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).
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
Sarah Glidden's debut HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL IN 60 DAYS OR LESS has received some stellar praise:
“Incredible. . . . Should be required reading for anyone who waxes philosophical on the subject of Israel or anyone who wants to know more about the increasingly muddled situation abroad. . . . I's written in an insightful manner and drawn with an attention to detail you could only acquire by living through it.” —HUFFINGTON POST
“A powerful retelling of Glidden's time on Birthright, during which she explores the landscape of one of the most complex places in the world, while being forced to rethink her own closely held political beliefs. . . . This is a book for anyone who has sought to understand the world around them and realized how much more there is to learn.” —AOL’s COMICS ALLIANCE
“Charmingly illustrated and often very funny.” —NEW JERSEY JEWISH NEWS
“This graphic memoir is beautiful; each image evoking as much emotion as Glidden’s memorable words. Glidden’s honest and challenging inquiry is a must-read for those examining their religious and political loyalties.” —BUST MAGAZINE
"A major accomplishment." —NEWSARAMA
“Packed with honest, engaging reflections about the Jewish state.” —AMERICAN JEWISH WORLD
“Sarah Glidden is the remarkable cartoonist behind How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less--a book . . . that documents her experiences on a Birthright Israel trip in 2007, as she grapples with history, culture shock, and the looming question of Palestine.” —TIME/Techland
“Engrossing. . . . An autobiographical account of one Jewish-American woman's experience traveling in Israel. History and preconceived notions clash with the reality on the ground. The result is a humorous and heartfelt look at one woman's journey of self-discovery in an unfamiliar land.” —IGN
“A beautifully-illustrated book. . . . Once I picked up the book I was quickly absorbed by Glidden’s journey—so much so that when I finished I felt completely disoriented, I had forgotten I wasn’t actually in Israel.. . . . An emotional and involving read. . . . it really is about the journey rather than the destination. emotionally honest. . . . refreshing.” —THE FASTER TIMES
Pick up the book at your local comic shop this week or at your favorite book seller next week!
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:
Last month we unveiled the final version of Sarah Glidden’s cover painting for her graphic novel, HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL IN 60 DAYS OR LESS (well, final for now anyway). The book comes out in November. This one is really something special, both for Vertigo and for me as an editor -- a deeply affecting, charming and fascinating memoir of Sarah’s “Birthright” tour of Israel, a trip on which she found herself undergoing some unexpected personal, political and (dare I say) spiritual transformations.
I’ll post more about Sarah’s book as the year rolls on (and so will she, I’m sure). But as things turned out, her journey in creating the cover of the book was almost as arduous emotionally as her trip to Israel itself. For that, I’m forced to admit, she has her editor to thank.
With a cover, you only get one shot so you gotta make it count. We needed (demanded?) exactly the right scene that said “Israel,” while also conveying the personal nature of her work in the book. Fortunately, Sarah’s experience in Israel ranged far and wide, so she had plenty of scenes to draw.
Here, then, is a mini-tour of Israel, as seen through Sarah Glidden’s ultimately unused cover sketches.
1 - Sarah hikes into a canyon in the desert -- kind of like Moses!
2 - A hillside overlooking East Jerusalem. And Sarah about to dive off the cliff. Figuratively speaking, of course.
3 - Groups of young women with large guns are not an uncommon sight. Military service is required for everyone is Israel.
4 - A refreshing dip in the Dead Sea.
5 - Sarah visits the Church of The Holy Sepulchre, according to legend the site where Jesus was crucified. Nice image, but not really the theme of the book.
6 - Finally, Sarah’s pencils for the illustration that will actually appear on the book. A typical Israeli street scene, somewhere in the Galilee region.
To see the finished cover painting, go here.
Like many bright, young Jewish Americans, Sarah Glidden participated in a Birthright trip to Israel. HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL IN 60 DAYS OR LESS by Glidden is her first person account of that journey. Here, she questions everything she knows, or thinks she knows, about Israel and being Jewish and everything her tour guides tell her about Israel and being Jewish.
Check out the cover [Please note: The cover is not final]:
What beautiful water colors, right?
I hope you enjoyed the first look at all the covers posted today!