Director’s Commentary: Karrie Fransman (and friends!) on Death of the Artist
I’m always delighted when writers and artists manage to grab some time to share their thoughts on their new work in our occasional Director’s Commentary posts – it’s a chance to find out a bit more about what was going on in their heads as they worked on their new book. We’ve followed Karrie Fransman‘s work on here for a good while, and I have been looking forward to her latest book from Jonathan Cape, Death of the Artist, not just because I look forward to any new work from Karrie (and between books she also has a slew of other works appearing in places like The Guardian, New Statesmen and more) but because I knew with this she was crafting something different.
Death of the Artist is an ensemble piece, an experimental work drawing on the shared experience of a group of creative friends, flashing back to their formative years together at college, then the present as they enter their thirties, wondering what happened to all those youthful plans to conquer the world and instead wondering how they got older, became responsible adults thinking more of mortgages, parenthood, bills etc than all those youthful plans.
They get together for a college-style blow out, a brief return to the old days, but also to plan this collaborative book. There’s an awful lot of life in here that many of us will recognise and probably also think yeah, we all used to do that, years ago (oh those college parties, I doubt my body today could take that level of abuse!), and that wistfully nostalgic “what happened?” feeling as you get older (I’ll post my own proper review on the book later). And here we get multiple perspectives from different friends which combine to give the reader an unusual, multi-angled, three dimensional feel for what’s going on. The idea fascinated me and I asked Karrie if she would like to guest on one of our Commentary posts, and I’m happy she not only managed to fit one in, she also brought along two of her collaborators, Manuel and Jackson, with her:
Karrie: Hello Folk. Joe kindly invited me to do this director’s commentary about my new graphic novel ‘Death of the Artist’ (published by Jonathan Cape, March 2015) so I thought I’d invite along two of the five friends who contributed to it: Manuel and Jackson.
Manuel: You mean ‘our’ graphic novel.
Karrie: Yes, that’s what I m-
Jackson: And while we’re here what’s with this ‘Karrie Fransman and Friends’ on the front of the book?
Karrie: Well, you know- publishers and all that. ANYWAY… moving swiftly on. The story centres around a retreat we did on 13th-19th August 2013 on the misty moors of the Peak District where we came together like Shelley and Byron to party, tell stories and make comics collected together in this very book.
Karrie: The stories are told by five different artists but a single narrative is woven across the five different styles and world views. Manuel’s story is painted, Jackson’s is digitally illustrated, Helena tells hers in photography, Vincent’s is collage and mine is drawn like my last graphic novel- ‘The House That Groaned’.
Manuel: Yes. But you didn’t mention that the retreat was MY idea. And the theme of the anthology we created ‘Death of the Artist’ was also MY idea.
Jackson: I still think the theme was a crap idea.
Manuel: Yes, well we all know what you think, Jackson. But the POINT of the theme was that we were all at that stage in life when we were moving from our twenties into our thirties. Letting go of our wild youth and becoming aware that our chances to be special and noticed had slipped us by. We were all dying artists.
Karrie: And also we all had a lot of growing up to do. Our week in Peak District got pretty dark on the last night and the tragedy that occurred afterwards certainly showed us tha-
Manuel: Hey- let’s not go there Karrie.
Jackson: Yeah Fransman- let’s keep it light.
Karrie: Fine then… Changing the subject once again… Why don’t you both tell us a bit about your contributions to the book.
Manuel: My section is the first in the book. It is painted in beautiful, multicoloured water colour- very much influenced by British illustration comics and Franco-Belgium bande dessinée. I’ve added some pictures below to show me working on the book in the cottage and a bit in Spain before my son was born.
Manuel: The story begins when the five of us first met at this crazy house party at Leeds University ten years ago. I remember all the mirrors had been taken off the walls with people using them to snort lines. It’s a love poem to our misspent youth, but it’s also about me coming to terms with finding out I was going to be a father.
Jackson: Yup- wasn’t Caroline seven months pregnant when you arranged for us to go on our retreat? She must have loved that!
Manuel: Shut up Jackson- Caroline is a very independent woman.
Jackson: My comic comes next. I decided to do a diary comic- an autobiographical account of our reunion and retreat to the Peak District 10 years later. I haven’t really done any comics for years as I’m now work as a graphic designer and have little time for hobbies. But I’m quite pleased with it. I think I captured this group of crazy bastards rather well.
Karrie: Yeah- and next up is Helena’s contribution. She’s Jackson’s sister and did her comic in photographs documenting this crazy party we had and what happened on the final night in the Peak district.
Karrie: Then is Vincent’s section. He looked back over his life documenting nine brushes with death. His style pays tribute to 1920s and 30s animation like Betty Boo and all that and uses collage.
Manuel: I just love his comics.
Jackson: So good.
Karrie: And finally there’s my section- looking back on what happened after the retreat.
Manuel: It’s a bit weird seeing it all together, right? Particularly as we haven’t really spoken much since it all happened.
Jackson: Yeah. And seeing how we all saw each other is strange to say the least…
Karrie: Yes. But I think this book is ultimately a love letter to all the potentials of the comic medium. There’s still so much room to experiment with the comic form and we hope this book shows that.
Death of the Artist is published by Jonathan Cape this month and is available to order from our webstore. You can keep up with Karrie via her Twitter, Facebook page and her own site. FPI would like to thank Karrie, Jackson and Manuel for taking time to share their thoughts on their work with us.