The wonderful Dave Eggers tried to draw me – his way of signing my copy of You Shall Know Our Velocity, his second book. Failing miserably, Dave turned me into a girl and called her Amy Carter, the daughter of Jimmy Carter. He then explained why it was important to have Amy Carter on the book’s first page – a tortuous reasoning I don’t exactly remember now.
Karrie Fransman, who I met in a café just off King’s Cross, had no such problem. A smiling presence, she is an accomplished comic creator whose debut work The House That Groaned (Random House) is currently a bestseller in the UK. Karrie is pleased bookshops now have a separate section for “graphic novels”, a term quite possibly coined by Art Spiegelman of Maus fame. “That’s huge for us because less than a decade ago only specialist shops would stock comic books.” Graphic novels have come a long way from their uncertain beginnings and The House That Groaned is a complex narrative that deals with society’s anxieties and how they are played out on the human body. “The Victorians considered being plump as epitome of beauty. It’s the other extreme now; we seem to be celebrating anorexia.” Karrie uses six lonely characters in her book to offer us microscopic views into different issues and strata of modern society.
She studied psychology and sociology at Leeds University. Art came later. “It was when I came across Daniel Clowes’s Ghost World that I was inspired to draw. I always loved telling stories, anyway, and what better way to than to aid the words with pictures.” Other influences were Maurice Sendak, Kit Williams and Paula Rego.
This genre has always been popular in America. When I ask her about its recent upsurge in the UK, why, Karrie exclaims, “Manga!” Manga is the wildly popular Japanese graphics comic book artwork – today an instantly recognizable style – which got its start in comics but now has spread over many other genres. “You can literally find manga for any subject – cookery, erotica, superhero, everything is covered in manga.” Comics are bigger in the continent than in Britain, with the Angouleme International Comic Festival in France being Europe’s biggest comic event. Karrie attends between five to six comic conventions every year, while simultaneously teaching at the London Print Studio and working on her next book: Death of the Artist (Jonathan Cape, due out in 2014).
Karrie is excited about her participation in the Hay Festival Dhaka. She will be conducting workshops, along with other comic artists from Bangladesh, India and the UK. To her the critical value of a graphic novel or work is “a narrative which doesn’t have international boundaries, in the same way language does. Comics surpass national, educational and racial barriers.” A good comic creator should keep the visualizing “simplistic” and should never “over-explain,” i.e., leave space for the reader’s imagination to flow. At the end of our meal, I manoeuvre to bring Batman into our conversation. I inform Karrie that as a die-hard fan of Batman from childhood, I always saw Bruce Wayne/Batman as a comic book superhero, and one with no superpowers. So could that be the reason I always think of Batman comics as graphic novels?
Karrie nods gleefully: “Graphic novel is really a posh way of referring to a comic book.”