I have a raging girl crush on Canadian artist and writer Emily Carroll. She has single-handedly shown me that graphic novels and webcomics aren’t just for boys in love with guns. Sure, her comics are violent, but not in the POW! BANG! way of vintage superheroes and their incompetent nemeses. Carroll’s stories are violent in a slow, creeping way. They are dark and twisted, like the original Grimm’s fairytales (nothing like that sanitized Disney junk).
She writes fables and horror stories, fairytales and mysteries, and illustrates them beautifully. There is a layer of mistiness to each image, a sense of distance, a gray wash that only enhances the shock of crimson that comes later (sometimes it’s blood, but sometimes the horror is something else entirely).
I had my own little Christmas book flood this year (or in Icelandic, Jolabokaflod) and one of the books I received was Through The Woods, a print collection of Carroll’s webcomics and stories. Some of these are available to read online, including “His Face All Red,” a fantastic story of two brothers and a wolf, and “Out of Skin,” which is about a crone who finds herself suffocating in human skin. They’re spooky and wonderful—wholly original fairytales that pay tribute to the history the genre without being beholden to it.
Go read them on her site, or better yet, buy a copy of her book. It’s the kind of heavy book that keeps you coming back to it (I’ve read it twice already). Despite containing relatively few words, it is captivating in a literary sense and in a can’t-look-away-can’t-look-at-it sense. Also, I’ve realized that graphic novels are great because they make me slow way down and pay attention to exactly what I’m looking at. You can’t rush through them. You have to read the pictures, to pause and look at them, to suss out the clues buried within each pen stroke.
Fashion illustrator Jason Brooks has just managed to bump Paris onto my “worth it” plane ticket list. I never really wanted to go to Paris. I’ve always been more attracted to isolated places, like Alaska or Siberia, than big, beautiful, old cites. Though describing it now, I realize I do like those crowded places, too. Just Budapest, not London. Philadelphia, not LA. I’m picky, I guess.
But I am veering too far off topic. Jason Brooks is publishing a book of his sketches of Paris. They are, by their very nature, wonderfully romantic. How can a drawing of a street be romantic? I don’t know. It just is. That’s the entire point of Paris. It exists solely for the macaroons and tulips and rainy, hazy days, and the entire idea of Spring in Paris and love in Paris and that lady who fell in love with the Eiffel Tower and married it. Clearly, she took it too far, but Paris has that je ne sais… Ugh, I’m sorry. Just look at his book.
I just finished reading Was She Pretty? a graphic novel by Leanne Shapton that explores one simple, jealous, unanswerable question. Was she pretty? We ask our current partners. Yes, they say, with only slight hesitation. “But she was…” mitigates it slightly. But you know. Of course she was pretty, otherwise he (or she) wouldn’t have loved her. She was pretty and a dancer and she cooked him thai food every night. She was pretty and a filmmaker who hated blockbusters and could quote Goddard. Most importantly, she simply was.
While reading it, I found myself thinking not at all about my boyfriend’s exes. I didn’t think of my ex’s either, and what they must be doing with their new, pretty girlfriends who probably love hiking and are too sophisticated for boxed wine. No, all I could think was: I want to be one. I want to be reduced to a simple, lovely sketch. I want some essence of Katy to be distilled into a black-and-white series of lines and a romantic, mysterious caption. John’s girlfriend Katy liked to drive in barefeet and cut-off shorts. She could roll a joint and smoke it without veering from the center line. (High school). Jake’s girlfriend Katy loved watching horror movies with him. Her skinny arms would wrap around his torso, hungry face hidden in his chest. He stroked her hair and never called her by her proper name. (Or later) Josh’s ex-girlfriend Katy worked best in her own bed and hated staying at his house. She had the most dexterous toes he had ever seen, and loathed it when he made his bed.
It’s fun. I don’t sound nearly as romantic as a ballerina or an aristocrat, but with the right sketch, I think I could make someone jealous. Or someone fall in love with my two-line personality, like I did reading Shapton’s words, again, and again.