I keep a collection in my head of the names of stories, movies, pictures that seem perfect to me. They all have a certain feel to them.
“The Artist of the Beautiful,” a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne
“The Black Monk,” a story by Anton Chekhov
Charulata, a movie by by Satyajit Ray
The Rules of the Game, a movie by Jean Renoir
The Deleuge at Norderny, a story by Isak Dinesen
The Tempest, a play by William Shakespeare
The Enchanted Castle, a novel for children by Edith Nesbit
Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
Ponyo, an animated movie by Hayao Miyazaki
Aladdin and other stories from the Arabian Nights
A lot of Japanese prints, Chinese scrolls, Islamic pictures
What do these things have in common? A certain magic. I think it’s that they are all miniatures, stories glimpsed through a keyhole. I think comics are miniatures, too.
For this story about Nasye Frug, I borrowed the butterfly (not introduced in this page) from The Artist of the Beautiful, aspects of the garden from The Black Monk, the marriage from Charulata, the observant girl character from Alice in Wonderland.
I think Nasye was the most ambitious of the stories I made for this project. I’ve had to do it over a few times to simplify it. I do my first drafts painstakingly, with a lot of different types of pens and white-out. Then I scan the pictures into the computer and change them around a lot in photoshop. I make later drafts by printing out the first draft drawings, and tracing them quickly on a light table. These later drafts are a lot of fun because I know what I’m doing and am confident enough to improvise. The first drafts are stressful.
This is a page from the tenth and last story. A girl, much like Nasye, is wrestling with the angel of death, a cartoon, after having lost her fiance in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. This story was influenced by a comic I looked at but didn’t read by Racheli Rottner called The Other Side of the World. I like when more or less realistic characters interact with imaginary ones. I think comics are the best medium for treating fantasy as reality. Because they’re so simple, and drawing in different styles on one page is like having a conversation in your head with imaginary friends, different versions of yourself.
People I’ve spoken to about the Bintel Brief agree that Abraham Cahan wrote some of the letters himself. The connective tissue of my comic, the part of the book I’m still working on, will revolve around this mystery. It will be very loose and light and I’m nervous about making it come out just right, which is why I’ve saved this part of the book for last. I hope it will leaven the stories somehow. Anyway, fun fact about this narrative: whenever any character sets out to do something (Abraham Cahan sets out to help the woman whose watch was stolen, I set out to learn about my culture and heritage) he or she will wake up, disoriented, in his or her bed.