A Soldier's Daughter's Heart: A Conversation with Graphic Novelist Carol Tyler
Welcome back to Explicitly Graphic, a monthly column by Cynthia Clark Harvey (who's working on a graphic novel of her own). From time to time, Harvey will review graphic novels, talk to artists, and dive into the scene of all things explicitly graphic. Today, she sits down with author and artist Carol Tyler.
Carol Tyler has stories to tell -- both her own and her parents' -- though it's not always clear cut whose generation lays claim to a particular tale.
Tyler's new graphic novel, "You'll Never Know (Book III), Soldier's Heart," released this week, completes the trilogy about her father's WWII service and its far-reaching effects on her family.
"You'll Never Know" Books 1 and 2 are beautiful, with Tyler's masterful use of color adding mood and emotional texture to every page. But it's the story that pulls the reader through.
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Book 2, "Collateral Damage" ended in a place that left me breathless with tension over where Book 3 would take me. Now, my two year wait is nearly over.
Carol Tyler's "Soldier's Heart"
I look forward to spending next weekend reading "Soldier's Heart," (Soldier's Heart is the American Civil War term for what is now called PTSD) trusting the sure hands of comics legend Carol Tyler. We spoke recently by phone.
I know your mom died this year. Your dad's still alive? How did your parents feel about these books in which so much is revealed of your family life?
Yes, dad's still around. He's 93. Mom saw the artwork for Soldier's Heart before she died. She cried; it had her seal of approval. She was so receptive. I got her to draw a page for the last book. The first book, in '09, 'A Good & Decent Man' - they were both beaming with pride. The second book, 'Collateral Damage' - well, they were both confused by it.
You know, it details the difficulties. It has more about my pain in it. The part where I was talking about my being a little troublemaker, Dad thought it was about Julia [Tyler's daughter with also-legendary cartoonist Justin Green]. I worked on "Soldier's Heart" while Mom was in hospice and finished the very last pages just after she died. Chuck [Dad] read it and wasn't so proud. It gets down to his painful past, his vulnerabilities. He said "I'm not showing that to anybody down at the VA."
Book 2, 'Collateral Damage' features a retelling of "The Hannah Story" [Hannah is Tyler's mother; the story is about the tragic death of two year old Ann, Tyler's oldest sister] which was first published in 1995. This was a stand-alone? I don't know the history.
I was asked to contribute to the Drawn & Quarterly anthology. I'd just left a job and I used the luxury of that time to draw the Hannah story.
Did your telling that story have anything to do with undertaking your dad's story? Or his opening up to you?
Carol Tyler's "The Job Thing"
No. He never read "The Hannah Story." Mom read it, set it down, walked away and said, "Why did you spend your time doing that?" She also said that Dad wouldn't be able to handle it. Since she passed away, he started to talk about Ann's death. He told me some things I never heard from Mom, but I don't know how much of it is true. Neither of them said anything about "The Hannah Story" after seeing it in Book 2.
I love "Late Bloomer,"  which I didn't find until after the "You'll Never Know" books.
Well, some people thought Late Bloomer would be it for me. It's a twenty-year collection of work done while my tot was little. I did it between homework packets and various jobs.
But after all the different jobs [Tyler's first book, "The Job Thing" was published by Fantagraphics, her publisher still, in 1993] you teach comics at the university level now, right? How did that come about?
After "Late Bloomer," I realized I really was committed to cartooning. I thought since I know this stuff, I should be teaching it. So I marched into the college and told them that. They said they'd try it with one class. I wrote up the curriculum. I approached it like an elementary teacher with table groups and incentives. We have a lot of fun, and I give them good grades. How can you give a bad grade if they try?