For an adult reader, to pick up a graphic novel can be a comfort and a challenge. This season’s newest titles delve into memory and history, sometimes fusing the two, with marks of creativity and originality extending beyond the frames and panels.
Sandee Brawarsky Special to the Jewish News
Minding the Store: A Big Story about a Small Business
It’s hard to imagine a better way to tell the story of a couple who see possibility in dishes and bowls stored away for years in Bowery basements than a graphic memoir, with drawings that perfectly capture their spirit and humor.
Minding the Store: A Big Story about a Small Business (Algonquin) details the life of the New York housewares shop Fishs Eddy (see examples in this week’s “At Home”). Julie Gaines, the author, founded the store with her husband, Dave Lenovitz, in 1986 on a Gramercy Park street, before expanding to other parts of town. Their son Ben Lenovitz contributes the illustrations.
Fishs Eddy sells items like dishes, glassware, bowls and other items that you might not find elsewhere, some that were vintage oversupply from hotels and restaurants and others manufactured for the store with the work of New York designers.
Gaines and Lenovitz started out by renting a shop and filling it with items from Pennsylvania flea markets and her mother’s garage. On the Bowery, Gaines and Lenovitz discovered troves of dishware of another era, from Howard Johnson’s and Bernstein’s Fish Grotto, and they hauled it back to their store.
“Dave and I were unearthing a slice of American history,” Gaines writes.
For a while their two mothers manned the shop — captured with hilarity by their grandson — one reading magazines and the other snapping at customers (“I didn’t ask you to come in here, did I?” appears in a bubble above Dave’s mother’s head, as she is facing a customer). From this experience, the entrepreneurs learn that “Our dishes would sell themselves.”
Lenovitz draws in panels and on full pages, including clever openings to chapters with titles like “Doing Dishes,” “Bully in a China Shop” and “Dishing It Out.”
The book, drawn and colored in shades of brown and green, chronicles the ups and downs of the business — as they expand, hire professionals, fire them, hire others, trying to keep doing what they love even in the midst of Gaines’ multiple sclerosis diagnosis and the store going bankrupt — and eventually the ups again. Along the way, they find luck, make mistakes, achieve success, build a family, face personal losses and keep going — keeping the plates in the air.
Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation
Honoring the spirit of Anne Frank, Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation adapted by Ari Folman with illustrations by David Polonsky (Pantheon), is in full color, beautifully presented. This first-ever graphic edition of The Diary was authorized by the Anne Frank Foundation in Basel, whose stated goal is to have the diary reach as wide an audience as possible.
Featured are selections from the original text, emphasizing the most introspective sections. Folman’s Anne has large knowing brown eyes and a mane of dark hair that flips.
This graphic novel looks more formal than some of the other books, with straight lines framing the text, and a more realistic drawing style, which resembles animation. In fact, Folman, who directed the Oscar-nominated Waltz with Bashir, was invited by the Foundation to work on an animated film to be called Where is Anne Frank? Polonsky was the art director for Waltz with Bashir.
Included in the book is a page detailing what each of the people hidden in the attic would most like to do if they could get outside again — for Margot it was two days in the bath, and she’s seen covered with bubbles and eating pudding, reading, serenaded by a violin; her mother was dying for cup of real coffee and she is seen at a café table. Peter would have wanted to go out on the town, which appears in pinks and reds, and Anne would like to go back to school — she is seen in her class, as in the beginning. The drawings are based on historical research.
Passing for Human
Another graphic memoir, Passing for Human by Liana Finck offers a deep view into the mind and soul of the author/illustrator. Finck, whose work frequently appears in the New Yorker (and has 200,000 faithful Instagram followers), tries to make sense of her lifelong feeling of being different and how that sparks her present life as an artist.
She explains, “A drawer doesn’t draw because she loves to draw. She doesn’t draw because she draws well. She draws because, once, she lost something. And by drawing, she will find it again.” (And then she breathes.)
While she refers to her school as a suburban parochial school, it’s clear that she attended day school. She maps out “The Elementary School Hierarchy,” with names of girls like Ilana and Aviva who wished they were cool, and the author alone at the bottom of the facing page, looking away.
Her black-and-white illustrations are powerful, yet done with a light hand, mostly across grids. She begins with her mother’s story, of her encounters with her shadow, and also tells of her father and their shared legacy. The author, who calls herself Leola here, deals with her own shadow, too, in darkness and light. The story is layered with melancholy and solace, humor, too, and openings to freedom, creativity and love.
The Joe Shuster Story: The Artist Behind Superman
The Joe Shuster Story: The Artist Behind Superman by Julian Voloj and Thomas Campi (Super Genius) is a story of imagination and drive, the dream realized of two Jewish kids from Cleveland. Voloj writes in first-person as Shuster, who posed his friend and co-creator Jerry Siegel to draw Clark Kent. It’s clear that the creative team of Voloj and Campi loves their subject.
Campi’s images are beautiful watercolor paintings, capturing cityscapes and dreamscapes, a great match to Voloj’s text, printed in a typeface that looks like neat handwriting. The backstory of their man from the future who travels to the present and fights crime is one of loyalty and friendship, deal-making, disappointment, lawsuits, settlement and the sometimes triumph of “truth, justice and the American way.”
The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth
The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth by Ken Krimstein (Bloomsbury) is a graphic biography, told in the voice of the philosopher, from her childhood to final days. Early on, there’s young Hannah being taunted on the street in Konigsburg by a schoolmate, “You are a Jew Jew Jew Jew Jew Jew.” Her pigtails askew, she says, “But I’m Hannah.”
Her father suffers a terrible death, and he literally fades out of the frame. To answer questions like “why there’s things like Poppa dying,” the young girl takes up reading Kant. By the time she’s 14, she has read all of his books, but still doesn’t have the answers. She is seen in a tall narrow frame, seated on a towering pile of books. Then she moves on to ancient Greek.
Her three escapes are from the Nazis in Berlin, and then from them in Paris, and then, in New York, from her former professor, Martin Heidegger.
Krimstein, a New Yorker cartoonist and professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, tells Arendt’s story with eloquence in his text and illustrations, as she continues her quest for truth and understanding, through difficult times.
Arendt is usually seen, cigarette in hand, in Krimstein’s two-color expressive drawings. When she debates with herself, arrows go back-and-forth between two adjacent frames. Toward the end, Krimstein dedicates a page to a beautiful drawing of Arendt walking atop the globe, surrounded by the stars, thinking, “To be alive and to think are the same thing.”