Thursday, November 3, 2011

FYC Replay: Postcards - True Stories ... with Jason Rodriguez

For Your Consideration: Postcards: True Stories that Never Happened

By Chris Beckett

FRONT PAGE: When Editor Jason Rodriguez stepped into an antique shop with his girlfriend, he had no way of knowing what was awaiting him. A year later, as editor, Rodriguez had compiled one of the coolest comic anthologies in recent memory – one where all the story seeds came from old postcards and the notes they carried. Click on in and discover the “true stories that never happened.”

The 411:

Postcards: True Stories that Never Happened

Edited by Jason Rodriguez

160pp. black and white HC

Villard Books


What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

One of the coolest ideas for an anthology comes from Editor Jason Rodriguez, editor of the Harvey-nominated ELK’S RUN. Following his girlfriend into an antique shop one day, Rodriguez happened upon a box of old postcards. As he began shuffling through them, Rodriguez discovered he was being afforded a window into the lives of people long since gone. As his mind wrapped itself around this idea, he realized that therein lay the seeds for an amazing variety of stories.

Inspired, Rodriguez set to work buying postcards and listing creators he felt would do well with such a concept. Bringing together some of the biggest names working in comics – Harvey Pekar, Phil Hester, Ande Parks – with some of the hottest new creators like G.B. Tran, Micah Farritor, and Joshua Hale Fialkov, Rodriguez has compiled an entertaining mix of stories that are at times touching, exciting, and troubling – a great feat that makes for interesting reading.

The postcards used as story seeds for this anthology date, for the most part, from the early half of the twentieth century. With cryptic messages and half-truths embedded deep between the lines, the real stories behind these quick missives will never be found. But as inspiration for the writers and artists brought together by Rodriguez, they are diamonds waiting to be mined.

The emotional tenor of the tales offered in Postcards is of a consistently high caliber. One particularly poignant tale comes from the imagination of Phil Hester. Known more for his artwork – oft-partnered with inker Ande Parks, also present as the writer of a separate tale – than his writing, Hester writes and draws a tale based upon a postcard with the reproachful line “Someone from Adams Co. told the girls that you married a man who had a boy 12 yrs. old.” Expecting a story full of scandal and gossip, Hester surprises readers, including his editor, by molding a very different tale from the few lines left on the back of that card. Delving deeper into the possibilities offered, Hester reveals how happenstance following close on the heels of tragedy can lift a person out of the depression so readily available at a difficult time in one’s life. The main character, his mother drinking poison on the eve of the boy’s twelfth birthday, spies a woman dancing madly within the forest one evening. She seems possessed, but unexpectedly becomes the boy’s stepmother when his father marries her. Within months, the boy’s father passes on and he is left with this woman who suffers from the then-unknown Tourette’s syndrome. As they both work past their grief, the boy discovers a pure, maternal love from this former stranger, a love that shapes his life in unexpected ways, rippling down through the years as he watches his own family grow up to have lives of their own. It is a touching narrative elevated by Hester’s understated and evocative writing – a diamond among gems.

An earlier story within the book that plucks a wondrously full narrative from the sparest of lines is the piece offered by Tom Beland author of his own comic True Story Swear to God. This seed, a Valentine’s card from a secret admirer, offers little in the way of information, stating, “Don’t get brain fever trying to guess who this is from. Just think of apple cake and lemon slice and you’ve got it.” From these few words, Beland creates a touching story that peers in to the final day of one man as he anticipates a reunion with his wife, dead these past five years. In eight pages, readers are able to fill in the details of this man’s life, discovering the romance he was lucky enough to have experienced, something many of us fail to find. For his final meal, the man goes to the diner that was once the soda fountain where he met his wife. Enjoying a blueberry muffin and an earl grey, he ponders his life, achingly aware of his age, surrounded by so many young people. Finishing, he takes the postcard from his pocket, the one from his wife’s photo album, the one he has carried with him every day for five years, and leaves it as a token that love lingered there – a fitting epitaph.

There are many more tales like these to be found in Postcards. Each one is a work full of emotion, some treading close to overly romanticized visions before pulling the audience back from the edge. It is a fine line these creators walk and a testament to Jason Rodriguez that each story is of such a high quality. With stories ranging from one of an expatriate American couple stuck in WWII France of their own accord to a tale of the highest stakes revolving around a game of tic-tac-toe set in the old west to a pulp hero yarn in the vein of the Shadow and the Green Hornet, this is an intriguing mix of story and art that all fans of the medium, and of good storytelling, should have on their shelves.

An Interview with Jason Rodriguez:

Why comics? What was it that attracted you to this storytelling medium?

Where to begin…

Autobio, sci-fi, historical epic…no matter what your story may be your budget stays the same.

There are so many challenges involved when writing a story for comics and so many novel ways that you can address those challenges.

Nostalgia – I can admit that, right? I’ve been reading comics since I was a kid. I still love to be involved in plays and I’ll occasionally write some prose but comics…it takes me back.

The community. The conventions, the message boards, the websites – when you’re making comics you seem to have a support network behind you from the start. Starving actors and unpublished writers are a cliché at this point; they’re in their small apartment trying to get their big break, no-one really helping them. But in comics? You can make a good comic on your own, put it out there, and all of a sudden the community is behind you.

I could go on.

What was the inspiration for Postcards, and how did you sell the concept to Random House?

The idea behind Postcards came from a postcard I found at an antique store. It was in a dusty shoebox, cost fifty cents, and was sent from an army private to his mom before he was shipped out to fight in World War II. I realized that this private may have never returned from the war and I may be holding his last communication in my hand. I wanted to do the book at that moment and everything just fell into place, including Random House who was already on line to publish Elk’s Run, another book I edited.

What has the reaction been to Postcards thus far, and would you characterize it as a successful project?

I’d categorize it as a good start. I think I learned a lot from this project. The book made it into some hands, not as many as we thought it would, but I know some of the things that held it back and I’m learning from it. The second volume (and other projects I’m developing) will benefit from the lessons learned with my first go around.

In your opinion, what is it that makes for a successful anthology? Do you think having a thematic “spine” helped with Postcards?

I think the thematic “spine” helped get Postcards in people’s hands, yes. It made for a very easy pitch. When I hand sell it at conventions it goes very fast because I put a quick pitch out there, people dig the concept, and they come on board. Now that’s not what makes a successful anthology, that’s the first step, I think.

As far as steps two, three, etc…I’m still theorizing on that one. I’ll get back to you.

You have a great mix of talent from well-known creators such as Harvey Pekar, Phil Hester, and Antony Johnston, to up-and-coming talent such as G.B. Tran, Micah Farritor, and A. David Lewis. How did you decide on the final “roster” for the anthology, and what criteria did you use when deciding upon contributors?

Some were friends that have fantastic books out, some were friends that I believed in, and some were folks I admired for a long time. There wasn’t really a formula, I just sat around and asked myself who’d be good for the book and came up with a list of about fifty names. I pulled out the folks that I knew I could get in the book (like Josh Fialkov, Phil Hester, etc) and went to them first. With a bit of a roster on board I went to the folks that I’ve never talked to before (like Ande Parks and Tom Beland and Harvey Pekar/Joyce Brabner).

What other projects are you working on that you would like to tell readers about?

I need a kick in the ass but once I get that, Postcards II is still in development. I’m also co-writing a biography of Sam Cooke with my friend Chris Stevens and I’m writing a young adult novel about a kid that’s known everything from the moment he was born except for how it is he knows everything. I have some other concepts that I like but I need that kick in the ass, as mentioned above.

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