Tag Archives: zest books

Review: Prison Island: A Graphic Memoir

prison-islandMcNeil Island in Washington state was the home of the last prison island in the United States, accessible only by air or sea. It was also home to about fifty families, including Colleen Frake’s. Her parents—like nearly everyone else on the island—both worked in the prison, where her father was the prison’s captain and her mother worked in security. In this engaging graphic memoir, a Xeric and Ignatz Award-winning comics artist, Colleen Frakes, tells the story of a typical girl growing up in atypical circumstances.

Prison Island: A Graphic Memoir is a fun, somewhat quirky, graphic novel recounting Frakes’ rather unique life. Within the first ten pages I found myself laughing at this oddly endearing take on what it’s like to not just live on a prison island, but also to have prison staff as your parents.

The humor of the graphic novel is partially due to what should be simple tasks that are far from it. Escaped inmates, trying to get pizza delivered to an island, just living on the island period, it all creates a very intriguing life that is beyond interesting to find out more about.

The narrative of the graphic novel revolves around returning to the island for an event and touring for nostalgia with her family. The direction of this storytelling helps us learn even more about Frakes’ childhood, through her family interaction. The combination of flashbacks with the present day tour creates an understanding of a lot of Frakes’ experiences. It enriches the experience by giving the characters even more depth and moves the story away from simply being a series of quirky stories.

Frakes art is fantastic giving just enough detail to make the art something you linger over for details, but also it has a fun sense about it that enhances to vibe of the overall graphic novel.

This is a fantastic graphic memoir that brings us into a world none of us will ever experience. Full of humor, this is one to get and one of the most entertaining graphic novels I’ve read in some time.

Story: Colleen Frakes Art: Colleen Frakes
Story: 9 Art: 9 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy

Liz Prince talks Tomboy

Tomboy-3Liz Prince is an up and coming comic book artist, Her Latest work, Tomboy, is a graphic memoir of growing up with elements that will ring true for who ever picks it up. The story is smart, funny, and written with an eye for timing and space that only a master story teller could achieve.

Her other works include Will You Still Love Me if I Wet the Bed, Delayed Replays, and has contributed to BOOM! Studios series Marceline and the Scream Queens. Her Latest work, Tomboy, is a graphic memoir of her life growing up. You can see her other works on her art page.

We chatted over email, and Liz revealed herself as a down to earth artist with goals that are to reach as wide of an audience as she can. Liz is just returning from a promotional tour and had time to answer a couple questions for Graphic Policy

Graphic Policy: What do you hope readers will get from reading Tomboy?

Liz Prince: First and foremost, I hope that readers are entertained.  I didn’t want there to be one point to the story: I want people to take what they will from it.  Of course, there are a lot of messages in the book, but I didn’t want it to be a moral tale, or a lecture, or a lesson.  Hopefully if the reader is experiencing their own gender-related bullying or pressure, they will be inspired to stay the course and just be themselves; if the reader has participated in said bullying or pressure, hopefully they will no longer take part in it; and if the reader has never had any issues with bullying or pressure, hopefully they will be more aware of the ways in which we live in a culture that encourages strict gender rules.

It was very important to me, as a straight, white female, not to be speaking for anyone else’s experience.  I hope that comes through, that this is a very personal story, and it’s not supposed to be about ALL Tomboys or everyone who is gender non-conforming.

GP: At the end of the book you come to terms with a lot of the things that were hurtful and confusing to you growing up and turn it into a great story. Were you encouraged to write, or had you been writing since you were young?

LP: My parents always encouraged me to pursue whatever my interests were, and my main interests always centered around art and cartoons.  When I discovered comics in 3rd grade, and decided that I wanted to draw comics for a living, my parents helped me try to find art classes and mentors and stuff like that.  My dad was a music writer and critic, and my mom had taken art classes at Pratt, so they were both interested in those things themselves.  Because of their enthusiasm, I’ve been drawing comics since I was 9 years old!!

GP: Do you think there is anything that could be done that would help the kids that do not quite fit the ‘gender’ bill?

LP: There are many things that can be done, starting with changing the ways that we teach gender to children; a big part of my book is exploring how children are predisposed to want the simplest explanation, and that leads them to be the most strict gender binary enforcers.  Getting rid of the “blue and pink” mentality of gender, and instead teaching kids that it’s not as simple as being a boy and being girl would certainly set kids on a path of greater acceptance and awareness of the gender spectrum.

GP: Your illustration style is simple while still being expressive.Are there certain things that this particular style of illustration allows that other styles do not?

LP: Very much in line with the Scott McCloud theory in Understanding Comics, wherein the simple smiley face is the icon best suited for people to be able to see themselves in, drawing autobio comics in a simple style allows readers to recognize more of themselves in a character, I think it gives it a more universal feel.  If something is too detailed, it becomes more concrete and specific, and there may be less for someone to latch onto. I don’t consider myself to be a very accomplished artist: I use cartooning for it’s most basic purpose, which is to tell a story.

GP: I really liked your approach to narration: Young Liz struggling through situations and having adult Liz occasionally step in and explain things to the reader. It really allowed the reader to feel not only the confusion that surrounded Young Liz, but also allowed for a very accurate portrayal of coming of age.

There was no projecting of an adult understanding onto the past. Were you trying to portray it this way, and if so, how did you manage keep your adult self out of Young Liz‘s experience?

LP: Writing a book about gender, and looking back at my childhood through the lens of what I understand now, it was really important for me to tell the story from the present, but at the same time, I wanted the scenes from my past to play out in real time.

Adult Liz pretty much vanishes from the narration when I reach 6th grade, because that became the part of the story where I was at an age when I started being able to recognize a lot of these societal pressures for myself.

I wanted the story to evolve in an organic way, but I also wanted it to be fast-paced: drawing a book about my ENTIRE childhood could have easily taken me 5,000 pages, so I had to be very selective about what anecdotes I told, and how I weaved them into the story.

In the end, I’m not sure that I really did keep “adult Liz” and “young Liz” separate, because my current voice narrates the story throughout, but I’m glad to hear that I successfully was able to create that illusion!

GP: Did drawing out scenes give any closure or perhaps new understanding to old memories? Were there any that were particularly difficult to revisit?

LP: There were many things that I recalled with new meaning, as I’ve come to have a greater understanding of the ways that American culture divides the gender lines, and the subjugated role that women play within those lines. Tomboy has a lot of themes of internal misogyny, and I was able to see where a lot of that came from, in direct relation to the things that I was watching and participating in as a kid.

A lot of the bullying stuff still elicited an emotional response from me, which was surprising, but also reinforced to me that these behaviors that we endured as kids can really carry a lot of weight: just because it’s buried somewhere in my mind, doesn’t mean it isn’t still having an impact on me.  Very sobering stuff.

Review: Tomboy

Tomboy-a-graphic-memoir-by-Liz-PrinceTomboy is a memoir of…well, a tomboy.

It’s a memoir that follows the author, going through her childhood and teenage years while being not quite a boy, but not quite a girl either.

The author Liz Prince has a knack for the kind of narrative that makes you feel right at home;  the character being the kind you root for when the going gets tough.

However, it always seems the going is tough for Liz. Frankly there are some heart breaking moments in this story. Particularly when the spunky tomboy realizes during an elementary school sex-ed lecture that she really is a girl–and she will never become a free-living boy.

She then runs into the bushes at recess and prays to God to not make her into a girl but to please, please make her a boy.

The young Liz does not like playing house, or doing any of those “girly” things. Most of her childhood is spent running away from the idea of being a ‘girl’. Boys always seemed to have more fun, were allowed to be more aggressive, and being a girl was a detriment.

Some of the situations she gets herself into are not only funny, but have a heartwarming familiarity.While the theme is a tender one, the delivery is kind. Funny, quirky and interesting situations with an easy flowing dialogue makes this a wonderful read.

Though she got relentlessly tormented by her peers, and even encountered negative situations with friends, she kept her identity as a tomboy. Not quite a boy, but definitely not a girl.

Liz struggles with the idea’s of gender as well as the expectations they entail. She comes to terms with who she is with the help of an indie zine she picks up and is suddenly flooded with understanding.

“I wasn’t challenging the social norm, I was buying into it!” her adult self chimes in, as the reader is shown a scene of teen-aged Liz pouring over a zine.

The novel has a curious young girl wondering, questioning and thinking about who she is and why she can’t seem to fit in, with adult Liz stepping in and narrating some important scenes from her past–making sense of the events and their significance for herself and for the reader without compromising the feelings of confusion and discomfort that come from being in, or even remembering, these situations.

Being a girl didn’t have to mean dresses, butterflies and lilting flowers. That’s just what the social norm dictated. It’s a wonderfully crafted story that pulls at the hear strings and ends in bursts of understanding which were fifteen years in the making. Whether you are a life long Tomboy, the pretty girl at the prom, or a guy– this book has something for you. Everyone has felt confused growing up at some point.

Tomboy is a memoir of Liz. It is also a memoir of everyone who ever had trouble fitting in.

Story: Liz Prince  Art: Liz Prince
Story: 8.0 Art: 5.0 Overall: 8.0 Recommendation: Read