By Katie Green
I’d seen Katie Green’s The Green Bean around at a few conventions, and online at various times, and never managed, for one reason and another, to actually get around to enquiring about it.
Which was a big mistake, because now I have no chance to tell you about how great her work is and tell you how you’d all do well to get in there now before she gets snapped up for bigger things. Because Green’s debut graphic novel Lighter Than My Shadow, her memoir of eating disorders, abuse, and the long road to recovery, will be published by Jonathan Cape in October this year. Too late I’m afraid to trumpet a great new artist with huge potential. Just from what we’ve already shown you regarding Lighter Than My Shadow I think you can tell Green has hit her potential pretty much straight out on her debut book, and it really does look as though it will be one of ‘those‘ books, the one everyone talks about, fêted far and wide.
So, here we are, late to the party…. The Green Bean is Green’s bimonthly(ish) comics zine, another one of those things blurring the lines between comics and illustrated fiction (and no, I don’t care – the distinctions are pointless – good comics are good comics).
Looking at the latest couple of issues, I can see that they’re two very different things, both enjoyable, but for completely different reasons. Vol 3 Issue 6 is, I think, more indicative of what has gone before whereas Vol 4 Issue 1 is something very different, something far more reflective, and tied very strongly into the upcoming release of Lighter Than My Shadow.
(From Katie Green’s The Green Bean Vol 3 Issue 6)
Thing is, they’re both beautifully done things, with Green’s super-fine line that looks so clean and light, fresh and attractive. Let’s start with Vol 3 Issue 6; a light and lovely thing, celebrating Green’s favourite things, a collection of simple, everyday enjoyment, a collection of thoughts, things, ideas, objects, recipes, reviews, crafty stuff, magazine swapping, and a great couple of pages on the wonders (and modern problems) of Lego:
“…horrible expressions on faces instead of smiles for everyone…”
Which I thought was a quite wonderful turn of phrase, making me think, making me smile. Lightweight but joyous. I imagine many of the issues prior to this are exactly the same, and I can’t help but kick myself for missing out on them thus far.
(From Katie Green’s The Green Bean Vol 4 Issue 1)
Vol 4 Issue 1 is completely different, a meditation on the creative process, written in March 2013 just after Green completed Lighter Than My Shadow, the end of 4 years work, and the culmination of a long, painful recovery. As she says in the introduction to this issue of Green Bean:
“… as I worked on the book, another story began to emerge: a story of what it took to write and draw about this stuff, how it affected me and ultimately how it changed my understanding of what it means to recover. This zine is the beginning of telling that story.”
And that launches us into a brilliant, difficult, and in the end remarkably uplifting 32-pages. Again using her super-fine line (01 and 005 micron pens, and lots of them as you discover on her process pages) Green tells her story of making the book, all the mechanics, the process, the delays, the prevarications, the grinding monotony of it all, the emotions, the difficulties that went into it, all starting with these two lines:
“I decide to get better.
I decide to write a book”
There’s such power in those two lines, power that makes it immediately obvious just how essential and important making this book became to Green. The book and her recovery are inexorably linked. This is essentially the story behind the story of her recovery. And there are moments here of great sadness and despair, where the bad days take hold, and Green finds herself once more beneath the perfect visual representation of her cloud of anxiety, depression, and crippling doubt:
But this is a book about recovery, and Green’s winning personality always finds a way to come through, indeed, just two pages after that image above, we’re treated to this:
The words are strong, the smile is stronger.
Green writes in such an easy-going style, conversational, friendly, and it’s no time at all before you’re deeply involved in her words, her story. Such power and impact from so few pages – Lighter Than My Shadow really does promise to be truly great.
The one thing I didn’t expect from this project was comedy, yet here it is; Green is at the drawing board, drawing an earlier, still painfully thin and ill version of herself, when her stomach reminds her, with a big hungry as anything growl, that she’s been at her board too long without food:
So good, so perfectly observed, so funny, and so unexpected.
The Green Bean in it’s old form is a delightful assemblage of ideas and observations, something akin to a great magazine covering a diverse range of subjects with the added bonus of being drawn exceptionally well, with style and wit. The current issue of The Green Bean is something else altogether; an announcement, an arrival. It’s a perfect introduction to Lighter Than My Shadow, a simple, powerful, essential essay of what it is to devote yourself to something so personal for such a long time:
“Perhaps the real closure happens when the book is published, and until then things will feel unfinished. Perhaps there is no real closure at all. The truth of what I’m feeling is closer to grief. Yes, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done (yes, I think it was harder than recovery). It took over every aspect of my life completely and yes, I wished for it to be over. And now it is. I miss it, actually.”
At the end of the issue, Green kneels, pensive, pen in hand, asking “Now what?”. I have no idea. But from everything I’ve seen and read thus far, I’ll be looking forward to whatever Green does next.
You can buy copies of The Green Bean from Green’s Etsy store (and there’s a new issue coming out this week or next), follow her blog, visit her website, and there’s a great 20 page preview of Lighter Than My Shadow at the dedicated website.