Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The "Uber-Talented" Eleanor Davis

Eleanor Davis has been a star in our Children's Room for some time. Kids just learning to read love her graphic novel reader, Stinky, while her book, The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook, is one of our most popular graphic novel check-outs among young readers.

 But Davis' recent presentation at our library (part of our partnership with Politics & Prose) wasn't about kid stuff. Instead, Davis was focused on her new graphic novel for adults, How To Be Happy. Even more than that, her presentation, which was riveting, fascinating and more than a bit confounding, was rated PG-13. (Davis herself gave it that rating because of strong language and discussion of sexual topics).

It was a thought-provoking presentation of truth and lies, woven together and mixed with Davis' lyrical commentary and artwork that is simply stunning in its emotional impact and artistic vision -- much like her new book. After the program, Davis noted that she was tired of talking about her life,  and figured that presenting variations on her life -- mixing truth with falsehood -- would make things more interesting. It certainly did, and it was entertaining for me -- a former reporter -- to be taking notes on Davis' talk and then suddenly be told that the facts presented in that section were "90 percent lies."!

 While I've read How To Be Happy a couple of times and am awestruck by Davis' imagination and artistic talent, I would have a hard time trying to review it. The book is a series of short stories, each done in a different artistic style, so there are many different pieces to interpret and review. And I'm still very much a neophyte when it comes to graphic novels. So let me link to a couple of folks who do know graphic novels and are fans of Davis' work in general and of How To Be Happy in particular.

In his April 19, 2014 blog for Forbidden Planet, Richard Bruton noted that, "Eleanor Davis is, without question, a major young creator," adding: "Despite (her) changing styles, the constant is an incredible storytelling sense....." You can read more here.

Eleanor Davis signs books for a fan.
 And Tim O'Shea, in an interview with Davis published on June 30, 2014 on says that "her work often strikes me as the comics equivalent of an interpretive dance. I have no other way to describe the core response that her work elicits from me. I look repeatedly at some of the pages in this collection (How To Be Happy) and still find something new each time." O'Shea's interview with Davis can be read here.

Best of all, take a look at what my library colleague, graphic novel guru Dave Burbank, has to say about Davis and her work here.

My only disappointment of the evening was when Davis said she wasn't planning to do a sequel to The Secret Science Alliance. Noting that she frequently gets letters from young readers asking for a sequel, Davis said that the book just took too much time, even with the lettering help from her talented graphic novelist husband, Drew Weing. But Davis urged disappointed readers to follow Weing's web comic, The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Magoo, which she likened to The Secret Science Alliance. I've just started reading it, and I'm enjoying it so far. Perhaps Weing will publish a book someday containing the entire story. That's how it goes these days in the comics world. Things that start as web comics can become big sellers in published print form -- just look at the success of Smile, Raina Telgemeier's best-selling graphic novel that started as a web comic.

One last note on Davis. In searching for information about her on the Internet, I discovered that she had been invited to do a Google Doodle a few months ago. Like all of Davis's work, it is quirky, beautiful and incredibly unique. Check it out in this interview that Davis did with Michael Cavna, who covers comics for The Washington Post and who deserves the credit for correctly labeling Davis as "uber-talented."

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