Wednesday, September 01, 2010
Seq. Art: You’ll Never Know by C. Tyler
1. “When I was working in the barroom that Baba and Zeddo owned (Note: his parents; those are Slovak terms for grandparents), one night after closing I decided to try a shot from every bottle. I got through two or three and woke up on the bar the next morning. I’m not a drinker.”
2. “We ordered a new refrigerator in 1943, but it wasn’t delivered until 1946. Everything went toward the war in those days. You kids will never know what it was like. Your Baba worked third shift at a clothing factory snipping threads off of long underwear when they came off the machines. Everybody worked for the war.”
3. “I used an outhouse until I was about 10 years old. For toilet paper, we used old Sears catalogs. But only the dull pages, not the shiny, color pages. You crumpled up the dull pages so they would be soft.”
4. “Before we built the barroom as a separate building, it was in the basement of our house. (Note: this was not uncommon in rural PA in the 1950s.) The women would use the bathroom in the house and them men would go outside.”
5. “I won the shop prize in high school. Five dollars. I still have the envelope it came in.”
However, Dad keeps surprising me with new and interesting stories about his life. This last weekend I visited, on the way back from the diner we passed a house being systematically deconstructed as opposed to randomly demolished.
“Look at those old, wide boards. You can’t find wide boards like that so easy anymore,” he said. “They’re probably going to use that lumber for something else.”
He paused, carefully driving around a deep pothole.
“Our house in Freeland was built from the old elementary school in Jeddo. Zeddo bought it for $100 when it went up for sale, and he hired some guys to take it down piece by piece and haul the lumber and whatever else they could salvage over to the lot. He paid them $3 a day and Baba gave them lunch each day.”
Who knew Zeddo was so eco-conscious in the 1940s! (Truthfully, he was just cheap.)
If I had the courage, I’d quit my job and chronicle my father’s life in audio and video, get all those stories down, all those secrets out. There’s an epic “This American Life” episode in there. If I were any kind of artist, I would have started a comic series about him.
Does Dad have stories that shouldn’t be told at all? In his older age that he’s let some things slip that probably shouldn’t have. Maybe he thinks that I’m old enough to hear the entire “truth” about everything in his life, maybe he just doesn’t care anymore, but there are some details I just don’t want to know. There are some secrets no one ever needs to know.
During SPX 2009, I purchased a copy of Carol Tyler’s You’ll Never Know - Book One: A Good and Decent Man (Fantagraphics), a biography about her father (Charles “Chuck” Tyler), who served in Europe during WWII, but never willing to talk about his service. However, as he got older, he began talking to Carol about the terrible experiences, the horrors that men were just supposed to suppress and forget about when they returned to the U.S. after the war. (See the movie The Best Years of Our Lives for an excellent portrayal of three men trying to re-adjust after coming home.) Carol at first started to build his stories and old photos into a series of new scrapbooks for him, but then expanded to include stories about her life, and her parents’ lives before and after the war.
You’ll Never Know sat on my shelf for nearly a year before I finally opened and fell into it.
There are a few possible reasons that You’ll Never Know sat unread for so long before reading.
1. It is an intimidatingly beautiful book. Huge, scrapbook-sized, landscape format (12” wide x 10.5” high), hardcover, beautiful paper, colors, and printing. Fantagraphics always produces beautiful books, but this is one of my favorites they have ever published. I didn’t feel “ready” to read it for the longest time, because it just looked like an important, privileged read that required the correct moment. (I can’t be alone in saving certain books for “perfect” times or moods, am I?)
2. I also hesitated reading You’ll Never Know because I knew it would remind me of my own shortcomings in recording my father’s own stories, and my failed promises to organize all of his historical “stuff” (old coal mine company records and such). I also feel I’ve disappointed him by never really figuring out what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.
A few weeks ago, I carefully slid You’ll Never Know off the shelf. I was ready for it. It was time.
It was a deeply emotional read.
You’ll Never Know is the story of many lives: Chuck, his wife Hannah, Carol, Carol’s daughter Julia, and Carol’s estranged husband Justin. All their stories are told in the past and the present, in Carol’s drawings of Chuck’s old photographs, contrasted with events in Carol’s life like raising a teenage daughter while estranged from her husband. Their stories span from Chuck’s birth (1919) to the beginning of the 2000s and are held together by the Tyler family fortitude.
The art and lettering is stellar in You’ll Never Know, filled with little details that make every page - especially full page panels. Here’s one of my favorite panels. (Click to enlarge.)
And this is a sample page from the scrapbook Carol is drawing for Chuck.
By the end of You’ll Never Know: Book One, the reader knows that “something” happened during Chuck’s service in Europe that he has repressed for years. Carol is eking it out of him, slowly, bit by bit. It will take time.
You’ll Never Know is excellent example of autobiographical/biographical non-fiction sequential art, and has made my short list of favorite graphic non-fiction, which also includes Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, the Syncopated collections, and Ken Dahl’s Monsters.
I shouldn’t have delayed reading it.
However, the upside about waiting so long to read it is that I don’t have to wait so long for the next book. Book Two: Collateral Damage, is set to ship in September. (Oh, I hope it’s ready for the SPX!)