Drawing the Soul: An Interview with JULIACKS

An interview with JULIACKS, author of the graphic novel-style zine Swell, which was adapted for theater during the Women Center Stage festival this year.

| September/October 2012

  • Swell Scene
    Scene from Swell at Women Center Stage festival
  • Swell Art
    Art from Swell

  • Swell Scene
  • Swell Art

In the vast world of comics, death, grief, and healing might not be typical subject matter. In the evolving world of graphic novels, however, anything goes. Artist JULIACKS has used the form to confront these challenging topics in Swell. The storyline follows a young woman, Emmeline, as she grieves the loss of her sister, Lucy. JULIACKS (Julia Stein) began making comics at the age of 18 with a series called The Tome of Hallow County. Swell, the final work in this series, was adapted for theater performance at the Women Center Stage Festival in New York City last spring. After the festival wrapped, we asked JULIACKS about what inspired Swell and what’s next in her world of ideas.

Your main characters, the sisters Emmeline and Lucy, have such a believable love-hate relationship. What did you draw on to create this?
Fiction is a multi-layered process. With my fiction, I draw from fantasies, observations, fascinations, experiences, and also my own personal complicated relationships of all kinds.

Before Lucy dies, she loves to visit the cemetery. What inspired you to sit with those left behind when a loved one dies?
Cemeteries function as a place of memory and death, but also as a green space of leisure that just happens to have dead people under its ground. This American phenomenon is interesting in a society without much public acknowledgement of personal loss.

The first image and idea that inspired this story was the idea of a girl moving into a tomb after her sister dies. To deal with loss often involves a self-absorbed rejection of the present, its forms and expectations. This story has been told in many ways, some overt like Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem, “In Memoriam” or Joan Didion’s, In the Year of Magical Thinking, some more subtle. Walden, by Thoreau, or the mythical/religious tale of the Buddha discovering the Eightfold Path as the cure to human suffering [loss].

I can’t say what inspired me exactly, except that I wasn’t afraid to think about or deal with death, and the story unfolded over the four years that I wrote and drew it.

Why do you choose to tell stories graphically?
The medium of comics—the sequential combining of text and image—is an art form that is still on the verge of changing and growing artistically and in terms of writing and ideas. To me there wasn’t any other choice. I was always going to be making this story into a comic. The language of frames, shapes, symbols, and marks operate upon our brains and bodies differently than nominal words. Combining elements of time, space, character, and drawing in the form of a comic gives Swell power and provides a contemplative, body based dip for its reader.

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