Friday, January 27, 2012

Creator Spotlight - Vera Brosgol

In June 2011, a graphic novel by a fairly unknown artist/writer by the name of Vera Brosgol was released into the market. Published by First Second Books, a publisher owned by the same company that owns the immense Macmillan group, Anya's Ghost released to massive amounts of praise. I came across it first due to an excerpt available on genre site, which I found during a particularly boring day at work, and I was hooked from that very moment. I ordered it the week it came out and devoured it in one evening. It instantly became the best release of 2011 for me, in terms of graphic novels (and perhaps with regards to the wider picture), and this success carried over to sites such as Goodreads, in which Anya's Ghost found a very respectable place as the 8th best graphic novel in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2011. I wanted to shine a spotlight on Vera and celebrate her work, and hopefully get others into experiencing Anya's Ghost for themselves.

Anya's Ghost itself is a very fun read, and I think Neil Gaiman's quote sums it up perfectly. Vera's art is crisp, clear and interesting, with the exaggeration allowing a wide range of expressions, and her writing is just as strong. To sum the story up, Anya is a Russian teenager who at a young age migrates to America with her mother and younger brother. After years of bullying, Anya is left insecure about herself, and whilst her body doesn't de-curve itself, she manages to integrate herself a little better by working on losing her Russian accent and gaining American ideals.

When the story starts, Anya is attending high school and is a bit of an outcast. Her only real friend is Siobhan, who is quite the rebel, and through the local Russian community she's also - much to her annoyance - seen as a friend to Dima, a boy roughly her age who is less integrated and a bit of a nerd to boot, which Anya feels does little to her ability to fit in. Taking the opportunity to miss classes, she goes for a walk in the local park, her mind swimming with frustrated thoughts and pent-up anger, but as she's distracted she doesn't notice the large hole she's walking towards. As luck would have it, she falls down the hole and lands next to the skeleton of a young child which causes her to panic, but then something strange happens. As Anya lights up a cigarette, she notices the ghost of a young girl staring at her, and her life begins to change...

Cropped from excerpt of Anya's Ghost.
I absolutely adored this story. Brosgol captures the alienation in high school of anyone perceived to be different with incredible accuracy, and it helps the reader identify with Anya and her problems. I felt that the intertwining of 'teen problems' - self image, friendship, embarrassment and so on - was seamless but not in the way that lets you overlook them, instead presenting them to you and allowing you to think about them whilst the story explores each point. But I digress, there's a number of reviews out there and I would say reading this is the only way to truly grasp what I mean.

Can you tell I have a bit of a teensy crush on Anya yet? Probably not. I've hidden it well.

Illustration titled "Anya's Ghost - Bedroom", taken from Vera Brosgol's site.
I also want to talk about Vera's other work, and also about her art in more general terms.

One thing I absolutely adore about her art is that it's exaggerated and cartoony, but in a way that accentuates and enhances the expressions and figures of the characters. I feel that the way she draws women is more a celebration of femininity than anything else, and this is apparent in the Draw This Dress project that Vera does alongside Emily Carroll, which is fairly self-explanatory. There's a range of figures that she draws, from thinner to wide-hips, from heavy-set to curves that even Christina Hendricks could be jealous of.

On her site, there's a couple of general illustrations that have a cheeky or playful tone to them. There's a tug-of-war with six girls in just their panties and socks, there's a pillow fight and even a girl flashing the viewer whilst riding a bike. There's something refreshing about the way Vera does it, and it's infinitely more tasteful than I've seen elsewhere. It's almost as if she takes these titillating situations and removes all of the hidden subtext, instead leaving some beautiful art that's cheeky but nothing more. For example, this next image is from the Draw This Dress project, and it's of some fetish undergarments from the early 1900s, and the image somehow manages to fit in with the theme of the clothing yet not be anything more. It's utterly stunning.
Fetish Underwear drawing, taken from Draw This Dress.
So, hopefully I've brought Vera into some people's knowledge and that I've represented her work well. Anya's Ghost was an absolute joy to read, and I'm so glad it did so well in the Goodreads Awards. I'm really looking forward to whatever she releases next, because I know it'll be great.

Links of note:
Vera Brosgol's Website, Verabee
Vera's Twitter Account
Draw This Dress

Note: All images and so forth are the copyright and properties of Vera Brosgol. The holder is aware of their use and has approved it, and I have credited the sources as best as I can.

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