Feb 8, 2016
This month, Andy and Gwen discuss two recently released comics: Comics Squad #2: Lunch! (Random House), an anthology for younger readers, edited by Jennifer L. Holm, Matthew Holm, and Jarrett J. Krosoczka, and Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux) a graphic memoir written by Özge Samanci, and designated as a comic for readers aged fourteen and up.
First up, the two PhDs share reminiscences about their own hijinx at the lunch table when they were in elementary school, and as Andy points out, the short comics collected in Comics Squad #2: Lunch! cover a veritable smorgasbord of subjects, from the anxiety that new kids feel about walking into the school cafeteria for the first time to a non-fiction comic about the way that a particular food item enabled US soldiers to win an important battle during World War II. The eight stories collected in the anthology are relatively short, making them ideal for reluctant readers or for readers who are new to comics. In fact, Andy and Gwen both enjoy Jason Shiga’s “The Case of the Missing Science Project” because of its interactive nature: panels in the story are connected by a series of orange arrows, and depending upon the choices that readers make, the story plays out differently. Gwen notes that the instructions could help young readers learn about panel placement, and Andy is amazed at the technical skill necessary for Shiga to present a variety of stories in such a small space. Along those same lines, Andy draws listeners’ attention to a couple of features at the end of the book: a template for drawing one’s own comic and a lesson on how to draw the Holms’ popular character, Babymouse. Both Gwen and Andy enjoy the humor and variety of Comics Squad #2: Lunch! and they inform readers about the previous volume in the series: Comics Squad #1: Recess!, as well as the popular Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics (Abrams), edited by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly, another anthology that young readers might want to check out.
Next, Gwen and Andy turn to Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey, a graphic memoir by Özge Samanci, an artist and assistant professor at Northwestern University, who describes her upbringing in Izmir, Turkey, on the Aegean Sea during the 1980s and 1990s, during a time of political and social upheaval. Samanci attempts to please her parents, her teachers, and her friends by following the approved social script of getting excellent marks on her exams, enrolling in a university major such as engineering, and settling down to raise a family. However, as with most free spirits, Samanci learns that if she wishes to be happy, she must step out of her comfort zone and pursue her dreams. Published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, Samanci’s comic has been designated for readers aged 14 and above. However, Gwen explains that while Dare to Disappoint contains some allusions to violence and sexuality, for the most part, the memoir focuses on the cultural, familial, and intellectual influences that combine to form Samanci’s path to becoming an artist.
Both Gwen and Andy praise the artistry of the text, noting that although Samanci studied the comics form for years, and has been publishing comics online since 2006, she resists the traditional waffle pattern that characterizes many contemporary graphic novels. She uses a number of techniques, especially collage and the judicious use of color and sightlines, to create a highly readable and visually gorgeous comic.
Gwen observes that one of the central characters in Dare to Disappoint is Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish republic in the 1920s, whose emphasis on secular democracy, combined with paternalism, made him a national hero whose portrait was prominently displayed in every public building and in every home during Samanci’s youth. Just as young Marjane Satrapi engages in conversations with God in Persepolis, Ôzge confides her worries and desires to a portrait of Atatürk, and to give the reader a sense for how influential his presence is to the school children of her generation, Samanci recounts the excitement she feels when her sister gives her a large ruler that includes cut-outs of a number of shapes, enabling her to draw, as she says, “a perfect circle, triangle, square, and…Ataturk!” (40). Not surprisingly, the profile of Atatürk is the first one in a series of rows of cutouts, and as young Özge writes, “If you are going to draw Atatuürk, you have to draw him right. Otherwise, you are in deep trouble (40).
In a recent interview on the PBS program Chicago Tonight, Samanci pointed out that the cutout of Atatürk served an important purpose for the entire graphic memoir. She says, “I’m dealing with this cookie cutter educational system that traps people into a box which leads to occupations that they don’t care about. So it’s a beautiful metaphor for the [theme of] the book.”
Both Gwen and Andy note that Dare to Disappoint treated many of the universal conflicts that young people face as they come of age, while also providing a window on a fascinating time in Turkish history. They recommend Samanci’s text to teens and to adults as an engaging and aesthetically-sophisticated comic. However, they both also agreed that the first half of the memoir, which focuses on Özge’s early childhood, could make an interesting read for parents to share with younger readers.