The last session we went to before starting our longish journey home was the Graphic Novel Panel with David Small and Audrey Niffenegger. We started off with a short video for David Small's Stitches. It was panels from the graphic, with Small doing the voice-over. Small then talked about why he made Stitches, and why he chose to do it as a graphic.
Small still hadn't reached emotional clarity from his troubled childhood. He lived in the middle of nowhere, and didn't have access to good psychoanalytical help. He felt that the only way he could find this emotional clarity was trough writing or drawing. After being shown by a friend some serious graphic novels, like Maus by Art Spiegelman, Small started drawing his memories. He drew his parents, his brother, but especially his mother.
As Small drew his mother, she began to come back to him, which was not a good things. He found he began to act like his mother was still watching him, and began to act toward his wife the way he acted toward his mother. He thanked his wife for putting up with him during this time.
One evening, when Small and his wife were at dinner, he began to feel a lump on his neck, just like the one he had had when he had cancer at 14, caused by the x-rays his father had given him as a child. At first he thought he was imaging things, until he saw his wife staring at him in horror. There really was lump on his neck. Small came to the conclusion that he had to find a way to get all his feelings out, or else his body was going to find a way to do it for them. So he wrote Stitches.
His publisher was concerned how his family was going to react, and asked Small if he'd shown it to anyone. Most of Small's family was dead, except for his brother who he hadn't spoken to for years. Small's publisher insisted that he show it to his brother before it was published, and Small finally agreed. After he read it, they spoke for the first time in forty years, with Small's brother saying, "David your book blew me away. It was a snapshot of your youth." And now they are back in contact.
Audrey Niffenegger then told the background story of her new graphic novel, The Night Bookmobile, out in August. The Night Bookmobile was actually originally a short story. She sent it to The Guardian, saying she could turn it into a comic, and they like it and said do it. So it first appeared serially in The Guardian.
The Night Bookmobile is about a women who one night enters a bookmobile and finds that it's her bookmobile. It contains everything she's ever read. It's kind of a self-portrait of herself. She leaves that night, but can't find it again the following night. She doesn't find it again for 9 years. Niffenegger said her story is loosely based on The Door in the Wall by H.G. Wells.
She showed some images from the graphic and talked about the process of turning text into pictures, since it was a short story first. She actually recruited some of her friends to play the character's parts so she could draw them.
I've read Stitches, and it's very good but very disturbing. There is nothing happy about it, there is nothing uplifting. It's very powerful. Niffenegger's story sounds interesting, and I'd like to read it, although I don't really like her style. The drawings and the way the text is is not appealing to me. But that's a totally personal opinion. I'd still like to take a look at it.
I enjoyed listening to them speak. Niffenegger also teaches, and she was very good at explaining things and answering questions. Small, while having the more interesting story, seemed a bit uncomfortable speaking.
All in all, it was a good ending to our trip. We were sorry we couldn't stay the rest of the day, John Grisham was speaking later, and we missed Amy Sedaris, who is the closing speaker. But we did pretty well for ourselves I think!