This week I chat with one of my nearest and dearest, Lenore Ramirez: designer, artist, food lover, and A+ friend about her deep love of graphic novels.
HPL: So fam, what have you been reading lately?
LR: I’ve actually been reading a lot of things. I’ve been reading In Progress by Jessica Hische. I’ve also been reading some early issues of Optic Nerve by Adrian Tomine when he was still in high school, which is crazy.
HPL: What is Optic Nerve?
LR: It’s a series of comics that Adrian Tomine did. It’s like an anthology focusing on different stories and from his early days it’s definitely become more refined. He has developed his own style. I’m reading his early issues because his later ones are amazing! He has a gift for going into very real world scenarios where you’ve felt like you’ve met these characters before, and he manages to find the dramatic in the mundane which I like. He mixes up his drawing style in a very seamless way that contributes to the story, so I really enjoy him as an author. Plus, he’s Asian so that’s great.
HPL: We’ve talked about this a lot but you’re very into graphic novels. I want to hear from you, coming from someone who doesn’t read graphic novels that much, what am I missing? What are the
advantages over a traditional novel?
LR: Ok, so I love books. I’ve always loved reading fiction ever since I was a kid. Being able to weave a
visual story in my own head was always something that I enjoyed but I never really discovered graphic novels until a few years ago when I went to TCAF, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, and it was like a door in my mind had opened. I am a person who loves words and loves visuals — as a Fine Arts student, as an English student who has always loved literature. I just love the way that an artist’s personal touch can add to the narrative of the story. That’s what I enjoy the most, whether it’s autobiographical or whether it’s about another person or another life, another time, I just feel that being able to see the artist’s vision as well as hear the story in my mind is a perfect union.
HPL: Break down the comics versus graphic novels debate for me.
LR: “There’s no difference between comics and graphic novels” is a big [argument] that’s come up a lot with people I’ve mentioned it to. Which is interesting because I actually find a huge difference. Graphic novels, the ones that I really like, usually have a defined ending. End of the book, that’s the end of the story. That’s what I enjoy the most. Whereas with a comic book, there’s all of these universes and the issues are very short. So for someone who reads as fast as I do I try to read a comic book as slowly as possible but I usually get through it too fast for it to be financially worth it for me to keep coming back every week to buy another one. I prefer buying volumes of comic books, and in that way, I can kind of get the same feeling as a graphic novel as with a comic book but I just generally like — even in movies, even in television — things with a closed structure.
HPL: What’s the most inspiring graphic novel you’ve read? What’s touched you?
LR: Oh my god probably the first one I ever read. It was called Black Hole and that is the first one I always recommend. Black Hole is a brilliantly illustrated book by Charles Burns, who I got to meet which is amazing.
HPL: Oh nice! Where did you meet him
LR: He was at TCAF. He was wonderful and even though he spelled my name wrong in the book when he signed it, it was fine. Even though it broke my heart a little bit. It’s cool.
LR: Yeah, pretty much, but it inspired me a lot since I love horror. How do I put this? This book is about high schoolers who gain physical defects as a result of having sex so it’s kind of like a sexually transmitted disease but it affects your appearance. So you grow horns, or you get bald or you turn into a monster and an outcast, basically. Sex is this huge thing when you’re a teenager. Only the cool kids have it, so it’s interesting to see how it affects class divides in high school because popular kids are becoming monsters and then they become the outcasts. It’s just a brilliantly woven tale between all these different kids, all feeling different emotions. It has a lot of really amazing symbolism and it inspired me a lot in terms of the limits a graphic novel can reach because I think it took him years to illustrate it. If you saw the art style you’d understand, it’s wonderfully realistic but relatable which is a hard balance for a lot of comic artists to keep.
HPL: A lot of the graphic novels that you mentioned are seen as serious works of art that do involve sex. Whereas I find most novels that are serious works of art will involve sex but they kind of brush over it. Why do you think that is? Why do you think that sexuality is so much more heavily involved in a visual medium?
LR: I see what you mean. That’s interesting. I guess it really is true that in books, only in erotica do they really expand on the sex itself.
HPL: I have heard, and I do find it too in my experience, that it is very hard to write a sex scene. That’s why there are entire awards dedicated to it.
LR: I guess there’s only so many puns you can use for the word penis. So yeah, it’s interesting. I think in graphic novels it’s never like a pornographic scene played out picture by picture by picture, which would be hilarious – like a flip book! Wonderful idea for anyone who’s interested in picking it up. I think [graphic novels] touch upon it too but it’s much more like flashes. Much like real sex is about sensation and visual. How memory [of it] works is usually a kind of visual memory of this moment that you’re having and the thoughts running through your mind. That’s usually how I encounter sex in graphic novels as well, so it doesn’t feel corny ever, it feels real. If they choose to keep it in there.
Honourable mentions of graphic novels which didn’t make it into the post:
- Sex Criminals by Chip Zdarsky
- Relish by Lucy Knisley
- Maus by Art Spiegelman
- Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine
- Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt