Tom Hart’s new instructional text, The Art of the Graphic Memoir, is a valuable tool for aspiring graphic novelists, with a wealth of examples and exercises. In fact, it is probably as close a simulation as possible to attending a live course on the subject such as those taught through Hart’s Sequential Artist’s Workshop.
In this prose volume, Hart guides readers through a methodical process of creating a graphic memoir. From the early stages of gathering material from personal experience to structuring the story arc, choosing a visual style, and completing the narrative, Hart provides his readers with concrete examples from his own work, as well as thoughtfully-chosen pieces from other published graphic memoirs. Each chapter focuses on a specific stage of the creative process, utilizing several exemplary works to illustrate the ideas presented. The chapters end with exercises to help students work on their own memoirs, suggestions for further reading, and an in-depth “live example,” which traces his own process of creating a graphic memoir.
While this text is primarily instructional, it is at the same time immensely personal for the author. Tom Hart not only guides his readers through producing their own work, but also shares the ways that creating his bestselling memoir Rosalie Lightning, which relates the events surrounding the death of his young daughter, was personally transformational for him. The Art of the Graphic Memoir is as much about why someone can benefit from creating this type of work as it is about how to do it. The book’s subtitle stems from the importance Hart places on the personal transformation to be gained from creating a graphic memoir.
It is important to note that while this book is instructional, it does not teach readers how to draw. The assumption is made that readers are already proficient in drawing, and the focus is placed upon guiding them through making artistic decisions in crafting their memoirs. Hart shares numerous decisions that had to be made in creating his own memoir, such as his choice to show the death of his daughter first and then return to earlier events in her life. Hart gives readers of The Art of the Graphic Memoir a behind-the-scenes look at the processes other graphic novelists have used in creating their memoirs, as well. He quotes extensively from other creators and uses a wide variety of examples of their experiences and techniques. He shows us reference photographs used by Alison Bechdel, an outline from Malaysian graphic novelist Lat, and countless examples of finished works from across the spectrum of graphic novels for children through adults. It is clear that Hart knows the field well, and has a deep understanding of the creative process applied to this medium.
This book will be tremendously useful to aspiring graphic novelists, especially those interested in the memoir format, but the work is versatile enough to benefit other readers. While it is focused on providing instruction for those hoping to create memoirs in particular, many of the techniques and strategies covered would be useful in the creation of other types of graphic novels and even works of prose. As for those not interested in creating their own works, this text still holds value in that it helps readers develop literacy in graphic novels as a medium and insight into various creators and their craft.
The Art of the Graphic Memoir: Tell Your Story, Change Your Life
By Tom Hart
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2018