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|Written by Agnes Cadieux|
|Wednesday, 03 November 2010 00:00|
It's always interesting to see what will happen when a writer breaks away from a particular niche they've set up with their fans and does something different. Von Allen's first graphic novel, The Road to God Knows..., stirred something in many of us by being one of the few publications that took an unadulterated look at mental illness, without the glitz or the scandal. It did such an excellent job that it was nominated for three Lulu Awards -- three nominations that are causing quite a stir themselves. The Lulu Awards are for women writers about women characters, but Von Allen is a man. He is thrilled about the recognition for his book, but says that the grounds for his eligibility is a "challenging debate."
"It's tough. The problem is, most writers, most artists in the comic industry are men, and it's traditionally been that way. It's not right and I wish it was way more 50/50, but you could also argue the same thing about genres."
But according to Valerie d'Orazio, president of Friends of Lulu, the group that created the awards, the official rules don't specify a female-only recipient. It seems the group wanted her to take Allen off the ballot, but she refused to do so. D'Orazio has since resigned her position and is set to leave the organization to create her own group, Comics For Everyone, by the end of the year. The winners of the Lulu Awards were announced at the Long Beach Comic Con in California on October 29th.
Unlike the solemn tone and realistic setup of Road, Allen's second novel, Stargazer, has a more upbeat, surreal feel to it. Although the underlying issue is about a young girl named Marni, who is dealing with the recent death of her grandmother, the story takes a twist when an artifact she inherited from her grandmother transports her and two of her friends, Sophie and Elora, to a different world. After gathering their courage, they set out to explore their new alien surroundings in hopes of finding a way home.
Although the theme of Marni's loss is what sets the pace for the story, it is quickly overshadowed by the strange world she and her friends are transported to. Allen's depiction of the three girls is very true to how three pre-teen girls generally behave: silly, brave, part-woman, part-child, and not quite sure which category they fall under yet. Even though the story is set in an alternate world with very fantastical settings and creatures, Allen has done an excellent job of showing his characters in an everyday struggle to determine how much independence they possess, and that, despite their young age and distance from authority figures, these young girls are trying out their own judgment and courage for the very first time.
The first volume is short: only 114 pages long, and then only the first 80 are part of the story. The other 30-odd pages provide the reader with a rare peek into Von Allen's creative process. There are several pages of sketches at different angles and expressions for his characters and backgrounds, and he also shares with us his brainstorming style, how he puts a story together, and even includes a three-page breakdown of how he organizes and inputs the script for his panels. It is a unique and interesting experience to see the "behind the scenes" process of putting a graphic novel together, and although Allen offers the disclaimer that this is only one way to do it, it isn't often we get to see the inner workings of an artist's brain.
For more on Von Allen, and to listen to an interview about the Lulu Awards with Daytime Ottawa, please visit: http://www.vonallan.com/.