Q+A: “ Ques­tions For Liana Finck

Forward Magazine - - CONTENTS - By PJ Grisar

In many ways, the comic artist Liana Finck’s work is fear­less. Finck’s style is bold in its sim­plic­ity and sto­ry­telling, and now, in her lat­est book, “Pass­ing for Hu­man: A Graphic Mem­oir” (Ran­dom House) brave in its in­ti­macy. The book fol­lows Le­ola (a fic­tion­al­ized ver­sion of the artist) as she tries to reckon with the loss of her shadow by draw­ing her story. Le­ola re­turns to the draw­ing board over and over again, be­gin­ning with her mother’s his­tory with her own shadow and mov­ing on to her fa­ther’s strange child­hood be­fore com­ing to terms with her­self and

her re­la­tion­ship with her craft. Le­ola starts the book many times, but she never gets past the many dif­fer­ent first chap­ters. Of course, like many fear­less pieces of art, “Pass­ing for Hu­man” is also about fear: of not fit­ting in and not be­ing up to the task of mak­ing art. The For­ward’s PJ Grisar spoke with Finck, who is a reg­u­lar car­toon­ist for the New Yorker and a con­trib­u­tor to the For­ward, about her new­est book.

PJ GRISAR: In many ways this book is about ori­gins — your own, your par­ents’ and also that o the book it­sel . How did “Pass­ing or Hu­man” as­sume its inal shape with your avatar, Le­ola, be­gin­ning the book with dier­ent start­ing points? Did it al­ways have that ram­ing de­vice?

LIANA FINCK: No. It didn’t even start as a mem­oir. It was —˜™— and I was fin­ish­ing “A Bin­tel Brief,” which was my book be­fore, and I needed a new project and I was very im­pa­tient and I didn’t know how to make money yet, so I re­ally wanted a book ad­vance right away. I’ve al­ways re­ally liked Vladimir Nabokov, and I thought it would be fun to do an adap­ta­tion of “The Real Life of Se­bas­tian Knight” [Nabokov’s first novel in English, about a writer work­ing on a bi­og­ra­phy of his half-brother], and so [“Pass­ing for Hu­man”] started as that at first. I was try­ing to sell my agent on it and I was do­ing a few pages, and mean­while he asked the es­tate of Nabokov and they said I couldn’t do it. So I slowly started chang­ing what I was work­ing on. [“Se­bas­tian Knight”] is kind of a book about two broth­ers who are al­ter egos of each other, so I changed them to sis­ters and then one of them be­came me and then, I don’t re­mem­ber why, but one of them be­came a shadow and then the story dis­ap­peared and it be­came this mad­cap ad­ven­ture about a shadow com­ing back to haunt its per­son after its dis­ap­pear­ance. But I was also re­ally young [—š], and I didn’t know how to keep a story go­ing for­ever and it just trailed o›. In­stead of tak­ing a month and think­ing re­ally hard about a good project, I im­medi- ately went back into these failed pages from this thing that kept mor­ph­ing and it be­came a mem­oir. And then a cou­ple of years later what I had was many false starts of the mem­oir, and once I tried to start with my mom’s story and my own story of be­ing a weird kid and then, much later, when I was re­ally try­ing to pull it to­gether, I got tired of start­ing over and I just de­cided to use all the be­gin­nings I al­ready had. And that’s how the fram­ing de­vice came.

There’s so much about the cre­ative process in here. How do you work? Do you use so ware or your draw­ings or are you more ana­log? Is it a mix o both?

In my life I do a mix­ture. I think I change ev­ery few years, but when I was work­ing on this book it was al­ways pen on pa­per. I al­ways used the same pen, this very thin gel pen from Muji. But I thought re­ally hard about how to make a comic that was more like writ­ing, and I thought the way to do that was to draw very sim­ply and be able to just redo each page a mil­lion times quickly and to edit that way. That’s where I came up with this kind of mod­u­lar style with all the boxes the same size. And I used a kind of translu­cent pa­per and I traced. I’d redo each page a zil­lion times and make lit­tle changes each time I re­drew.

When you’re work­ing, do you wel­come in lu­ences or do you try to avoid them? The book has many epigraphs and, o course, with all the stu about los­ing your shadow, I can’t help but think o Peter Pan.

“Peter Pan” was [a] ma­jor [in­flu­ence]. I think that’s re­ally where the shadow comes from. I re­late so much to Wendy in “Peter Pan,” be­cause she has to grow up. She can’t be a kid for­ever. She lets go of magic, and I think it’s such a pow­er­ful fe­male love story where she’s chas­ing this per­son who has so many more op­tions and gets to have so much more fun. But in the end, she’s the one who’s able to see and who’s able to feel, and he’s not.

Graphic mem­oirs are very pop­u­lar now, but this eels dier­ent rom many oth­ers in that it is not an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. Names are changed and there’s quite a bit o an­tasy.

I don’t think I’d be ca­pa­ble of writ­ing an ex­act mem­oir, be­cause I think in metaphors. Every­thing I write to me

I re­late so much to Wendy in ‘Peter Pan,’ be­cause she has to grow up. But in the end, she’s the one who’s able to see and who’s able to feel, and he’s not.

is very real, but I know it’s not what the world would call real. I also re­ally don’t get fic­tion. Why would you make some­thing up? How would you make some­thing up? I have no idea. I just like sto­ries. Any­thing emo­tional feels true to me.

You’ve worked with the For­ward, and even based your irst book, “A Bin­tel Brie ,” on the ad­vice columns o the same name that used to run in our news­pa­per pages. Now you have your own ad­vice col­umn at The New Yorker, “Dear Pep­per.” What about the ad­vice col­umn or­mat in­trigues you?

I didn’t feel any way about ad­vice columns un­til I read “A Bin­tel Brief” and to­tally fell in love with it. I went through this very high­brow in­tel­lec­tual phase when I was a child, like ­ through ­­ or some­thing, and I would never have read a news­pa­per, let alone an ad­vice col­umn. It was all about po­etry. I think I came to the end of po­etry when I was ­€. I had got­ten all the feel­ings that I could out of it and then I was look­ing for more feel­ings. I was try­ing to read Hegel and stu‚, and the feel­ings weren’t there. And then by chance I picked up “A Bin­tel Brief” and there they were.

This book eels di‚er­ent rom “A Bin­tel Brie .” What comes irst or you, the nar­ra­tive or the style?

I think this book grew out of the in­ter­sti­tial part of “A Bin­tel Brief.” The first parts that I drew were ac­tual adap­ta­tions of the let­ters. I con­nected them with this kind of made-up per­sonal story where I meet the ghost of (For­ward founder) Abra­ham Ca­han and he reads “Bin­tel Brief” let­ters out of an old note­book that be­longed to my grandma, and I fall in love with him. In a way, that was the only fun part of “Bin­tel Brief” to make, be­cause in the sto­ries I felt like I was the con­duit for Yid­dish and the ac­tual sto­ries and the his­tory to come into this new form. The in­ter­sti­tial part wanted to be, in the style, like “Pass­ing for Hu­man” but I hadn’t fig­ured it out yet. Very sim­ple, even lines. I’ve dis­cov­ered that I don’t re­ally like fa­cial fea­tures, I just like fa­cial ex­pres­sions. I very con­sciously came up with a char­ac­ter who doesn’t re­ally have fa­cial fea­tures but she has these re­ally overblown fa­cial ex­pres­sions and body lan­guage. I stopped us­ing a brush and I started us­ing a pen that I think is very ex­pres­sive.

I imag­ine the palette, black and white, was a nat­u­ral it or the in­ter­play be­tween the shadow and the light.

Yes, it was orig­i­nally called “Light and Shadow” and we thought that was too po­etic and quiet for a ti­tle. But it fit the cover.

Your book deals with eel­ing not-quite-hu­man and di‚er­ent rom your peers. How has your re­la­tion­ship to oth­er­ness changed over the years? Do you eel di‚er­ent now or just di‚er­ent about it now?

I think it’s all about the in­ter­net. Some­times I won­der if I hadn’t been a child of Face­book and text mes­sag­ing and on­line dat­ing, if I would be the kind of per­son who thinks of her­self as very di‚er­ent from ev­ery­one else and maybe lives in a house by the ocean and has an­i­mals. I re­ally al­ways thought that’s who I would be, and now I’m just a per­son with a lot of friends. But I was raised in a time and place [the ’“”s in Or­ange County, New York, and Rock­land Coun- ty, where Finck at­tended a Jew­ish day school] where any­one even shy, strange or di‚er­ent was very weird. Now that I’m able to post things im­me­di­ately on the in­ter­net and see peo­ple’s com­ments it kind of blows my mind that peo­ple re­late to all those ideas of feel­ing so di‚er­ent.

Some­thing in­ter­est­ing in the book is how you ma­ni­est your gnaw­ing doubts.

Yeah, they’re rats.

Are those still lin­ger­ing with you or have you al­layed them?

They take di‚er­ent shapes. The doubts in the book are about not be­ing able to draw. I think I al­layed those doubts a long time ago. I was very self-con­scious as a late child and young adult. When I was a kid I was so shy I couldn’t talk, and I felt that way about draw­ing later. I couldn’t ex­press my­self, and that’s re­ally what the book is about: learn­ing to shovel all those fears o‚ of my one way of re­ally ex­press­ing my­self since I was a kid. But I have doubts in other ar­eas now.

JORGE COLOMBO

LIANA FINCK/RAN­DOM HOUSE

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