The Art of the Graphic Memoir: Tell Your Story, Change Your Life

The Art of the Graphic Memoir: Tell Your Story, Change Your Life

The Art of the Graphic Memoir: Tell Your Story, Change Your Life sets out to be instructional, but the part I found most fascinating was when author Tom Hart talked about the choices he made for his own book, Rosalie Lightning. (Hart has previously written The Sequential Artists Workshop Guide to Creating Professional Comic Strips; Rosalie Lightning is his story of the death of his not-yet-two-year-old daughter.)

While there are exercises and lessons on creating graphic memoir in this book — Hart uses it as a textbook in his Florida comic school — there are also recommendations of informative works in the genre. Some are well-known, such as the first mentioned, Raina Telgemeier’s Smile; others are obscure or haven’t even been published yet. All have comments by Hart on their strengths.

The most powerful sections are those where Hart dives into his creative process. Not only does he cover what he does and why, but he reveals his emotional involvement and how working through the storytelling process aided him. Thus, this guide to making graphic memoir is, in its own way, a memoir.

The Art of the Graphic Memoir: Tell Your Story, Change Your Life

Nine chapters cover more than just craft; Hart begins by asking “Why comics?” He also focuses, in the first section, on gathering and organizing material, finding a visual style, and simply getting started. This makes the goal seem much more approachable, aided by Hart’s less-polished style. Many of his examples vary widely in style, also, and most come from independent/alternative areas. He doesn’t neglect the best-known, though, including Will Eisner, Alison Bechdel, Eddie Campbell, and Carol Tyler.

Each chapter begins with three examples and analysis, followed by Hart’s discussion of how he applied these lessons to his book, then directions for the reader to experiment with, finishing with Hart creating a new work as the book progresses. The second section covers storytelling, visual language, how the author and work change each other, and how to finish a project. This book delves deeply into motivation and emotional involvement, which is unsurprising, given the nature of the material Hart is showing us.

The book also includes lists of recommended reading (many of which expand far beyond comics) and plenty of examples of Hart’s work, drafts and all, with his thoughts and reactions. Even if someone doesn’t want to make their own graphic memoir, walking with Hart through his process, seeing how his book developed, is remarkable. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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