Book talks beyond words
By Dante on September 28th, 2011
A few days ago, Brian Selznick was at Scholastic headquarters in New York for a presentation about his new book, Wonderstruck. Unlike your everyday author talk, where a writer will talk to an audience about their book, read an excerpt, then take questions, Selznick used a multimedia approach that highlighted his visual influences as well as his early work.
Selznick’s presentation was certainly engaging, but also out of the box in terms of writers talking about their work. But it’s not new if you’ve ever attended a book talk with a graphic novelist. Those tend to be expansive experiences that add to your understanding of not only the author you’re there to see, but also of the medium itself.
When I was in grad school, my now-wife and I went to see Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Maus Art Spiegelman discuss his most recent work, In the Shadow of No Towers. Going in, we had no idea what the book was about beyond a reaction to and coming to terms with 9/11. The book is certainly that, but it’s also an exploration of early comic strips like Krazy Kat and Ignatz and The Katzenjammer Kids. Spiegelman’s presentation was his book blown up, with segments about those early comics and many, many others, how they influenced him, and how they continue to be the foundations of so much graphic art.
Hyperbole aside, it was one of the best author talks, lectures, whatever that I’ve ever attended. I walked away with such a broader knowledge base about the graphic art form. Strips like Krazy Kat and Little Nemo in Slumberland shot to the top of my must-read list, and the names of creators like George Herriman and Lyonel Feininger resounded in my brain.
Years later, I met Spielgelman through a friend at an author talk at the Strand Book Store with Daniel Clowes, the creator of Ghost World. I told Spielgelman about how impactful his presentation was and how it led me to another of his works, The Wild Party, to which he responded by giving me the low-down on another early graphic artist, Lyn Ward, who worked in woodcuts. Of course, that sent me home with the mission of learning more about Ward and reading his work.
I’ve had similar experiences after seeing Clowes and The Black Hole author Charles Burns, also at the Strand. And I always walk away thinking that more authors should embrace the sort of interactive multimedia approach graphic novelists have been using for years. It made obvious sense for Selznick to go that way, given his books’ unique cinematic relationship between text and illustration. But what about other authors? Who would you want to see give a multimedia presentation about their work? Have you ever been to a unique author talk? Let us know in the comments!
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