After Emerald City Comic-Con, I received this email from Kelley, who bought both Hereville and How To Make A Man Out Of Tin Foil from me at ECCC. This is the kind of email that really makes a cartoonist’s day, and Kelley gave me permission to post it online.
This morning I made a couple of purchases from your ECCC booth. You might remember me, I was wearing a yellow Star Trek dress and you took my picture!
I am sending you this email because while I enjoyed Hereville and plan on purchasing the sequel, it was your short work How To Make a Man Out of Tin Foil that really connected with me. I loved it! As you correctly guessed during our short conversation, I am a big fan of “slice-of-life” style comics. My husband prefers more action-oriented comics such as G.I. Joe, Star Wars, etc. We share a lot of interests but this was the first time I felt he might get more emotional resonance than me out of one of these kinds of comics. I was right and he really appreciated reading about experiences he could relate to directly, but to my knowledge are not often addressed in media.
The point of this email to to express my deep and sincere appreciation for the “Tin Foil” comic and to encourage you to give it another look some day in the future, to perhaps expand on it or find similar stories to tell. Obviously I like that your current professional interest contains a female protagonist, and maybe at some point in time you could use your excellent storytelling abilities to alternate between the two. Thank you so much for flagging me down with your effective sales pitch; you have one more loyal customer.
Thanks, Kelley! I really loved getting this email.
“Tin Foil” was created for an upcoming anthology of feminist short comics (called “The Big Feminist But”). I wanted to do a feminist story about boyhood – about the expectations that boys will be suitably masculine, and some of the ways that boys who can’t live up to that are punished and damaged. It’s a story that’s special to me, and I’m really glad it touched you and your husband.
I really do want to play more with the themes of “Tin Foil” someday, but I’m not sure when I’ll have the time. Certainly not until after the third Hereville graphic novel.
If you’re interested, you can read How To Make A Man Out Of Tin Foil for free on Bitch Magazine’s website. Info about buying copies of Hereville is here.
Make the time.
Not to get all essentialist on you or anything, but you’re a boy writing about a girl in Hereville. You add value to the process by also being a Jew (even if a Jew manque) writing about Jews, but at heart it’s an outsider’s perspective – an informed, humane, compassionate, empathic, but outsider’s perspective.
And there’s *absolutely* nothing wrong with that. Outsider’s perspectives are awesome. Sometimes they say things that the insiders had no damn idea about. (“Holy shit! It says here, this isn’t just a million trees! It’s a FOREST!”) Other times they pose useful challenges. Blah blah blah the infinitely diverse tapestry of art blah blah blah. All good, keep doing it.
But there’s a million men writing stories about women. What you’re writing is good art, it has value, it is a net plus to the human culture our Borg overlords will assimilate when they arrive in 2014…but other people are covering that ground, or can, if you get hit by a bus.
This story is you talking about you, but the ground is a lot less well-trodden. Guys don’t often write plainly and openly about the adjustment to guyness, and when we do it tends to be either bombastic or unbearably prolix. This was the best piece of art in any medium I’ve seen on the topic, and it’s chapter 4 out of 125. You have to write the other 124.
Do it or I’ll beat you up and take your lunch money.
Just read the tin foil story, and I liked how it portrayed how much it sucks to be a kid who doesn’t share ‘the group’s’ interests, and how much pressure there is on introverts to conform and go with the herd.
Not really seeing a gender message here, though; it’s more of a “smart kids get abused” theme, which is universal.
Copyleft – probably, and wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that Amp intended it that way…but when I was a boy, there was a pretty strong gendered element to that kind of bullying. I was a smart kid, though a lucky one in many social respects, and what abuse I received in childhood came from other boys. (“Do girls have opinions? Interesting. I don’t care about their view, though, and neither do most of my male peers, so we can ignore that data as irrelevant.” – Me, 1975)
In adolescence and later the viewpoint of the other gender came into much more focus and was a lot more relevant, though it wasn’t dominant and was more likely to be a counterprogram to the male opinion. (“Sure, a lot of the jocky guys are assholes to me…but a lot of the girls sure do seem to like me.” – Same Dude, 1985)
I don’t know what the experience would be from the female point of view. But from the male point of view, or at least this male’s p.o.v., there was a lot of boy-on-boy interplay that was the primary arena for the kinds of stuff Amp wrote about.
I got bullied by girls and boys. Generally, only a subset of girls did not bully me. I wonder if that’s a trend, and I have no idea, that boys are bullied by boys, and girls by both genders.
I know girls often talk about bullying by girls, but then when you start conversations about sexual harassment even in grade school, there are often stories. And that is definitely a form of bullying. But personally, I got the straight up isolation/harassment from both sexes. No real physical violence to speak of from either.
However, I read this as gendered, too, and I’m pretty sure it was meant to be. And the experience of being alienated as a little boy who can’t perform masculinity is very affecting to me. It’s not just about the experience of being bullied; it’s about the experience of being insufficiently “like a boy,” of “failing” at a basic part of what is supposed to be your identity.
I agree that it’s important, but… well, why is gender the most important part of Hereville? I mean, there’s the representation issue of orthodox Jews, yes (and who else is doing so, in a light-hearted manner?), but there’s also something quintessentially Barry in that series, something that no one else can do; his humor and joy are in it, and those are important things to share, too.
But I would like the rest of the chapters of this, yes.
Thanks, Robert and Mandolin – I was highly flattered by your comments.
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I definitely see this story as gendered, although I don’t doubt that girls have similar experiences. Mandolin expresses my view when she says it’s about “the experience of being alienated as a little boy who can’t perform masculinity.”
That, to me, is more what the piece is about than bullying, although there is some bullying in there. For Joel, I think if anything summer camp is a relief from bullying, because it happens less at summer camp than it does at school. (That’s how I experienced it, anyhow).
And although I’m sorry to disagree with Copyleft, I also don’t think of this story as about being treated badly for being smart; I don’t think Joel is any smarter than T-Bird, and in one essential way (social acuity) he’s a lot less smart.
I’m not sure if there ARE any more chapters to “Tin Foil.” One of the things I like about it is how self-contained it is. I could see doing a graphic novel about Joel, or a Joel-like character, but I think it would require a different tone and approach. Joel’s life in “Tin Foil” seems pretty one-dimensional to me (where are his nerdy friends, for instance) in a way that works because its such a short piece, but would be too oppressive to read 200 pages of.
I wouldn’t say that gender is THE important part of Hereville, just A part. (And I think what I was getting at in my sleep-deprived bleariness was that some female Jewish cartoonist could come along and finish Hereville after you go all J.D. Salinger on us, but she couldn’t likely do the Tin Foil Epic. Apparently my tired brain is under the impression that there is a glut of generic female Jewish cartoonists, but that we’re desperately short of those who can speak authoritatively to the nerdy male state.)
In any event, if Mandolin and I both think something is special, then either it’s the apocalypse or we’re right, and you should do what we say.
But I do agree that what Amp’s doing with Hereville is pretty special too. I guess he has no choice but to do both. Attention all of Amp’s friends: stop letting him waste time on socialization and eating and fun. If you see him, and he isn’t drawing or sleeping, hit him until he starts doing one of those things. Art thanks you.
Well, less chapters perhaps than more stories about masculinity.