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Author Interview: Barry Deutsch & HEREVILLE



Today I have for you an interview with graphic novel artist and writer Barry Deutsch, whose book Hereville, a graphic novel about a troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox girl launches today from Amulet Books. Barry is an accomplished artist and you can visit his website, Amptoons, to learn more.



1. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background as an artist?

I was born in New York City, and raised in New York and Connecticut. I've loved comics for as long as I remember. My parents have an original "Pogo" Sunday page -- Pogo, for your readers too young to know, was one of the all-time great newspaper comic strips, the Calvin and Hobbes of its day โ€“ and I would kneel on the back of the sofa and read that page over and over again.


[caption id="attachment_577" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Barry Deutsch"][/caption]

I remember drawing comics in junior high and in high school. I was an okay student -- sliding by on book smarts rather than hard work, a sure recipe for mediocrity -- but I took drawing classes very seriously. After attending and dropping out of Oberlin College (my poor parents!), I attended School of Visual Arts in New York City for a year, where I took Will Eisner's cartooning class. Then I moved to Massachusetts, where I wasn't a student at UMASS, but nonetheless did a daily strip in their student newspaper, which was an amazing learning experience. Next came Oregon, and finally Portland State University, the first college I actually graduated from. While there I did political cartoons in the student paper, for which I won the national Charles Schulz Award for outstanding college cartoonist. Along the way I began and abandoned any number of larger comic book projects.

2. Why did you decide to write about rebellious Mirka? What interested you about her and her family? What audience did you write the book for?

One of my abandoned ideas was a comic about a Jewish woman, in the middle ages, wanting to fight a dragon St George style, but facing (among other barriers) that Jews couldn't legally carry weapons at that time. I had also read Liz Harris' book Holy Days, which has many great stories of Hasidic family life, about a decade earlier. I think those things were percolating in my mind, because when my friend Jennifer Lee (the awesome cartoonist behind Dicebox.net) told me Girlamatic.com, a website for girl-friendly comics, was looking for submissions, the idea of an Orthodox 11 year old girl's quest for a sword popped to mind pretty easily.

Beyond that, I had no idea what I was doing. Girlamatic said "yes," so I was making up the pages as I drew them, and in my spare time I started doing more serious research. And the more I learned, the more interested I became in Mirka's family and home life. In particular, Stephanie Levine's book Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers was very inspirational to me โ€“ in particular, how girl-centered life is for girls in that culture before they reach a marriageable age, and how incredibly spirited and strong Levine found the girls she met to be.

The main audience I write for is myself. I wanted to create a comic that I'd want to read. So it has a lot of elements I love to see in comics -- lots of humor and adventure, but also a lot of cultural information, and (I hope) interesting storytelling and layouts.

3. At the end of the day, the fanciful fable you tell about a brave girl who battles a troll turns out to have a very domesticated moral. What do you hope your readers take away from the book?


I don't think of my work as having a message. If readers come away feeling attached to the characters and saying "that was a really great story," then I'm satisfied. If some readers see some deeper things then that -- if they see it as a story about ambition, and about mourning a dead parent โ€“ then I'm delighted, but it's not necessary.

I am concerned with identity politics -- I'd like to see more girl-centered pop fiction, and I'd like to see more Jewish characters in popular fictions. And if other readers, especially female readers and Jewish readers, have been feeling that same hunger and so get a bit of extra pleasure out of reading Hereville, then that's great.

4. How did you develop your visual style? Do you think the comics medium is valuable for telling Jewish stories? Why or why not?


Some of my visual style comes from consciously imitating other cartoonists -- I spend a lot of time trying (and failing) to get my figures to flow as smoothly as Will Eisner's did, for example. But some of it didn't seem to
come from anywhere. It's just there, and the more I draw the more apparent it becomes. Why the big muppet-like mouths, for instance? I don't know why.

I think the comics medium is valuable for telling any sort of story, Jewish stories included. There is no limit, either to what stories comics can tell, or to the number of Jewish stories to be told.

5. What other Jewish comics artists do you admire?

I've already mentioned Will Eisner, but I'll mention him again, because he was such a spectacularly great cartoonist. His drawing was dazzling, his layouts were innovative, and on top of all that he was the first great cartoonist to make Jewish characters the text (instead of a hidden subtext) in his work.

There are so many great Jewish cartoonists! But some whose work I like are Jules Fieffer (who began his career working for Eisner), Will Elder, Al Hirschfeld (another cartoonist my parents had on their walls), Harvey Kurtzman, and more recently Art Spiegelman, Ariel Schrag, Rutu Modan, and Daniel Clowes. Oh, and just last week I picked up one of Sarah Glidden'scomics about Israel, and it was really good -- I can't wait to read her whole book.

6. What are you working on now and when can we see you in print again?

I'm working on the second Hereville book! Abrams hasn't yet announced the publication date, though.
Barry, thank you so much for participating and telling us about your book! Best of luck and keep in touch with what you're working on next!

Posted by Marie.

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