When writing a book about your life, it’s easy to fall into having the last laugh. With her book, “Wildflower,” Drew Barrymore has chosen to write a book full of laughter, joy, and wise observations. If a book like this seems too idealistic, all one needs to do is dive in and read it and find an authentic voice.
Ever since spending many hours basking in the glow of the last days of a bookstore that focused on cinema, I gained a fuller appreciation of the celebrity autobiography. After you’ve taken the time to study a number of these titles, you just can’t make generalizations. Often, these works are remarkably insightful. You can only take them one at a time. In the case of Drew Barrymore, she consistently writes honestly and vividly. You can hear her unique voice on every page and it’s a story you’ll find refreshingly modest.
There are a number of fascinating moments that come to mind: Drew’s experience in Africa and how she connected that to learning how to heal her relationship with childhood and children.; her frankness about her relationship with her parents and how she learned to create boundaries; and her recollections of growing up in West Hollywood and how she cherished the little touches of nature, especially the bougainvilleas, amid urban life.
With a great sense of irreverence, coupled with a natural spirituality, this is one book by a celebrity, one very unconventional celebrity, that will win you over.
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.
“Richy Vegas Comics,” by Richard Alexander, are what you would consider very personal and decidedly out of the mainstream. It reminds me a little of the work of Daniel Johnston. Based upon reading numbers 8 and 9 of this ongoing comic, I get the picture of what he’s doing and I can offer up some comments. For those who follow my reviews, you know that, at times, I’ll expand upon the review and make some general observations. I also want to discuss here personal comics in general.
“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 I Made The World” is a Xeric Award-winning comic that follows the misadventures of Liz, a college student and aspiring writer. From her vantage point, just about everything in her life is epic. And so we begin in this first issue with not just a midterm art project deadline on the horizon. No, this is fodder for our first big story, “The Monster.”
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.
The 2014 Angoulême Comics Festival, being held in Angoulême, France, is just around the corner: January 30th through February 2nd. As one of Europe’s most premiere comic book events, the Angoulême Festival helps set the tone for the rest of the year in comics. One of the selections featured this year is “L’enfance d’Alan,” published by L’Association. It is by Emmanuel Guibert and chronicles the life of his friend growing up in California in the years prior to World War II. It seems quite appropriate to provide this advance review of the first American edition, entitled, “How The World Was: A California Childhood,” translated by Kathryn Pulver, published by First Second Books.
It is a wonderful little miracle each time a life’s story is so vividly brought to life in comics. Cartoonist Emmanuel Guibert created “Alan’s War,” a graphic novel about his friend’s time as a soldier in World War II. For this new graphic novel, he turns the focus over to Alan’s childhood in California. And he does a most interesting thing. He lets Alan’s voice be heard with a deft balance of word and picture. Guibert lets the words breathe by providing them with all the room they need. These are, after all, delicate and quiet reflections and they require a certain tone.
Much of the story is told directly by Alan. His narration is predominant. We only need a smattering of word balloons on some pages. Guibert manages the tempo by alternating layouts: cinematic storyboard, grid sequence, tableau, scrapbook vignette. On one page, he has Alan recalling his grandfather’s habit of spreading out his magazines during his routine lounging. As part of that, he depicts the old man as a magazine cover portrait. This is all in the service of spinning a good yarn.
Ultimately, this book lives up to its title. Guibert, with a gentle and consistent vision, provides us with a sense of how the world was. This is Alan’s childhood and we’ve been provided a portal back in time to view it. Like anyone’s life it has its struggles, drama, and pain. But we never get pushed out of the story by melodrama. This is an honest depiction, almost as if a camera were left rolling while Alan recollects as well as rolling directly upon key moments in his life. It is left to Guibert to give it shape, and therefore bring out its meaning, and that he does.
“How The World Was” is a 160-page book, priced at $19.99, and will be released by First Second on August 12, 2014. Visit First Second here.
The Angoulême Comic Festival celebrates its 41st year, having first debuted in 1974. It is now the second largest comic book convention in the world, with more than 200,000 visitors attending each year. Numerous prestigious awards are granted during the four-day festival, known as the Le Palmares Officiel du Festival, covering a wide range of categories, including “Best Album,” “Angoulême Essentials,” and the “Grand Prix de la ville d’Angoulême,” which is awarded to a living creator in honor of their lifetime achievement.
For more information about the Angouleme Comics Festival, visit here.
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.
“My Father’s House” is unusual in many ways. It is an honest and loving portrait of the author’s father, beautifully written, that provides a unique window into Nazi Germany. The book is made up of numerous vivid details such as this passage:
Once, my parents had lived a truly magical life. In the early years of their marriage, between the wars, they lived with their friend Baron Wilhelm Farnbühler at his castle near Stuttgart. The Baron had his own wing; my parents, with Uli and Anita, had theirs. In the great hall, in a cage, there dwelt an owl, who preferred to eat living things: rabbits and mice. His lame wing folded into a crutch, he shrieked into the night and rattled the bars.
I simply happened upon the life and work of Beatrix Ost while in the process of exploring. It began while I was doing some research for a book review of, “Jerusalem,” a graphic novel that relates to the creation of the State of Israel. I had also just written a movie review of a documentary, “The Flat,” about the unusual relationship between a Jewish couple, who had emigrated to Palestine during World War II, and maintained a friendship, after the war, with a high ranking Nazi official. Life is complicated. Things are never quite as they seem. In the case of Beatrix Ost, this is an enormously talented person: writer, artist, desginer, actor, and theatrical producer. She is what she appears to be and so much more.
Beatrix Ost comes from a world of the rich, those F. Scott Fitzgerald has noted as “different from you and me.” Ost is not here to deny the world she was born into. She was born in 1940, in the castle from the above passage. However, given this difference or distinction, Ost finds a way for you to join in. It is, in fact, a world not so different from you and me. It is far more earthy and raw than you may imagine.
This may sound trite, but many readers may relate to the stories presented here if they think of the landmark musical, “The Sound of Music.” As jarring as it is to juxtapose Nazis with Bavarian folklife, general audiences understand, in the context of the musical, how two Germanys could coexist: one run by Hitler and another very different one. It takes a strength and boldness to be able to bring out a multitude of memories that are innocent and sweet amid a backdrop of war. Ost engages the reader on a Proustian level, never missing a beat of recovered memory and dipping deep into a well of language that consistently produces gems.
Think of this book as a collection of passages that, as a whole, bring out a greater truth. Each passage is like a little story of its own. Consider this passage from “The Gleaners,” describing people during World War II coming to the Ost family farm in search of food. They would come in search of even the smallest potato. Dieter, a member of the household staff would be dispatched to fetch a bunch of the teenaged girls from the girls school to help themselves to potatoes. They arrived in what they could muster up for the latest fashion, all hardened by the war but joyful:
The girls trudged along behind the plow, collecting potatoes in sacks. When the sacks were full, they were tipped into a cart. It started to rain. The girls sought shelter under the one available roof: the potato wagon. But the rain got through between the narrow planks, and after a short while, they were drenched. Their cheap dresses rode up above their knees, clinging to their thin bodies. Little rivulets of color ran down their legs.
It is Ost’s father, Fritz, who looms larger than life over this landscape of memory. He did his military service in Africa and subsequently retired, including his membership in the Nazi party. He had only belonged to the party to help his friends, particularly his Jewish friends, secure safe passage out of the country. He was a proud man that seemed to only want to be left alone to rule over his estate, Goldachhof, a rural paradise of manor, farm and stables, about twenty miles out of Munich. If there were Nazis amidst the circles he travelled in, he didn’t want to know. What he, and his wife, Adi, did know was to help those in need and Goldachhof proved a haven for refuges many times over. It is this backdrop that little Beatrix grew up in and learned the ways of the world, from getting by on rations to celebrating the dawn of a new world ushered in by the Americans.
This excerpt gives you a taste of the exuberance of youth faced with big change. The Americans, all brash and exciting, had finally arrived. But they make a few missteps. A couple of homesick Texans decide to ride a couple of the carriage horses, who were not meant for riding. Then some soldiers got the nutty idea of going fishing with hand grenades. This was far too much for Herr Ost and he finally managed to restore order by bringing in a high ranking American officer to have a talk with his men. But change had arrived and there was no turning back:
Now we children played Yank all winter long as we sledded down the granary path on our Jeeps. We still had our “Judenstrick,” ersatz cigarettes made from the winter-dried marrow of elderberry twigs, but we were infatuated with everything the Americans brought into our little world. They had landed among us with the exciting utensils of their exotic culture. Chewing gum. Nescafe. Powdered milk. Hershey’s chocolate. Blue jeans. Johnson’s lotion. Marlboros. Things useful and also symbols of hope, the end of terror. Our blue days were gone–love live The Blues.
How such a book came into being is remarkable. “My Father’s House” is an inspiring and enlightening work. It can be appreciated on many levels, not the least of which is in the classroom. You can purchase it here.