September 29, 2008
In Creole, “lagniappe” means a little something extra, like the perfectly-wrapped chocolate truffle on your pillow at a fancy hotel.
As I’m working on a book, it sometimes occurs to me to offer a lagniappe to readers. Sometimes this means a memorable saying or aphorism on the epigraph pages of the book. (Epigraph = book geek speak for those pages that separate sections of the novel.) If I’m writing about a restaurant, or going camping, or a Polish family bakery, it’s likely to be recipes and anecdotes. Sometimes it’s an aphorism or memorable saying.
For Just Breathe, the lagniappe was a no-brainer because of the main character’s job. Sarah Moon is a comic strip artist. Come on, who amongst us didn’t want to be a comic strip artist as a kid? Didn’t we all draw cartoons with speech bubbles coming out of their mouths? I always try to give the main character of my books a “fantasy” job–one I’d love to have in another life. This is one of the perks of writing fiction. You get to live in a character’s skin.
I bet this drives comic strip artists crazy–people think it’s easy. Because the very best comics look effortless, like mindless doodling. You just sketch a few lines, write a few panes of funny dialogue, et voila! Instant art!
What I discovered is that, like any art form, comic strip drawing and writing is hard. And I found this out the hard way–by trying my hand at it. I had no trouble conceiving of the setup and and dialogue for Sarah’s strip, which is titled “Just Breathe.” A grown daughter, Shirl, experiences marital troubles and moves in with her bossy divorced mom, Lulu. Yet when it came to rendering these characters into drawings, I was hopeless.
I studied the careers of successful cartoonists, notably my favorite, Nicole Hollander, who created “Sylvia.” I traded e-mails with the ever-helpful Greg Evans, creator of “Luann.”
But I still couldn’t draw. At my wits’ end, literally, I told my editor we needed to find a real artist to draw Lulu and Shirl. Fortunately for me, my publisher’s creative art director, Sean Kapitain, is a fine artist in his own right. Burning the midnight oil, he made the fictional comic strip look exactly like the real thing, right down to the last detail.
So if you happen to pick up a copy of Just Breathe, please enjoy the little lagniappe–a series of comic strips created just for this novel.