Saturday, 28 March 2015

Book Club Report: A Discussion with Julie Delporte on Everywhere Antennas

It is difficult to understand the toll that a chronic illness can take on someone. The constant uncertainty; the feeling that you are losing a battle against yourself can be overwhelming for many. In Everywhere Antennas, we follow a protagonist who suffers from a disease known as Electromagnetic Hypersensibility or electrosensitivity. We see her struggle with this illness as she tries to adjust to her condition. As crazy as it may seem, and regardless of whether you believe in this disease or not, this is a fascinating book that goes deep beyond the core of chronic illness and the isolation that comes with it.

The Ottawa Comic Book Book Club met this month to discuss Everywhere Antennas. We all enjoyed the book. It is hard not to; it's such a lush package, the colours are fantastic and the use of cursive text to frame the drawings are phenomenal. It's unique and beautiful. Our discussion would have been quite short as we would most likely only talked about how much we enjoyed the book, except that we had the chance to welcome Julie Delporte to discuss her latest English book. She gracefully joined our group for an evening to talk about the book and provide us with perspectives on her process, loneliness, illness, her diary style and the difficulties of being an artist.

In tackling the topic of Electromagnetic Hypersensibility, Julie talks about illness, but also about loneliness. Our modern world encourages connectivity: Wi-Fi, radio, Bluetooth, infinite waves coursing through our homes, through our bodies, linking us instantly to each other. I look outside and I see them, I see these antennas, but I cannot feel them. But what if you were unable to cope with it. If you weren`t able to be in the modern world. Turning away from where you've been your whole life, in a world you can hardly escape, would be unbearable. Modernity being an unescapable reality and the present an unwelcome moment to be in. The future would be bleak. Her protagonist is going through this in a constant state of loneliness, unable to connect or be understood. She goes through an array of friends and acquaintances, never being fully engaged.

This loneliness is also reflected in the form of the book. A diary, a journal, is something one keeps for themselves, not meant to be shared. It is a lonesome endeavor, which, just like the magnetic waves, is something that isn't seen. Delporte's protagonist keeps this diary as she goes through this illness and expresses, day by day, the toll it takes on her and how she copes with it.

Julie was kind enough to talk about the creation of the book. Everywhere Antennas was conceived as part of a "24 hour comics challenge". She came up with the first chapter and liked it enough that she wanted to expand on it. However, the form it was going to take wasn't exactly as clear as she originally thought. Conflicted between the idea of keeping her work in color and doing it in a more standard comic style (black and white, with panels and speech bubbles) she experimened with the form. This experiment eventually became the third chapter of the book. She discovered she preferred to keep the style consistent throughout and finished the book in color. Although the Black & White chapter clashed with style of the rest of the book, she was able to integrate it. It is not, however, an unusual graft. It serves a story purpose. It is the only part of the book that involves a discussion between the protagonist and a friend. It breaks from the diary format, who was colorful and introspective to a black, white and grey, which has a more severe and stern feel to it reflecting the bleakness of human interaction. It is grey because it doesn't come from the self. The final chapters return to a diary format with colours. And something phenomenal also happens as we move through the book. Julie's art gradually evolves. You can actively track her progress as Julie grows into her artistic skill and technique throughout the book. And the most incredible thing is that it fits with the protagonist`s state of mind as she also gets progressively better as time goes by. Julie Delporte may have delivered the best constructed comic our group has read so far.

Why a diary? Because, as Julie Delporte graciously mentioned, the diary form is the closest reflection of reality she can get to. The comic book language works well, but as she tried to illustrate feelings, the traditional comic book style - the speech bubbles, the panels, the grid, all of those - got in the way of what she was trying to express. Panels are not lifelike enough for what she was trying to accomplish. You can hardly express loneliness when your figures are surrounded by lines or narration box. And the colours were needed as they reflected the feelings of her protagonist. They are never completely clear. There are so many shades of blue in the sky, yet if we were to convey it on a page from memory alone, I doubt we would be able to reflect just how many colors that represents. In a sense, the colours become a way to inbue the text with emotions, while trying to reflect both the reality of the protagonist, and the impossibilty of capturing this reality.

We were able to gain a thorough understanding of Julie Delporte's work by the end of our meeting. It was a very humbling and phenomenal experience to meet a comic creator of this caliber. Although I won't proclaim that we all thought Everywhere Antennas was a masterpiece, we all realized we were facing something incredibly unique. We were particularly grateful for the opportunity to discuss it with Julie. We can only hope that our future comics landscape includes her work, whatever shape it may take. I for one am eagerly awaiting her next work.

Merci Julie, nous espérons que ta carrière sois longue et fructueuse et que tu puisse poursuivre les opportunités qui te plaisent.

Follow Julie Delporte on Tumblr or read her blog.
Everywhere Antennas is published by Drawn & Quarterly 

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