Valley News – Art Notes: White River Junction graphic novelist draws inspiration from Grade 8 struggles
If there is a universal hard time, one that everyone has to go through, it is probably eighth grade.
Young adolescents grow up at different paces and discover their individuality and interests, experiences that at first can be as alienating as they are exciting. The transformation of bodies and minds falters, driven haphazardly by bursts of hormones.
Jay Violet, the protagonist of Oh yes, a new graphic novel by White River Junction designer Jarad Greene, is at the heart of the action. His best friend has moved away, and Jay has adjusted his own school schedule in such a way that he doesn’t see many of his friends. He is also struggling with a severe case of acne and the resulting damage to his self-confidence.
Clumsiness and acne came straight out of Greene’s life, but strained through the filter of fiction. The story in Oh yes began life as an autobiographical work, but Greene changed course.
“I think you’re trying to gain more independence at this point,” Greene, 32, said in an interview with the Center for Cartoon Studies. Greene graduated from 2017 and is now the school’s administrative and development coordinator.
Oh yes appeared on bookstore shelves this week. Greene will participate in an online chat with CCS graduate cartoonist and colleague Tillie Walden at 7 p.m. Thursday, sponsored by the Norwich Bookstore. The event is free, but registration is required. To register, go to norwichbookstore.com.
In imagining her story, Greene confused the details of her eighth grade in Lutz, Fla. (“Lutz rhymes with ‘boots’ not ‘butt,’ Greene said) with the details of his acne treatment, which took place during her senior year of high school and again in her twenties.
Before this idea emerged, Greene had written an essay, in comic book form, on his acne treatment, and the response was so positive that he worked to make it into a book. It turned out to be more difficult.
“Part of the writing was organizing my own thoughts on it,” Greene said. “I think I had a lot of baggage to sort out on this.”
Acne is a strange subject for a brief, he said. How much does anyone want to read about it? At the same time, in an image-conscious world, acne can be debilitating, undermining a person’s sense of self-worth.
Greene’s agent helped him see the story in a new way, asking him how he wanted to convey the story to people that it might help. They chose to “retreat,” he said. He wrote a new proposal and publisher Harper Collins bought it.
“I just knew I could make it work,” he said.
Because he had spent so much time organizing his story, the writing, which Greene did visually, drawing thumbnails and writing as he went, evolved rapidly. He worked through the first few months of the pandemic and documented his progress in a series of video log posts on YouTube, the latest of which came out this week.
Relatively few cartoonists document the way they work, said Greene, who has drawn since he was a teenager. “I was sort of obsessed with the life of cartoonists,” he said.
Eighth grade was a good setting for a teenager with acne, in part because the inner struggle more closely matches the interpersonal challenges kids face as they graduate from college.
With acne, “a lot of it is a private experience,” Greene said. “You kind of have a hard time with that and hope people don’t notice,” although it’s something everyone can see.
The same is true of the way teens start to sort things out. Friends find new interests and go their separate ways, which can be painful. As Jay Violet delves into the art, just like Greene did at his age, his old friends form a group and they are no longer in touch as they once were.
“I think eighth grade is when people start to follow these extracurricular activities,” Greene said. “It’s like organically going that way. “
As Greene did, Jay Violet attends a magnetic school which requires him to go out at 6:30 am and take two buses from rural Lutz to Tampa. True to college life, most of Jay’s meaningful interactions stem from his relationships at school, despite being close to his sister, who is a few years older.
Greene’s first book, Scullion: A Dishwasher’s Guide to Using the Wrong Identity, is also aimed at mid-level readers, as is his upcoming book, which is under contract with Harper Collins.
“I think I like the types of stories that fall into this readership,” he said. Becoming an adult, navigating relationships, discovering interests, all of those aspects interest him, he said.
“Part of it is a bit inexplicable,” he said. “This is where my work kind of ended up.” His drawing style and use of color lend themselves to stories for tweens and young teens.
It’s a difficult age. How would he advise an eighth grader?
“I think I would say it can be very difficult, but having patience… things work out on their own over time,” he said. “You don’t have to figure it all out in a day.”
If high school angst is more your speed, Shaker Bridge Theater in Enfield is opening a production of You and me, a play centered on the meeting of two teenagers.
Lauren Gunderson’s 2016 two-handed follows Caroline, who is kept at home by a serious illness, and Anthony, a handsome athlete who shows up to her bedside with a copy of Walt Whitman. Blades of grass and a related assignment for the English class.
When it opened in New York in January 2016, Times drama critic Ben Brantley called You and me a “cheerful two-character study of adolescent confusions and cosmic mysteries”. There is also a bad plot.
You and me is in production at the Shaker Bridge Theater at Enfield’s Whitney Hall until November 21. Tickets are $ 28 for Thursday night shows, $ 35 for Friday through Sunday, and $ 16 for students. To reserve, call 603-448-3750 or email [email protected] For information: shakerbridgetheatre.org.
Alex Hanson can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3207.