Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Outspoken Interview: Lucy Knisley, author of French Milk

When I decided to undertake Outspoken Interviews, one of the first authors who came to mind was Lucy Knisley, author of my favorite graphic novel so far this year: French Milk. Since I'm a complete starstruck weirdo when it comes to authors, I really didn't think I would hear anything back. I was sooo wrong. Not only did she enthusiastically agree to answer my questions, she also OFFERED TO ILLUSTRATE HER ANSWERS. And I almost wet myself.

Andi: French Milk is a drawn journal of your time in Paris, and I can't help but wonder how much work went into transforming it from a personal journal to a published personal journal! I know that you self-published it originally and were later picked up by editor, Amanda Patten. What was the editing process like from that point?

Lucy: One of the nice things about self-publishing your own book is that you're the only one who has to edit it-- which is also probably the worst thing about self-publishing. The first (self-published) edition of my book had loads of spelling mistakes, incorrect French and weirdly worded sentences. I got the chance to fix it all up a little on the S&S edition. All the 2nd edition editing took place during my first year of grad school, and the deadlines for new edits always seemed to coincide with a finals or midterm week! It was a good, trial-by-fire sorta introduction to company publishing.
Andi: As a lover of comics and graphic novels, I was tickled when I got to graduate school as an English major and realized I could make graphic novels the bulk of my academic work. There's always the ongoing controversy about "What do we call these things?!" Some favor "comics" or "comix" or "graphic novels" or "sequential art." How do you categorize your work? How much does the label matter?

Lucy: I absolutely don't care at all what people call them. "Comics" is a pretty good blanket term, but I know people who feel that it doesn't cover the seriousness of the medium. I also know people who detest the term "comix," and people who don't like "sequential art" because it's TOO serious. Whatever-- though I will say that admitting to bringing "graphic novels" across the border at customs is not advisable.

Andi:  From reading French Milk and some of your other interviews, it's obvious you're a book lover just like myself and 99.98% of my blog readers. There's been a good deal of controversy in the blogosphere lately about the whitewashing of book covers (books about various ethnic groups with white adolescents on the covers). I also did a recent post about the repetitiveness of book cover images. If I see one more set of toes in the sand, I might just break down and cry. My question for you as an artist, illustrator AND a reader: what makes a great cover and what can ruin it for you?

Lucy: I have to admit that "young adult fiction" is my reading flavor of choice-- They're quick and easy to sink into. I can burn through Suzanne Collins and Louise Rennison and Kristin Cashore and loop back for some Jane Yolen or Lois Lowry. Love it. BUT it's Young Adult Fiction that gets some of the worst cover treatment (excepting, perhaps, Romance Novels). I've combated my total cover disgust ("Two people standing under an umbrella? A closeup of someone's eye with a misty green photo filter? And yes, those damn TOES IN THE SAND!") by buying a lot more digital books, where you never really have to look directly at the cover. Cover design can be a pain (another good reason to be a cartoonist, where you hopefully have more control over your cover than a prose author would), but much worse than a bad cover is a good cover over a bad book. That's what really gets me down.

Andi: You've been quick to embrace digital media while some of your contemporaries in comics have not. The Internet is alive with web comics and other digital creations. However, with the rise of the e-reader (Kindle, Nook) do you see this as having any effect on comics publishing? Right now it's nearly impossible to buy a comic or graphic novel in e-format in mainstream marketplaces, and even if we could, if there were color or expansive images, they would be hard to view (shame!).

Lucy: This is going to change really soon. I really think it's only a matter of time before publishers, artists and writers are going to see how crazy cheap it is to publish a digital book with things like color and images that you couldn't easily or affordably get in print publishing. What's nice is that it might even up the works a bit-- get more people making beautiful, image-heavy books to combat the lures of free reading/viewing material online. The digital books are cheaper and I can carry 500 of them around with me all the time. The conflict and publishing woes will all come right in the end, I think. I have faith that it'll benefit the authors and readers, if perhaps not the publishers quite so much. I'm a comic artist, and that's my job, but I think I'm foremost a reader, so cheaper/colorful/instantly accessible/portable books on my phone? I am IN.

Andi: You're working with a website called Picture Book Report to illustrate portions of Lois Lowry's children's classic, The Giver. Can you tell us how that book has played a part in your life and why you chose to undertake this unique project?

Lucy: I read this book for the first time in sixth grade, when my favorite teacher, Ms. King, assigned it to us. I adored her because we'd book-swap and sometimes she'd let me stay in from recess to read (I am, was, and always will be a huge nerd and teacher's pet). And because once I threw up in front of her and she was really nice about it. Anyway... We read The Giver and when it was over I was so furious about the mystery ending that I promptly hand-wrote thirty pages of what I now know to be "fanfiction," but which I then referred to as my "sequel novel." I loved the book, but it was also my doorway into compulsive writing projects, which is basically my current profession.
Thanks so much to Lucy Knisley for agreeing to this Q&A and for waiting for me FOREVER to get my stuff together and send the questions. She got this thing back to me in record time, AND with illustrations. She's officially my new favorite author crush.

Visit her website.

And since I knooowww you want to know, I asked Lucy to briefly describe her upcoming book. This is what she had to say:

"The book (Relish) is a collection of stories about food, and my childhood growing up with a mother who is a chef. Like French Milk, it explores the mother/daughter relationship and the bonds we create while cooking, feeding and eating. It's full-color, about 200 pages, from First Second Publishing."

I know I can't wait!


  1. This was another GREAT interview! And the pictures were awesome...I have to grab French Milk now. Thanks for sharing this with us!!!!

  2. Excellent interview Andi! French Milk was one of my favorite reads last year. I love how she captured those feelings of being back home after a trip abroad and just the general shift in perspective you get when you travel, especially for an extended period of time.

    So excited about her upcoming book!

  3. I love the illustrations! Three cheers to Lucy for including them!

  4. If this was Facebook I'll Like this post. And then leave a comment saying "I super, super like this!"

    Loved French Milk, too!

  5. Thanks, Samantha! I loved the illustrations. They made me laugh out loud in fact.

    Iliana, thanks! I've read it twice this year, and it was just as good both times. I can't wait for her new one! And you're right--she perfectly captures that "coming home" disjointed feeling.

    Three cheers indeed, Jill!

    LOL, thanks, Lightheaded!

  6. This is absolutely wonderful! I read French Milk in April and loved it. I didn't know she had another book coming out!

  7. Amanda, I'm really excited to get my hands on Relish. It can't come soon enough for me!

  8. This was a great interview, I loved the illustrations! I can't wait to read Lucy's next book, I didn't know she was working on another one.

  9. Oh my gosh, this is an amazing interview! I loved French Milk and can see why you have an author crush on Lucy!

  10. How cool! Thanks to Lucy Knisley and you for doing such a fantastic interview! I love her forever for mentioning Oscar Wilde's friend Robbie Ross in French Milk--he was such a sweet darling and nobody knows who he is now (alas).

  11. Awesome interview! I love the illustrations. French Milk was my first graphic novel and I looooooved it.

  12. I love Lucy! (Har har!) She posted the interview on Twitter and now I have a new bookie blog to watch! Anyhoo, the picture showing the e-reader falling on her face? This happens to me all the time and it hurts far worse than a nice soft paperback to the nose. It's always the nose.

  13. What an insightful entertaining interview.

  14. What a great interview! Love the illustrations too. The first thing I did (right before leaving this comment) after reading this interview was to go see if my library had a copy. And woohoo, it does!

  15. Kim, I'm really excited about her next interview, too. Loved the illustrations here; they made me giggle aloud.

    LOL, thanks, Kathy.

    Jennie, she has quite the Wilde crush, eh? I know next to nothing about him, but her enthusiasm makes me want to know more.

    Chris, it's a great way to start reading graphic novels. It's my favorite that I've read in a long time. It joins the ranks of American Born Chinese and others I've really, really enjoyed.

    Aden, thanks for stopping by! I haven't dropped a phone or e-reader on my nose YET, but I figure it's only a matter of time. I have a Nook and I read blogs and e-mail on my iPod Touch, so neither of those sound particularly comfy for the dropping.

    Thanks, David!

    Olduvai, I'm sooo glad your 'brary has a copy. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  16. The danger of sleepily reading illustration cracked me up! Such fun to read. :)

  17. Great interview. I listed French Milk as one of my top reads last year. I'll be following Lucy's work.

  18. This was a great interview. And I loved the illustrations. I've been coveting a copy of French Milk for a while now, I might just have to go out and buy it now.

  19. Thanks, Eva! That illustration made me laugh especially hard, too.

    Candace, same here. Can't wait to get my hands on Relish.

    Jennifer, you know I love to enable. Buy it! Buy it!

  20. Now I feel like I need Knisley's Giver illustrations like an addict needs drugs!!! Wonderful interview, Andi!

  21. I can't believe I'm just getting around to this post, Andi, but I have to say that this is by far the BEST author interview I've ever read!! I just loved it. And her illustrations are so fantastic. Love her joke about trying to get "graphic novels" across the border :p I can't believe I still haven't read French Milk :(

  22. Ooooh, ooooh oooh, and do I get to find out who the next outspoken interview is with in the comments like last time? :p

  23. Fantastic interview! And how clever to include Illustrations. I REALLY need to get a copy of this book!


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