L.A. Times Festival of Books 2018

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Author: Stefanie Bautista

In our culture today, there’s no doubt that comic books and graphic novels have a profound impact. Though these formats originated as sources of entertainment that reflect fantasy worlds, there are many more comics popping up that reflect the everyday lives of people. Let’s face it; many stories about people like you and me are just as interesting, full of action and drama, that would serve as wonderful comics. An afternoon panel on Saturday, April 21, 2018, at the L.A. Times Festival of Books proved just that.

The panel, Pushing the Boundaries of the Graphic Novel, discussed the impact of graphic novels when used as a storytelling piece: giving us a slice of life that many people can identify with but haven’t been able to see represented on a wider scale.

The panelists were Gabrielle Bell, Mimi Pond, and Leslie Stein, with Angela Wang moderating. Bell is a British-American Cartoonist with a new comic called Everything is Flammable. Pond is an illustrator and cartoonist who previously worked on The Simpsons, and Stein is the creator of the Eye of the Majestic Creature comic series. Wang is a props/FX designer for Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe and is one of the co-founders of the annual comics festival Comic Arts Los Angeles.

The panel was set in a smaller room. The intimate setting allowed panelists to be more personal in their discussion. The women discussed their attachment to their work and how autobiographical the stories tend to become. Attendees of the panel were let in on each writer’s creative process, as each discussed details like whether the images and illustrations create the dialogue or whether the dialogue helps produce the images.

Bell pointed out that for her, “inspiration happens in the world” and that “the process happens away from the page.” She emphasized that the things that she sees around her inspire her creativity, and that inspiration helps her storyboard. She stated that because most of her work is semi-autobiographical, some parts are real and embellished. She joked that “normal things don’t seem as interesting at face value.” Pond agreed that the story comes first in her creative process, with sketches occurring organically and notes and captions filling the spaces on the side.

For Stein, the process is slightly different. She starts with her illustrations and drawings, then uses those to guide where her words will be placed. Stein added that she tries hard not to make her comics too wordy. She explained that within her illustrations, it’s really important to be “present in the line that you are drawing in relation to the story.”

When asked if they felt as if they were “pushing the boundaries of the graphic novel,” as the panel’s title would suggest, the panelists laughed and exclaimed that they didn’t pick the title. With such a down-to-earth take on their profession, all the authors agreed that they had more concrete goals for themselves and other women in the field than “pushing boundaries.”.

Stein focuses on marrying abstract art and narrative. She spoke of finding a balance between the two and reflecting that balance clearly in the stories she writes and the pictures she draws.

Pond spoke of wanting to see more material like hers, i.e., graphic novels based on real-life situations. She shared the tale of visiting an estate sale for famed L.A. socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor with zest and humor and how unreal the situation felt. She pointed out that Madge experiences mundane daily struggles at work in The Customer is Always Wrong and relates to comedically unreal moments in her life.

All these talented women gathered in this panel gave the audience a refreshing glimpse into the future of graphic novels, demonstrating that they will soon be extending beyond the thin pages of a comic book and into the complex lives of everyday people like you and me.

You can find the links to the graphic novels of these authors and their websites in the links below or at your local comic book store!

Panelist: Mimi Pond, author of The Customer is Always Wrong

Panelist: Leslie Stein, author of Present

Panelist: Gabrielle Bell, author of Everything is Flammable

Moderator: Angie Wang, co-founder of Comics Arts Los Angeles

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