Sally Ingraham here with a look at Nicole Hollander’s “We Ate Wonder Bread”, and Abouet and Sapin’s “Akissi: Tales of Mischief” – plus other comics and news!
Sally here! I spend two days a week at Copacetic Comics, in Pittsburgh, PA, and between drawing and dreaming I read a lot of comics. There are an overwhelming amount of comics coming out all the time, so (with a few exceptions) I narrow the field for myself a bit by only reading work made by female creators. Here are a couple of things I’ve picked up recently.
Nicole Hollander‘s ground-breaking strip Sylvia was in syndication for 35 years. It’s sardonic middle-aged protagonist, surrounded by her cats and her lamps, made her opinions known loudly and languidly. She is modeled after a number of women from Hollander’s childhood – friends of her mother and folks who lived in her apartment building. In Hollander’s memoir – We Ate Wonder Bread – she recollects those people and the stories they lived in the building that surrounded her.
Told through a mixture of text and illustrations, as well as comics, Hollander’s memories flow somewhat haphazardly. They follow the loose chronology of how rooms in her family apartment were arranged at various times, what mischief her little sister got up to, what outrageous scheme her father was invested in, and who her mother was friends with. Her own hopes and dreams and confusions as she navigated the rough waters of the West Side of Chicago as a child are hilarious and endearing.
You get the sense, when reading this book, that Hollander could be in the room with you narrating her adventures and musings. The text was engaging, but I did find myself wishing that there were more comics and drawings. You could almost skim through the book and JUST read the comics, and get the gist of the story. Hollander’s drawings are excellent, and I enjoy her storytelling through images – but with the text in addition, things were strangely repetitive in places. I find this very interesting, and have to note that it may not be easy for a visual storyteller who has written gag-based comic strips their whole life to switch gears and compose with text alone. Like I said, I wish there were a lot more comics in this memoir.
However, setting that slight disappointment aside, as a memoir We Ate Wonder Bread is a charming read, and learning something about the context of both Sylvia and her creator is valuable and inspiring to me as a comics creator and a woman myself.
Another delightful recent read is Marguerite Abouet‘s Akissi: Tales of Mischief, with artwork by Mathieu Sapin. I am a fan of Abouet’s Aya books (which feature the artwork of Clament Oubrerie). Those comics feature a beautiful Ivory Coast setting and a wonderful adult(ish) heroine, with plenty of mischief and mayhem to keep you engrossed. Akissi follows a similar pattern, with it’s setting in the Yopougon neighborhood of Abidjan (Yop City) – however it’s heroine is a 6 year old girl, who causes more mischief and mayhem than I can quite comprehend.
Whether she is making garbage soup for the neighbor baby, running a secret movie theater while her Dad is at work, trying to catch lice so that her head can be shaved (preferable to the tight braids her mother favors), or knocking her Grandmother out with coconuts (by accident!), Akissi is always in the thick of it. I laughed and cringed my way through the collection of 21 6-page comics, and found myself recalling moments from my own childhood (although I never got tapeworms or had a pet monkey).
Abouet is a terrific storyteller, and Sapin’s drawings compliment her writing perfectly. The combination really brings to life the time and place, with well-realized characters leaping out of detailed backgrounds and the whole thing carrying you along at a voracious pace.
According to an interview from April 2018, Akissi IS Marguerite Abouet. She was born in Abidjan and lived there until she was 12, so the vivid sense of place makes sense – so does the feeling of “you can’t make this stuff up…!”. Abouet said:
“I think Akissi is like open-air theatre, where children can feel quickly gripped by her tales. She invites them to journey to an unknown country, that is so close and yet so far away from them, for a relaxed ramble in Africa. Children are impressed by Akissi and her group because they are like ‘urban superheroes’ trying to live in the adult world. She shows them that this is not easy, because living together and accepting each other are daily struggles, so it demands a lot of willpower and courage.“
I highly recommend this one!
For the Record
- Whit Taylor writes and Shannon Wright draws a comic for The Nib about Shirley Chisholm – read it HERE.
- Michael Dooley chats with Esther Pearl Watson – on The Comics Journal.
- Episode 30 of Comic Book Decalogue features Laura Lannes as the guest – listen HERE.
Thee Santoro Correspondence Course for Comic Book Makers Summer Session starts NOW! Floating start date! Apply anytime between now and July 12th 2018 to join the summer course. Email santoroschoolATgmail for more details. Ask about the Fall Course if now is too busy for you! The course is 8 weeks – 500 bux for 8 weeks plus access to Frank’s coaching for as long as you need. Payment plans are available. Put your summer to good use!