I’m having a really cool week. And it looks like it's going to keep getting better.
Historical background: in my upper-middle-class, predominantly white-collar, Land's End infected, mega- conservative High School, I was considered artsy and “different”. And while that’s cool and all, I wouldn’t necessarily say that was a label I earned by doing anything particularly dramatic. I just happended to be living in a town/situation/cultural environment with an ingrown animosity towards creativity. I mean, it had to engage with these things in some fashion, if only to meet college preparatory requirements. And yet, even in the one tiny area where creativity was the actual purpose, it still operated with the strictest of observations. Channeled into the fewest possible outlets the community would allow, it ended up being: dancing school, band, choir, and a tiny bit of theatre. That was it. I don’t know what fine art students had on offer, if they could even find the support and guidance other communities provide with which to nurture their art. And when I decided that I wanted to be a dancer, that, by neccessity, took me away from school in a way that prevented me from participating in any extra-curricular school-related activities. The simple fact that I went somewhere other than the primary place that almost everyone went was all it took for me to earn the label as an "artsy" person.
I had an outlet for creative expression, sure. But, as I've come to realize, it was usually someone else’s creativity that I was expressing. That's what we were all taught to do there--to be the release for someone else's dormant fantasies of what a life of art might have been like for them. I don't regret it, and I can't say that I was cognizant enough at the time to have been disappointed it--I loved dancing--but enough time has passed for me to have no problem admitting that it might not have been the ideal situation for any of the parties involved.
Which leads us to this week: I’m having this late-bloomer, um, blossoming right now. I’ve dance and sung all my life, but my inner musician has always been there, aching to get out and replace the words of others with notes of my own. And now she’s out! Here I am, in Brooklyn, and just last night I enjoyed the first meeting of the new songwriter circle I’m now a part of (I even shared my latest creation!). Today I had a guitar and theory lesson, and with my new knowledge of some music theory (as well as some improvising), I came up with a bass line for my new song. Following that, I had an actual gig--I got paid to go rock my pink guitar and sing songs to children and their families. And I'm having so much fun doing all those things!
And the icing on the cake? Tonight I am reviewing Johnny Wander - Volume 2: Escape to New York, the night before I get to attend the release party for this comic and actually MEET Yuko Ota, Ananth Panagariya, and hopefully the rest of the gang. I am SO excited!!! Who’s having the time of her life??? That would be me. Totally me.
SO here we all are - the Johnny Wander folks and myself -- doing our thing ('s?) in Brooklyn. Doing my "thing” has also led me to reviewing comics with my husband's encouragement and support, and being so fortunate as to actually seeing a blurb of my review of Johnny Wander Volume 1 end up on the back cover of Johnny Wander Volume 2. (That’s all because I have the most awesome husband in the world.)
It's a great week, right?! In case it's not obvious, I am so thrilled to write about all of this right now. I loved this volume of Johnny Wander as much as the last. It is a 100% pleasure to read. Before sitting down at the computer to write this, I sat on the couch saying to my husband, “Oh and this one! Come look at this one! Isn’t that hilarious? Oh wait - you also have to look at this thing about Garies.”
Once again, as reader, I got to be a fly on the wall in the world of Yuko, Ananth, Conrad, John, Mike, Rook, and sometimes Evan and one time George’s. All that life is in this book. Is it weird to say that reading about their life made me want to stop and really observe my own a little bit more? It's not that I don’t. But from reading this comic, I feel like these are friends who really know how to enjoy their time together. It makes me want to be sure I'm doing the same. I realize that they are just showing us snapshots of part of their day(s) that, perhaps, are not all that special to them in the moment they are happening. However, writing and illustrating a series of vignettes about one’s life seems like a great way to capture time in a poignant way.It's way more poignant than taking digital photos or creating “clever” Facebook status updates does. (I'm not making fun! I'm talking about me.)
I’m sitting here, right now, flipping through the book in an effort to come up with my “favorites” to tell you about. And yet, with every page I’m like, “oh yeah....I LOVE that one! OH - and that one too....”
So let me gather myself up, again, and tell you about this book in case you’ve never read or seen it before.
Ananth, Yuko, Conrad, John and Mike, all live together (or did at one time) in an apartment in Brooklyn. And although along the way, some people move out and some move in, they all stay friends and hang out quite bit. This book is a series of one and two page vignettes, as I call them, illustrating their experience living in New York. Brooklyn, specifically.
We are treated to illustrations of things like their coffee mug collection, or the preparation or eating of a meal - as well as its aftermath - art about doing art, backstories such as Yuko’s “traumatizing dental misadventures”, excursions, and interludes about the newest addition to their home - the cat, Rook.
(I have to say that this might be my new favorite part. Anything about Rook. I’m a sucker for cats. Every single section that was about Rook and his quirkiness, or about cats in general, always had be laughing with recognition. I love that they’ve captured some uninterrupted cat behavior and brought it to life. Rook is drawn so well. The subtle changes of the height of his ears, the way he cocks his head when he’s inspecting something, the tiny little adjustments that cats make? It's all really well drawn. I adore him. (So if ya’ll ever need a cat sitter - I’m your girl.)
As a matter of fact, I continually find myself stopping to enjoy the facial expressions as they are drawn. Each individual comic seems to be set up with an opening frame that delivers the who, what, where and when. Then there is the conflict or the joke, and somewhere in the final frames is a close-up on the facial expression of one of the characters. And its often so subtle - just a stare, or eyebrows drawn slightly closer together - but every time it lands like a punchline. I LOVE it! (I find it hilarious how John so often is drawn with a bothered expression.)
The experience of reading Johnny Wander Volume 2 makes me understand why people like reading graphic novels and comics. And that’s a big thing for me to say. I’m not one who grew up reading comics, and I feel like if you didn’t grow up reading them, it's not something you get into later in life. But I’m finding that I thoroughly dig autobio comics, especially in this form. This material is so relatable, and like I said, it inspires me to observe and enjoy my own life more.
Perhaps that’s why this week is so cool. It's not necessarily cooler than any other week that I’ve been having. But as I’ve been reading Johnny Wander, I’ve stopped to observe the vignettes I get to have in my own life, I get to reflect, and I'm finding myself enjoying it even more.
It is an exceptionally cool week, however!!!! And I cannot wait for tomorrow night to hang out with these folks. It's gonna be like walking into a book and hanging out with my favorite characters. Who gets to do that?!?!? Me, that’s who. :)
-Nina Stone, 2012