Tuesday, September 23, 2014
So it's a good thing Lucy Knisley is so talented and her books so sunny and fun, or else all of her readers would self-destruct in a fit of undiluted envy.
Her first book, French Milk, was about a season spent in Paris with her mother when she was twenty-two, and her second, Relish, was a substantially deeper, more assured work about her foodie upbringing and some of her favorite things to eat. And now she's back with a third graphic novel, An Age Of License -- the story of nearly a month in the fall of 2011 that she spent traveling around Europe.
Knisley had a lot of reasons to go: she was invited to a Norwegian comics festival, she wanted to see an almost-boyfriend again in Stockholm, two of her best friends were honeymooning in Germany, and she had both a friend and her mother to drop in on for a few days in different parts of France. (It must be nice to have such globe-trotting connections, and to be young and free enough to enjoy them.) So she strung all of those things together into three weeks of adventures and activities, and kept a diary/sketchbook of the trip that she then took a few years to rewrite, redraw, reconfigure, and turn into this final published version.
Knisley's art, whether in her occasional watercolors or the usual open penwork, is inviting and immediately engaging: she has developed the skill of putting a lot of words on a page, with captions and text and explanations, but still having it read easily and clearly as comics. (It's the kind of skill and ability that can be very easily missed; she takes a lot of care and time to make it look effortless and immediate.) Age of License is as much a meditation on travel and places -- and that awkward mid-twenties phase, old enough to be an adult and to do anything but unsure what to do -- as it is the story of those three weeks; Knisley's stories are intensely narrated, with all events filtered through her perceptions and thoughts.
Knisley knows what an opportunity this was -- she named her book An Age of License, after all, and details where she got that title, which may or may not be an obscure French term -- and she shows her own struggles with living up to that opportunity and making meaningful art out of it. She's chosen a career where she does things and then explains them to other people to make a living, which can be a very twisted, self-conscious way to live, but she's honest and open about her conflicts and worries. (But not too open: she draws a discrete veil over most of the time in Stockholm with that almost-boyfriend, though she says enough to give us the general idea that they were very eager to see each other again.)
Knisley is an honest teller of her own stories, good at both drawing things so we can see them and writing about them so we can understand them. She'll grow out of being twentysomething, maybe grow out of being restless and unsettled, but never grow out of showing us the world as she sees it. With any luck, she'll be making graphic novels about food and travel and what it is to be Lucy Knisley for the next fifty years.
Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index