To be fair to Kinsley, who wrote hers as a 23 year-old student on a holiday in Paris with her Mum, I am not going to put her up against Thompson, who wrote his on a Moroccan holiday and French /Spanish book tour of his award winning masterpiece Blankets.
But both of them really made me think about the genre of comic diary making, how it’s done and what makes it successful.
Mostly it made me think about what we reveal of ourselves in autobiographical comics.
You see, there is a line I think I’ve walked a million times on the internet with my personal life – how much do I really want the world to know about me anyway?
In Carnet De Voyage Thompson devotes one page to his diarrhea and multiple pages to a romantic encounter in Barcelona, all the while constantly referring to a mysterious breakup before the tour that you never really find out much about.
In French Milk Kinsley devotes a page to missing having sex with her boyfriend, but also mysteriously avoids any mention of their reunion at the end of the book or a real discussion about her elusive references to arguments with her mother.
What were they about anyway?
Now I know from personal experience that putting your life in the public sphere is fraught: you stand a big risk of upsetting your more private family and friends by telling more than they thought you would, could or should – or worse, showing a side of them they do not like or a side of you they do not like.
Actually no, the worst is showing them something awful they didn’t know happened or something they think didn’t happened and you are a terrible rotten liar I’m never speaking to you ever again.
When teaching online journalism at The University of Canberra I used to say to my students ‘if you wouldn’t show it to your Nana, don’t put it on the internet’, but I’m confused about whether that applies to comics when the most compelling stories are often the most controversial.
This makes the comic diary making – read any autobiographical work – kind of hard.
Does success = no friends?
Because while reading both Kinsley and Thompson, I noted my curiosity rising for absent elements of their stories I know I too would have omitted.
- What I argue with my Mum about (which, aside from slouching, poor grammar, swearing and choice in footwear, I really don’t want to go into detail about in any pubic way)
- The names of participants in and gory details of my last horrible break-up
- A detailed Freudian analysis of why travel, particularly travel with my family, makes me immediately revert to behaviour a five year-old would be ashamed to display.
I think the crux of the dilemma can be described by that great journalistic device taught to me by Maree Curtis – don’t make promises you can’t keep.
If I’m reading your illustrated travel diary with the understanding this is all going to be a great reveal of a mother/daughter relationship – or that I will learn of your latest romantic tragedy – when you have no intention of delivering this to me, I, the reader, will not be happy with the end product.
Flagging tidbits along the way won’t satisfy me at the end when I’m left wondering what really happened, although as diaries it’s hard to shove the frames into a comprehensive easily digested story structure.
Perhaps when I grow up and write graphic novels I’ll steer away from travel diaries lest I be tempted to spill my guts or walk the line of not enough story to suck the reader in, or so much story my love ones feel their private lives violated?