You’re never too old to read comics. Lucy Knisley, an authority on all things food and graphic literature, would be the first to tell you that. From French Milk to Relish to her latest novel Something New, Knisley has made a career out of turning her life of travel, eating, and coming of age stories into art on the page. Recently, Knisley spoke with Oyez Review about her experience as a writer all over the world.
Alicia Drier, Oyez Review (OR): It’s been almost 10 years since your first graphic novel was published. How do you think your concept of art and story-telling have changed in that time?
Lucy Knisley (LK): I certainly have honed my methods and techniques a lot more than they were ten years ago! I think that’s a constant process. But I know that self-doubt was a major motivator when I first started out. I didn’t know if I would ever have the stamina or patience to draw a whole book. With every book I draw and write, I get more confident in my abilities– that I’m able to do more and interesting things with my work– things people haven’t seen before. At first, it was just “can I ever be nearly as good as my heroes?” And now it’s more “What can I make that will inspire people?”
OR: What do you feel the graphic novel genre allows you to do that traditional novel-writing would not?
LK: The interplay between the visuals and the text are really important to how I tell stories– there is so much there that would be missing without one or the other. Humor and pathos and metaphor can be so well conveyed in the graphic narrative, and I love that I’m able to dance the line between the two.
OR: Your work fits beautifully into this nouveau genre of graphic memoir. How does it feel to write so honestly and openly about your life?
LK: I came of age in the time when every teenager had their own blog. The Internet seemed so much cozier, then. Just a bunch of kids on Livejournal, drawing pictures and complaining about school. So it was always pretty automatic, for me to write about my life and share it in this way. I’m very touched and honored when people remember things about me that they’ve read in my work. I have readers tell me “This must be so weird, that I know about your cat!” But all my comics are filtered and edited and shared with purpose– I love that you know about my cat! Let’s talk about my cat!
OR: When was your moment when you felt you had made it as an author?
LK: I think this is an ongoing experience. You can forget, day-to-day, that your work is read and seen by people. It’s easy to become used to the vacuum that’s created when you’re working on your own. Whenever I have a signing or go to a comic show, I’m reminded by the faces and kindness of readers who I meet, that my work is reaching out past my own bubble and touching other people. It’s lovely to get those reminders.
OR: You’ve been honest in your writing about shifting back and forth between New York and Chicago through most of your life. How do these two spaces compare to you?
LK: I’ll always have one foot in New York and one in Chicago, I think. I grew up in Manhattan in the eighties and nineties, and I think that sort of bohemian-art-food-grime-utopia-morphing-into-wealthy-tourist-hub experience of New York has given me some good and terrible views of New York. I love its history and its tradition and arts/culture, but I hate its expense and hype and crowds.
Chicago has a lot going on, but it’s spread out over a lot more space. There’s a tradition of blue-collar hard work here in Chicago, which is different from the feeling of “luck and who you know” success of New York, which makes being an artist here a different story. Here, you can afford to have a house and raise a family as a hard working artist, whereas in New York you have to either come from money or fall into some serious good fortune to afford to live well as an artist.
Sometimes I get sad that I’m so far away from cool stuff happening in New York, but I also looooove that I’m able to have a baby AND go out to dinner from time to time, here in Chicago.
OR: What advice can you give to up and coming writers?
LK: Please take care of yourself. Up and coming anybodies tend to forget that their bodies and minds are their tools, and neglect both. Don’t compare yourself to others too much, or despair over blocks, or get angry that you’re not better/more successful/more adept/etc– it’ll hurt your brain to berate yourself so much. Don’t draw/write until your hands/back are torched– you’ll need them later. Better to slowly build up the strength and stamina you’ll need later on. It can be hard to be patient about these things, but I promise you that the muscle memory– to be kind to yourself, to consistently create work that you’re proud of, to have a steady output– will develop in time.