“I suppose I shouldn’t have left the book out without expecting that one of you would pick it up,” Eleanor said.
“I mean, obviously,” Dania agreed. She held the book out, showing off the bright design on the cover. “You think I’m going to stay away from the book with the badass lady with the fire hair on the front?”
Eleanor sat down, with a chuckle. “I guess not.”
“You read it too, right?” Dania asked Gwen, who stood at the sink washing dishes. “I though I saw you holding it earlier.”
“I read it once, yes,” Gwen said. “Not super close. Somewhere between skimming and reading.”
“Well, I’m glad we’ve all read my book now,” said Eleanor.
“Are you annoyed?”
“Obviously not, it’s a great book,” Eleanor clarified. “I’m glad you both thought it was worth reading.”
“Definitely!” Dania said. “It’s hilarious! I love the story, and the characters, and the illustration style is super clean and distinct.”
“Yeah, Sarah Graley is a really talented comic artist. Have you read Our Super Adventure?”
Dania’s eyes widened. “Does she have another graphic novel?”
“No, no,” Eleanor began, before correcting herself. “I mean, she does. There’s the Kim Reaper series. But Our Super Adventure is her webcomic. That’s how I discovered her.”
“Looking it up now…” Dania tapped away on her phone.
“She’s a nice anecdote to the sort of emotionless dry humor that’s really popular right now. Think about that Strange Planet comic with the aliens, or basically anything from Poorly Drawn Lines. Graley has never been afraid of taking her comic into the realm of passion, exaggeration and melodrama. ‘Glitch’ is all of that, expanded.”
Eleanor took the book from Dania and flipped through, searching for a particular panel.
“This is her?” Dania held up Instagram, where an avatar with wire glasses, a chestnut mop of hair, and a wide grin seemed to be smiling at the account name, @sarahgraley.
“That’s it,” Eleanor said. “This is the panel I wanted to show.”
The moment in question came from early in the graphic novel, when protagonist Izzy returns home to her father, who points out the bite mark on her leg. Swiveling around in the kitchen, he holds out a knife towards his daughter. A page later, confronted by his wife about the incident, was the panel Eleanor pointed to.
“Dereck! Why did you do that?” asked the mother, looking out of her own panel to the one just across the page.
In the adjacent space, the father could be seen in close-up, his hands like paws propped under the chin. The eyes were bent up into fabiform sympathy, as a purple wave of terror spread from his head across the pink background. “I was distracted by the bite mark on Izzy’s leg and forgot I was holding it!” he seemed to whimper.
“Look at how much personality is in this one panel!” Eleanor said. “The emotion is so clear, even as the character model gets contorted in the style.”
“That is one detail of the illustration I noted,” Gwen added, stepping into the doorway. “The extreme variability of drawing style. Every character has their neutral, but when they move towards extreme emotions, they can blast off of the page.”
“Yep,” Eleanor flipped through, finding another example. “Izzy’s arms getting all wavy when confronted and nervous, or her pupils dilating when she looks at something magical. That’s a hallmark of Graley’s style as well.”
“It’s honestly a bit distracting,” Gwen said. “Obviously it’s intentional, a clear cartoon aesthetic. Still, I think about other graphic novels –– Persepolis, the Bone series –– and there’s still a distinct range of emotions for each character without going fully off-model, like she does here.”
“Well, those are like, serious, right?” Dania asked. “They’re dealing with much more serious stories with higher stakes than something like Glitch. In a book for younger readers, you can probably get away with that.”
“Not only that, but I’d say you already said what I would have, Gwen,” added Eleanor. “It’s a distinct cartoon aesthetic, both in the visuals and in the narrative. If anything, I’d argue that the story and illustrations are perfectly matched to keep the same tone throughout –– certainly not something I can say for Bone.”
“Perhaps,” Gwen said. “I’ll certainly praise the novel on the grounds of tying together its story and message, how the subtextual conflict about Izzy abandoning her friends becomes a part of the action of the story in an organic way. That’s done quite well.”
“And it’s got a really amazing ending,” Dania added. “The illustrations for that final fight scene are so punchy and the colors are way darker than anything before that point.”
“Visual storytelling, right?” Eleanor said. “All the stuff you couldn’t do with just dialogue.”
“But the dialogue is also really funny, too!” Dania continued. “I love that everyone has this prior knowledge of adventure stories, so they’re pointing out the tropes throughout and leaning on the fourth wall, stuff like that.”
“That’s very true,” said Gwen. “Normally, I’d expect a story with this level of meta-commentary about video games, or adventure stories, to feel like the stakes have lowered, because they know how the fights will go. Too many characters saying, ‘oh, this is your special attack, I better block’ –– the language of the medium made into self-aware text. But the awareness doesn’t typically lead to in-jokes like that. More often, the commentary from characters is isolated to a small nod here and there. When the stakes need to rise, Graley does admirable work at cutting out the fat from the story.”
“Some of the small touches are in the visuals, as well,” Eleanor said. “Rae’s constantly changing outfits, or Izzy and Eric’s murderous teacher.”
“I wonder what kids will think of the book,” Gwen wondered. “It’s clearly written for a younger demographic. What’s the target for Our Super Adventure?”
“Older, I believe?” Eleanor said. “I don’t think there’s any swearing or mature content in it, but it’s more about Sarah and her husband, and their cats.”
“It looks more like a comic about their relationship,” Dania mused, scrolling through page after page of Graley’s romance with Stef. “Cats seem to be something of a visual theme in her work.”
“She’s got, like, four.”
“It’s interesting how much bigger Glitch is, comparatively,” Dania pointed out. “The webcomic is, like, two people. Three if we include the cats collectively. Glitch has a ton of characters, settings, dramatic action.”
“Although it also focuses on three characters,” Gwen added. “Izzy, Eric, and Rae. Maybe the parents, though they don’t get as much resolution to their story.”
“I like the parents,” Eleanor said. “I do wish they got a little more to do in the final third. Between this and Phoebe And Her Unicorn, we have a nice little corrective thread going on now about showing parents as a positive, united front in graphic novels.”
“Oh, that does remind me,” Dania said. “You remember how we realized that certain panels of Phoebe were literally xeroxed and copied later in the novel?”
“Yeah,” Eleanor recalled. “I don’t think we were too hard on Dana Simpson for it, though. I get the grind of putting out a newspaper comic.”
“I mention it because that could never happen with Sarah Graley,” Dania crowed. “Look at the expressions here!”
She flipped to a random page in the book, where Izzy and Eric were having a tense argument about the former ignoring the latter. True to form, every single character expression, exaggerated or not, conveyed a universe of personality that only stylization could make possible.
“So it’s obvious that everything, from the backgrounds to the faces to the shading –– and there’s some excellent shading, which is such a weird thing to point out…”
“I’m certain she’d appreciate it,” Gwen said. “Illustration is so much more difficult than people realize.”
“…it’s all done by hand, every part of it.”
“It’s weird, right?” Eleanor offered. “Dania, you referred to it as ‘clean’ earlier, but I’m not sure it’s an entirely applicable phrase here.”
“What, do you think the linework is sloppy?” Gwen asked.
“Obviously not,” said Eleanor. “But I would say that it’s very fluid. It’s important to the story that characters’ limbs can squash and stretch across panels, that they are able to break the character models a little bit.”
“And above all,” Gwen said, “the moral is an important one for kids to hear: your friendships are more important than doing something isolated like video gaming.”
“But that’s not even what it says, right?” Dania added. “It would be easy if the message was just ‘screw video games, play with your friends.’ But the video game is never itself the villain.”
“What about in the…”
“I mean in the conflict between Izzy and Eric, duh,” Dania clarified. “The climax is Izzy and Eric playing video games together, the way it should be.”
“I agree,” said. Eleanor. “The best way to experience certain works of art is with other people, who can share the experience and make jokes and build a connection while you play.”
“Or read,” Dania said, holding up the book. “Thanks for leaving the book out for us to find.”
Eleanor blushed. “It was nothing, really. Again, I wasn’t sure you’d all like it as much as me.”
“And again again, let me reiterate:” Dania held up the cover, where Izzy’s devilish grin shone through beneath her flaming hair. “Who could look at this cover and not be having a good time?”
Image Source: Goodreads