*French Milk — Recommended

Lucy Knisley and her mother went to Paris for a month in 2007, and the result was French Milk, Lucy’s drawn travel journal.

French Milk cover
French Milk
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The two women were each facing their own turning points. Her mother was turning 50, and Lucy was turning 22 and facing the questions of adulthood. Her preparations demonstrate her youthful view of what’s important: she barely learns the language, but she succeeds at taking up smoking, to better hang out in cafes. She’s struggling to figure out her future, planning for graduate school and wondering how she’ll support herself, but traveling with a parent makes it so easy to fall back into the patterns of childhood.

Knisley’s lines are beautiful, flowing and confident, avoiding the distraction of unnecessary noodling. The pages are single panels. Sometimes they’re photographs; more often they’re sketches, 2 or 3 or more, showing the details of everyday life, with Lucy’s recollections written in around them. Often they’re of her, her best character. She looks so young! And comparing the photos with the drawings give a better idea of how she processes events through her style.

The first 30 pages are set at her parents’ house, introducing the characters in “normal” life before their environment changes. It’s a good choice to let us get to know them before they set off. Much of her experience there is thinking back to old friends (an amusing concept for a young adult) she hasn’t seen in a while, foreshadowing life changes and moving in different directions.

The virtue of such a lengthy trip is that it stops being a vacation and starts being lived. Lucy’s especially attentive to food, a quality I adore, since it so well sums up their experience. Her days are captured through what she sees and what she eats. Not a book to read on an empty stomach! But she’s also willing to show herself at less than her best, grumpy or homesick or shallow.

The focus is on the moments she’s living, no matter her mood, instead of a reflective “and then that happened.” That’s the virtue of her capturing things as they’re happening. There are few lessons presented, just one text page of reflections, leaving the reader to share the experience and draw their own conclusions. I envision the author rereading this book in decades to come, remembering through her diary the experiences and especially the eating.

Lucy has been interviewed about this book. She’s also published Radiator Days. If you’re looking for other travel journals, try Carnet de Voyage.

15 Responses to “*French Milk — Recommended”

  1. Argo Plummer Says:

    I enjoy your blog very much. You give me a perspective on things that are being published that normally escape my radar–I read mostly “fringe mainstream” stuff and have a huge collection of Batman, Legion, and Captain America stretching back over my entire 37 years and beyond. I have used your reviews over the past 6 months or so to expand my reading horizons.

    However, I did not enjoy your description of French Milk. While it sounds intriguing, I am not interested in reading the works of someone who comes off as extremely immature and unintelligent. Seriously, what is wrong with our culture when a 22 year old who is off to graduate school is more interested in picking up the ridiculously dangerous habit of smoking than learning a language and picking up on some of a country’s culture? I hope she looks back on her time abroad later in life and realizes she has wasted it and damaged her life.

    Yes, I am one of those rabid anti-smoking nazis–just lose someone to Lung Cancer, as I am in the middle of doing, and you may understand my perspective.

    All right, I have had my rant. Thanks for indulging me and keep up the good work.

  2. Johanna Says:

    If you think the whole book sounds immature, then I didn’t do a very good job covering it. Although I can certainly understand that one factor, due to personal circumstances, might prevent you from enjoying it. If my description helped you figure that out for yourself, even though it’s not the decision I would make, then I’m meeting the goals I set for this site. I’m glad you enjoy the blog, and I’m very sorry to hear of your situation. I hope things work out as well as possible.

  3. Strip News 5-29-9 | Strip News | ArtPatient.com | ArtPatient.com Says:

    […] Worth Reading recommends French Milk and I’d like to see some of these Redeye Magazines. Can anyone across the pond tell the rest […]

  4. Argo Plummer Says:

    Just to clarify, i don’t think the whole book sounds immature, just the main character / creator, which makes me very unlikely to pick it up.

    I want to thank you for your sensitive response to my post. I know that smoking is a hot button topic for me and I can’t be rational about it right now. Your sympathetic response was what I needed to read to calm me down and you have just ensured that I will continue to follow your blog and support your endeavors, not only because they are well done, but because you have proven yourself to be a decent person not a reactionary schlub, which I certainly can be accused of.

  5. Strip News 5-29-9 | Strip News | ArtPatient Says:

    […] Worth Reading recommends French Milk and I’d like to see some of these Redeye Magazines. Can anyone across the pond tell the rest […]

  6. Johanna Says:

    I think the fact that the author shows herself having such a juvenile reaction indicates that the creator isn’t immature, just willing to make fun of herself. I found it unlike anything else I’ve read and definitely worth owning and rereading. But again, if you feel differently, that’s fine.

    As for the other, you’re welcome. I’m glad I could assist in some small way at a difficult time.

  7. MoCCA Art Festival 2009 (Johanna) » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] of the books I was most looking forward to buying were by Lucy Knisley. I have fallen in love with her art. Pretty Little Book is, like Radiator Days, a collection of […]

  8. Argo Plummer Says:

    Well, Johanna, I finally broke down and read French Milk. After your review, a few others, your link to Lucy’s experience of the Twilight phenomenon, and her seemingly meteoric rise in the public (at least comic public’s) eye, I decided I should at least give this book a shot. My local library just received a copy, and after a short wait on a hold list, I was able to read this…

    It was OK. I could not get past my initial disdain for the book and the character’s smoking. After reading it, I couldn’t tell if she was being “funny” about the reason she took up smoking or if it was naivete. Either way, this sums up my problem with the book. Lucy Knisley obviously has talent and could grow into a very good cartoonist or comic artist. However, I was never that interested in her “early twenties, existential crisis”. Maybe it is because I am almost twice her age–she and I have differing views on life and differing priorities–but I don’t think so. Much of my professional career has dealt with young people (teens and early twenties) and I couldn’t relate with the author.

    The format of the book was intersting and I initially liked the mixing of drawing and pictures. However, it ultimately took me out of the experience of reading the book mostly due to the inconsistency between “drawn Lucy” and “real Lucy”. I realize that she is not an artist whose style is very realistic, but for me, to see how different her drawn version of herself is from her actual appearance was quite distracting.

    All in all, I am glad I read it. Lucy Knisely does have a good sense of humor and could develop an interesting voice after she has had some more life experience. I don’t know what kind of sequential artist she is, but she can tell a compelling story through the use of stills. I will be keeping an eye on her to see how her talent and voice develop. Unfortunately, the gap in years and life experience may be always too great for her work to actually speak to me.

  9. Johanna Says:

    I agree with you that it’s a book from a young person’s perspective, without the kind of age-based depth you might be looking for. I could still relate, even though I’m older, with her struggling with the questions “what do you want to do with your life?” and “how do you keep your creativity?” I also had the advantage of having read her diary-based strips, which meant I had a better idea of her personality (at least as she portrays it), which gave me additional perspective. I also look forward to seeing what else she does in future.

  10. Johanna Says:

    Oh, and thank you for checking it out and giving your opinion! I appreciated it.

  11. Illustrated Pickle Recipe » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Lucy Knisley has illustrated “how to make pickles” at her blog. The recipe is her own, based on others. […]

  12. *Make Yourself Happy — Recommended » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] comics every hour to show how her day is progressing.) There are also a number of references to French Milk. In addition to strips about getting an agent, republishing the book, and dealing with reviews and […]

  13. Lucy Knisley’s Relish Coming Spring 2013 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] have been looking forward to this book so much! Lucy Knisley (French Milk, Make Yourself Happy) is one of my favorite cartoonists, and I love reading about food, and this […]

  14. Lucy Knisley’s Next Two Books Coming From Fantagraphics » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] with some color format the publisher will be using reminds the long-time Knisley follower of French Milk, her 2008 story of a trip to France with her mother. The Beat has preview […]

  15. *An Age of License: A Travelogue — Recommended » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] previous, earlier books (such as French Milk), in this one, Lucy is more straightforward in presenting context for her thoughts. Instead of […]




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