In an exclusive Q&A with Kindle, Lucy Knisley talks to us about her critically-acclaimed graphic novel "Relish," her upcoming book, "An Age of License," and what makes comics such a diverse creative medium.
Charlie Chang: For readers who haven’t checked it out yet, why don’t we start with “Relish,” what can you tell us about how you got started and the inspiration behind that book?
Lucy Knisley: Sure! I was raised in this world of cooks and chefs and bakers and every memory of my life is tied to this idea of this sense memory. Of something I remember cooking or smelling and when I set out to tell some stories from my child I realized they were all couched in this connection to food and that it really made sense for me to tell these stories from the perspective of someone who really loves food because that’s what’s really important to me. So I also think it’s really wonderful to bring food and comics together. There’s this great visual aspect to it. Comics are this great melding of the visual and story and to add food to that adds another sensory layer to the experience so I was really excited to bring those two together.
CC: Very cool! Now in creating "Relish," how much did you have to actually make some of the food while you were writing the book?
LK: A lot of the recipes were ones that I had made so many times over the years that I just sort of automatically knew them but it was funny because they sort of tested me. My publishers were like “you have to make sure you have all the measurements correct.” So I had to really make sure that I was measuring everything and that I could go through the recipes step by step because they were all recipes that I really just knew by heart since I was thirteen.
CC: That’s so funny because I would like to be a good cook…but I’m not. People tell me all the time that you don’t have to follow the recipes exactly but I freak out if I feel like I’m straying from the directions.
LK: Yeah, my fiancée is exactly the same. He worries about going out of order and I have to tell him “it’s fine!”
CC: You brought up senses and comics, are there things in life completely unrelated to comics and graphic novels that always remind you of comics and graphic novels?
LK: Well, cookbooks are a little connected. There’s a balance between the visual and the written word. I read a lot of cookbooks and always have but even more so since "Relish" came out. So cookbooks a little bit. I do a lot of travel and I make a lot of travelogues so traveling has always lent itself well to comics. It’s interesting, in relation to the cookbook thing, I find very text heavy recipes difficult to follow because I’m a visual learner. So I always learned from watching my mother and being taught how to do it directly. Comics are this great way to bridge the divide between the long column of text with confusing terminology and watching someone doing it because you get to see the hands perform the task. With recipes it’s like comics because there are these steps along the way and each panel is a new part of the story.
CC: That’s so true! So moving along, what are you working on right now?
LK: Well I have four books in the pipeline right now. Two from Fantagraphics, they’re both travelogues, one of them is coming out in September and it is a story about going to a Norwegian comics festival and traveling around that area called "An Age of License." Then the second one coming out a little further into the winter and it’s going to be about going on an elderly person’s cruise with my 95 and 96 year old grandparents. *laughter* So those are kind of interesting as two sides of the same coin about young adulthood and experimenting and adventure and fun and romance and then the other side of things like mortality, maturity, and responsibility. Then I’ve got two book contracts with First Second, I’m getting married soon and I’m making a book about nerd, feminist, tomboy wedding planning. So that’s really fun and what’s going on with me and the wedding and everything. Then there’s a longer term project about high school and the importance of arts education and how I was rescued as a young person by arts educators, librarians, and teacher who really recognized the artist in me which isn’t always something teachers tend to see in students.
CC: That’s so cool and all those projects are so different but really proves why comics is such a diverse medium for storytelling.
LK: It really is so great and so versatile.
CC: What are you reading right now?
LK: Let’s see, I loved "This One Summer" so much that it depressed me for a week after I read it because I doubted why I was even trying to write a graphic novel. That book is so good and I loved it so much. I read the new Gabrielle Bell book, "Truth is Fragmentary," it makes my own autobiographical comic books seem less fraught. I love her, I think her work is really great. I’m sort of the other happier side of the storytelling.