to navigate through the loopy zeitgeist, finds herself lost and on a classic downward spiral: she has a threesome, drops acid and performs oral sex in a bar bathroom while pretending to be a prostitute. All this happens without any judgment placed upon her.
Okay, just go and read Phoebe Gloeckner’s “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
This is a complicated film. It is, after all, adapted from a complicated, and quite extraordinary, prose and comics hybrid. It can not be encouraged enough that, if the movie grabs your interest, then you must read the book. In a one-of-kind fictionalized memoir, Phoebe Gloeckner expresses her story in a way that you need to read to believe. In the end, her goal was to create a greater truth. The movie follows closely but, my its very nature, tells a story with a different tone and view. Gloeckner addresses these shifts from her work to the film in this insightful interview with the A.V. Club right here.
Bel Powley portrays Minnie with a wide-eyed broad innocence. In somewhat a similar sense, so does Kristen Wig as Minnie’s mother, Charlotte. And, in his own way, so does Alexander Skarsgård as Monroe, Minnie’s predatory Lothario. It’s the self-conscious attempt to evoke the act of reading Gloeckner’s unique work that can be problematic. Gloeckner’s narrative is prose followed by an illustration followed by comics and more prose and so on. The crux of the problem of translating Gloeckner’s vision into film is that it really is virtually impossible: you are really walking into a land mine when you mix comics, film, and address rape and incest. Parts of the film seem to read as too cartoony when, paradoxically, the same scene in Gloeckner’s comics does not read so much as “cartoony” as simply entering a different world, reading something within a different world. The film, even if it doesn’t intend to, seems to take its subject too lightly.
Not to sound too much like Marshall McLuhan, but when you read comics, you are reading and, when you see something evoking the feeling of reading comics, which happens often in this film, you are reading the content and the medium, and that can be very distracting. It can also be a wonderful combination of distraction and entertainment like the multi-layered tribute to the grand curmudgeon Harvey Pekar in “American Splendor.” If you have a lighter subject, you can get away with much more. But with the double whammy subjects of rape and incest, it raises the stakes so high as to be a virtually insurmountable challenge. With all that said, this is a very unique film. All I can is that I’m happy to find that this 15-year-old character is in the very capable hands of 23-year-old Bel Powley.
“The Diary of a Teenage Girl” is a film that will definitely challenge you. But, keep in mind, to best appreciate what this film is doing, read Phoebe Gloeckner’s book. A new revised edition, published by North Atlantic Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, has just been released. You can find it at Amazon right here.
“How I Made the World,” is an intriguing title, don’t you think? It happens to be the title for a series of comics about Liz, a college student and writer who expresses herself in true epic glory, like any young person should. Now, this is most assuredly a SERIES, not a ONE-SHOT. There may have been a bit of confusion regarding this since the Diamond Previews catalog, the monthly bible for all comics retailers and regular comics buyers, has given the “one-shot” label to this series. Okay, now that we have that cleared up, here is an interview with the creators. It was a pleasure to get to chat for a bit with Liz and Randy.
How do we connect? We do it, or try to do it, in a variety a ways. It’s not always easy but it’s far better than its opposite, to disconnect. I aspire to connect with you. I make this preface because I am genuinely inspired by my latest subject for review, Joel Craig’s graphic memoir, WELCOME TO NURSING HELLo.
One of the great things that comics can do is to take you out of the obvious and transport you somewhere fresh and new. The mini-comic, “Second Banana,” by Tessa Brunton, is an excellent example of the true power of comics to uplift and be awesome. This is a look at what it feels like to be a “second banana,” and a whole bunch of other neat stuff. You see, Tessa’s older brother is something of a genius. At least, I’m assuming this is an auto-bio comic. Whatever case, here is a girl named Tessa and she is doing her best to find her way in life. She is the baby sibling. Rich, the eldest, has left the nest. This leaves Tessa and her older bro, Finn, who dazzles Tessa with his general knowledge, including bogus info about light bulbs and fabulous info about ghosts, monsters, and various other related strangeness. Yes, this is what comics does best. It lets you dream. Brunton has got the knack for tapping into that wonderworld.
Let me tell you, I’m not twiddling my thumbs over here either. If you want to know what I’m all about, I champion work just like this. I believe you can find this sort of spirit in a variety of comics, whether alternative or mainstream. The bottom line is you really need to want it, the sort of comics that move the medium forward, not backward. For some creators, it may come more naturally to them but it’s still a process: rough drafts, laying out, editing. For readers, well, you know quality work when you see it. Now, when you see work that makes you nauseous, you know it too and you should protest whenever possible. No more nauseous comics!
But getting back to what Tessa Brunton has accomplished thus far, I think you’ll find that this mini-comic is very promising. We begin the story with an off-kilter reference to “Little House on the Prairie” which sets the tone. Moving right along, we continue with creative use of panels that establish the pecking order of the characters. With a restrained and crisp line, Brunton goes about expressing the ups and downs of having a bright but domineering older brother. I especially like her panel/word balloon combinations!
The narrative is so heart-felt in this immersive comic. You too will feel the same great disappointment as Tessa did when Finn does a complete 180 on his love and support of monsters and ghosts and dismisses them all as a bunch of folklore. As Tessa puts it, “The world seemed so much smaller without the supernatural.” In the end, this story is bigger than Finn. This is a story about the end of childhood.
You’ll definitely want to get your hands on this exceptionally good mini-comic. It is a 16-pager and only $3. Visit Tessa Brunton here. And visit her store here.
Gabrielle Bell is one of the most consistently interesting cartoonists out there with a distinctive style and wit. Here is a brief interview with the creator of “Lucky.”
HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: I’m so pleased to be able to go and read your comics on your site, gabriellebell.com. I don’t regularly gravitate to webcomics. I know I can rely on yours to have an authentic voice and be thoughtfully constructed. I think that has something to do with the fact that you began with having your work in printed form. Do you think that’s true? Do you think you add another layer to your work since you’re not conditioned to think in terms of digital shortcuts?
GABRIELLE BELL: Thank you. I don’t know if that is true about printed comics or not. I do love comics best in print, hands down. But I also like the instantaneous connection with the reader the internet provides. I like not having to wait for and negotiate with publishers, printers, book sellers, editors, etc. It’s given me the chance to earn the reputation of that thoughtful construction and authentic voice. But I am glad to have my comics packaged in a book! I think any cartoonist ultimately wants that, web or no.
HC: Can you walk us through your process? Maybe you could take a recent post and describe how it came to be or describe your working methods.
GB: The hardest part is writing. It takes me ages and I am tortured by self-doubt. Then I use a lightbox to turn my scratchy, messy thumbnails into drawings, then I do that again. Then I fill in all the black splotches. Then I scan it and manipulate it a lot on photoshop. Then color it, then I read it over, then I throw it on the internet.
HC: You have conquered autobio comics, in a way, I think, by never being obvious and always keeping a certain level of mystery. People are left to wonder what is true and what is not and finally let all that go and enjoy the storytelling. Is this something you set out to do, if I’m right? At least I think I’m pretty right. If falls in line with the best writing.
GB: Thank you, that is nice to hear. I hope I can continue to live up to it! I didn’t set out to do that. I have a compulsion to do diary comics, it’s like some nervous tic. I try to stop sometimes, and then I start again. There’s something psychologically gratifying about it. But I don’t want to offend people with my self-indulgence, so I’ve tried to make it work so that other people could get something out of it too. And that is the pain of it.
HC: What’s a good Charlie Rose type question to ask you? Comics, ah yes, were you always attracted to comics? What is it about comics that suits your needs as an artist?
GB: I think most artists are attracted to comics. I’m always hearing of writers and artists giving a shout-out to some comics. I just finished “Just Kids,” by Patti Smith, and she talks about sitting in her room in the Chelsea Hotel for days reading Little Lulu comics. There’s something very special about comics that are still not really recognized, in spite of this “graphic novel” phenomenon. As for me, it suits me because my two favorite things are writing and drawing.
HC: Please tell us about your more recent mini comics. What can you tell us about your “Diary” mini comics and the latest one, “July Diary”?
GB: “July Diary” is a collection of 31 comics I did last year in July, when I did a page a day that month. There’s also some scrawley sketchy outtakes. I’m told it is my funniest work. The “Diary” mini comics are collections from my blog, “Lucky.”
HC: Feel free to give us a pitch for your new book, “The Voyeurs.”
GB: “The Voyeurs” is a collections of the “Diary” minis, plus a lot more stuff, and all in color. I am told it is a handsome volume.
HC: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
GB: I’m going to be going on tour, doing lots of slideshows, with some great cartoonists, which should be very entertaining. There’s an events page on my website. Please come out and see me perform my comics if I come to your town.