The Mercury News
‘If it was good enough for Charles Schulz, it’s good enough for me’
Into instant gratification? Like fast food? No time to read a 400-page tome? Well, you’re in luck. Best-selling illustrator, author and cartoonist Lisa Brown’s new book is the easily digested and utterly hilarious “Long Story Short: 100 Classic Books in 3 Panels.” It basically summarizes — in comic-strip form — everything from “Don Quixote” and “Jane Eyre” to “Beloved” and even “Twilight.” You may know the San Francisco artist from her “Three-panel Book Reviews” for the San Francisco Chronicle and her award-winning picture books like “The Airport Book.” And she has also collaborated on three books with author Lemony Snicket, aka Daniel Handler, who happens to be her spouse. Q This visual Cliffsnotes of the classics seems perfectly suited for today’s short-attention-span world. How did the awesome Three-panel Book Reviews start? A Back in the dark ages of 2008, Oscar Villalon, who had been the intrepid editor of the Chronicle’s Book Review section, asked if I wanted to do something visual for the paper. And yes, I did. I had done a regular comic strip in my college paper years and years before, and thought that I’d like to reacquaint myself with the form.
Little known fact: The comics were briefly syndicated. I was strangely euphoric when they sent me a sample “Broom-hilda” to show me the size specifications. However, I don’t think any newspaper ever picked them up. Regardless, I am a former syndicated cartoonist. No one can take that from me.
Q Why three panels? Why not four? Twelve? One?
A Well, I often cheat. Some of the strips are one panel, or two, or even four. But most of them fit into the three-panel format, an homage to the funny pages. If it was good enough for Charles Schulz, it’s good enough for me.
Q Which novels were the hardest to distill?
A It’s a toss-up between insanely complicated epics (“The Bhagavad Gita”) and books that were deep and meaningful to me but not at all funny (“Beloved.”) The ones that absolutely work best are antiquated classics that are both amazing and ridiculous at the same time, like “Madame Bovary.”
Will these tidbits of tomes help me sound smart at parties? Ayes.
Q Your first graphic novel, “The Phantom Twin,” must have been a completely different process ...
A Completely different. My process for my comic strips is 1) Read or reread a book (or, let’s be honest, watch a BBC production). 2) Think of something (hopefully) funny. 3) Draw. The drawing start-to-finish takes an afternoon, usually. The graphic novel was years of writing, rewriting, sketching, outlining, drawing, etc., etc.