2010 was a huge year for DC. Just take a look at all of our titles on NPR’s Monkey See blog’s and Entertainment Weekly’s Shelf Life blog’s “Best of 2010” lists: DC’s BATWOMAN: ELEGY, ABSOLUTE ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, WEDNESDAY COMICS, ACTION COMICS, and Vertigo’s REVOLVER, STUCK RUBBER BABY, and HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL IN 60 DAYS OR LESS.
Well, we’re not going to slow down. 2011 is going to be even bigger.
It’s the end of the year and, if you’re like me this year, that means there’s still some last minute shopping to be done. Need help seeking out the perfect gift for your comic book loving friends and family? Just check out the latest and greatest best of 2010 lists...
USA TODAY 's list of Essential 2010 Graphic Novels recommends some top notch DC books like WEDNESDAY COMICS, A GOD SOMEWHERE, BATGIRL: BATGIRL RISING, and THE UNWRITTEN. FRESH INK’s Best of 2010 list includes ABSOLUTE ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, BATWOMAN: ELEGY, SCALPED, and DAYTRIPPER. Finally, TECHLAND’s Ten Best Comic Books of 2010 and Best Graphic Novels of 2010 salute ACTION COMICS, DAYTRIPPER, BATMAN AND ROBIN and HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL IN 60 DAYS OR LESS.
Give the gift of comics this year.
Sarah Glidden, author/artist of HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL IN 60 DAYS OR LESS
Dean Haspiel, artist of CUBA: MY REVOLUTION
Heeb Storytelling: The Live Comics Edition
Tomorrow, December 21 at 7:00 pm, $15
Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater
425 Lafayette St (between Astor Pl and E 4th St)
More info can be found at TIME OUT NY: Things to Do
And if you haven’t seen it yet, this week’s double issue of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY includes HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL on The Best Non Fiction Books of 2010 list and an exclusive comic by Dean Haspiel in remembrance of Harvey Pekar (The Quitter).
Sometimes you just know.
In my time on this job, I’ve had hundreds of ideas for comics and graphic novels thrown at me. I’ve gone out and found quite a few more on my own. I’ve even cooked up a few out of my head. The vast majority of them never go anywhere because frankly, they’re not very good (especially that last kind I mentioned). Others are, in fact, very good. But they, for whatever reason, don’t connect with me.
Then there are those rare, few ideas where, the minute you hear about them, you just know.
HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL IN 60 DAYS OR LESS was one of those ideas.
No one pitched it to me. It wasn’t something I went looking for. And it definitely wasn’t an idea I came up with on my own. It just -- appeared.
At least, that’s what happened from my perspective. I’m sure the book’s young writer/artist, Sarah Glidden, would take a different view. She had already done quite a lot of work on this project before I spotted it. In fact, she had written and drawn two complete comic books chronicling the “Birthright Israel” trip she’d taken the year before I stumbled across her work. And she had published them herself. Estimable accomplishments, indeed.
For me, on the other hand, I was just walking the floor at the 2008 MoCCA (Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art) Festival here in New York, when I saw HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL just sitting on a table. I picked up the two comics -- “mini comics,” as they’re called (even though there was more stuff packed between their homemade covers than in most “professionally produced” comic books) -- and I asked Sarah, who happened to be standing behind the table, to tell me a little bit about them. She did, I paid her six bucks (or whatever) for the two comics and walked on.
But in that moment, I just knew.
It wasn’t so much that the books were about Israel, though that’s always been an interest of mine. What connected with me was Sarah’s self-questioning point of view. This wasn’t really a story about “understanding Israel” as much as about understanding yourself. And understanding that for much of your life, whatever your own personal “Israel” happens to be, you’ll never fully understand it.
HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL IN 60 DAYS OR LESS is one of the most beautiful books I’ve been involved with at Vertigo, and not only because of its insightful, wise-beyond-the-author’s-years theme. The beauty of the book extends from Sarah’s warm watercolors to the remarkable lettering by Clem Robins (his “Sarah Glidden Font” has already fooled a number of people into believing Sarah hand-lettered the book herself). The book could not have happened without Karen Berger’s enthusiastic support of this admittedly unusual project from the day I showed her the mini-comics and I am deeply proud to have been there during the creation of this extraordinary piece of art. So while Sarah would be the first to tell you that, despite the title, you may not come away from the book “understanding Israel,” I can promise you that when you close its covers, you will have, at least, a little better understanding of yourself.
The Old City of Jerusalem is crowded. In a relatively small space surrounded by walls there are three major religions, their sects and subsets. There is tourism and noise, garbage and sacred things, ideology, conflict and competing ideas. And, in early March of 2007, there was also me, standing in a narrow street with a notebook thinking to myself: “How the hell am I going to write about all of this?”
The idea was simple: go on a Birthright-Israel tour with all my strong political opinions -— but with an attempt to keep an open mind -— and then create a comic book about all the confusing and interesting experiences I would inevitably have while there. The trip was definitely confusing and interesting, but what I had not anticipated was how difficult it would be to turn all of that into a comic.
When I started the book as self-published minicomics, I had the impulse to write about EVERYTHING. When Vertigo picked up the project as a graphic novel, I had to rethink. If I’d had it my way, the book would have been over 300 pages! That’s why a good editor was essential as I went through the process of sifting all the noise of the Middle East into a streamlined script.
One by one I forced myself to cut beloved scenes that didn’t move the story along. The morning when it snowed in Jerusalem and it felt like the apocalypse was coming? Cut. The time when we visited the Wailing Wall and a pigeon pooped on my friend Melissa’s head at the instant that she put her prayer into the ancient stone? Cut.
In the end, slicing those moments away from the narrative only made the moments at the core of the story stronger. As a result, How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less is not just an account of a trip I took, it’s the story of someone who finds herself battling with confusion in a strange land as well as conflict within her own mind, and must find a path out. I've worked hard to clear a pathway through all the confusion and hopefully, as a reader, you can follow me through it.
--- Sarah Glidden
After finally getting to page 195, it was time to go all the way back to page one again and start coloring and inking. Like I said before, I hadn’t known how I was going to color the book when I first started out. Making the book full-color hadn’t even been my idea, rather, Vertigo had asked me if I wanted to make it in color. I told them that I wasn’t sure I could color a whole book, as I had never even attempted to make a comic in color. But they had liked the covers of my minicomics, for which I had colored a panel in Photoshop and made it into a sticker:
So they told me that if I could make those stickers, surely I could just color the book too. I just said “OK sure” and decided I would figure out how to do it later. Now later had finally arrived. I had just assumed I would color the whole thing with Photoshop and a Wacom tablet. But then I realized something: I hated computer coloring! It just didn’t really work for me or my loose style. Case in point:
Mostly, I just wasn’t familiar with interacting with color in this way, using swatches and fils and selections. Another cartoonist I know suggested I try watercolors. It was only then that I realized this solution had been right in front of my nose the whole time. I had been a painting major in art school! I had almost forgotten that since it had been about 8 years since I had picked up a brush. I had never really tried to work with watercolors, having painted almost exclusively in oil, and the two kinds of paints are very different. But at least you can mix colors from the tube the same way:
For this book I used pretty much the same 7 colors that I had used back when I painted abstract landscapes in college. Maybe once you get used to thinking about color this way, it will never make sense to use digital coloring. It seems to use some other part of the brain that I just haven’t developed. But going back to painting was like getting back on a bicycle, and after a few rocky false starts I really started having fun with it and was ready to go.
I traced the blue-penciled pages onto watercolor paper using a lightbox and a 6H graphite pencil, then painted the page, then inked on top of that with a thin Rapidograph.
Finally, the pages were sent to Vertigo where they were scanned and sent to Clem, our letterer for this project. Clem made a font out of my handwriting by having me write out the alphabet 5 times. That way, he was able to randomize the letters so you would never see two of same “A” in one balloon. I think he did a great job. He also drew the balloons, pretty accurately replicating my loose, sloppy style.
And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past two and a half years. I really hope you like reading it, because I certainly loved working on it!
I had already completed two chapters of HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL IN 60 DAYS OR LESS when Jon Vankin asked me if I would consider publishing the book with Vertigo. Jon had picked up those two chapters at MoCCA, where I was selling them as minicomics. I couldn’t wait to get started on the book. Although my editors told me that I didn’t have to redraw the first two chapters, I decided that I would scrap them anyway and treat the minicomics versions like rough drafts. I was looking forward to the chance to make improvements and changes.
For one thing, the minicomic version of the first chapter used a strict 9 panel grid from start to finish. In the Vertigo version, I still use a 9 panel grid for most of the pages, but I loosened this up a bit in order to have panels that are wider when need be while still sticking to a 3-tier format. I also just wanted to improve on the art a little bit, as these minis were already a year old at that point.
But redrawing would come later. First came the script. Before the Israel minis, I hadn’t made any comics pieces that were longer than 8 pages, so scripting had been pretty easy, and usually just scrawled on a piece of notebook paper. Even for the Israel minis I hadn’t had to think of page count restrictions, so I would just write the script by hand and then start drawing. But for the Vertigo book I was suddenly faced with the task of writing a complete script for a 195 page comic…and ONLY 195 pages. That means instead of just writing the comic until I thought it was done, I’d have to plan everything exactly. So the writing stage of the project took on a new weight and it had a lot of steps. There was the outline to the whole book, broken down chapter by chapter, and then each chapter had to be mapped. This is what a chapter would look like when I started outlining it:
I can’t even read that anymore but I guess at the time it somehow made sense. After that would come another outline and then another one which would tell me how many pages I would have for each scene. Then finally I could sit down to write the script.
I had never written a script like this before. Unlike my notebook jottings in earlier comics, this script had to be legible. Not only would my editor need to read it, but eventually our letterer, Clem Robbins, would be translating it into word balloons. It was hard at first to get used to the format, but after a while I loved writing this way. Its a little like mental thumbnailing. You’re visualizing what’s going to be in the panel and writing that visual description along with the dialogue. It got to the point where the script had kind of replaced thumbnailing. With the details of the panel described in words for me to use later, thumbnailing became all about blocking out the composition.
Here, for example, are the thumbnails for page 105:
After the script was finished and approved, it was time to draw the book. I decided that I would pencil the whole thing first, then go back to the beginning and do the coloring and inking. I decided to do it this way because I was still pretty new to drawing comics (I had been drawing them seriously for about two years at this point) and I thought my style might change over the next year of drawing every day (it did), so separating the pencil and ink stage would alleviate that a little bit. Also, I still didn’t know how I was going to color the book at this point.
Here is the same page of story as in the minicomic example above, this time for the Vertigo version of the book:
I use Prismacolor Col-erase pencils religiously. Not because they’re photo-safe blue (they are not) but because I like the texture and feel of them on Bristol board. For some reason I can’t get the same control when using graphite.
Come back tomorrow for Part 2!
Vertigo has published an array of graphic novels from Jeff Lemire’s fictional THE NOBODY, to Jonathan Ames’ semi-autobiographical and greatly embellished THE ALCOHOLIC, to Harvey Pekar’s memoir THE QUITTER.
How can a graphic novel be a memoir? Well, if we were being technical with the definition there’s no way a novel could be a memoir as the two are opposites. Novel means fiction and memoir means non-fiction. However, in the world of graphic novels, the term graphic novel is a blanket term and indicates that the book is a full-length story told in pictures and words. Sometimes they’re in color and sometimes they’re in black and white. They can be fiction or nonfiction, memoir or semi -autobiographical. Why do I bring this up? Well, it's a question that often comes up when speaking to producers, editors and folks new to comics, and I wanted to clarify things as we introduce our latest graphic novel memoir HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL IN 60 DAYS OR LESS.
That's right, this November, author and artist Sarah Glidden brings us her debut graphic novel HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL IN 60 DAYS OR LESS which is her first person account of her Birthright trip to Israel. Take a look inside: