If you told me to read a 306 page graphic novel about getting married I’d probably say I didn’t have time. If you told me it was created by Lucy Knisley I’d drop everything to read the darn thing. Knisley has a way of making her autobiographical tales captivating and endearing because she’s honest and a great illustrator. This is the longest of her books I’ve read about a subject I’m not even that interested in, but here’s to hoping she grabs my attention like she has in books past.
Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride (First Second)
This is the fourth book of hers I’ve read and in a lot of ways it all lead up to this. That’s because the man she marries in this book, John, is a real life person she’s talked about in nearly all of her books. He’s been on her mind when cooking in Relish, travelling through Europe on a book tour in An Age of License and even when she took care of her parents in Displacement. This book goes through the entire process from pre-engagement and getting back with John, engagement, planning the wedding and finally the wedding itself.
Why does this book matter?
Knisley has a way of packing each page with thoughtful information and doing so in creative ways, using her fluid and cartoony art to do so. At the same time she’s incredibly giving in her writing, letting us right into her life to see it up close. I’m not sure there’s a graphic novelist like Knisley who’s consistently produced solid work. If you haven’t read Relish I command you to do so now!
Lots of fun facts within.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This book is dense, which both hurts and helps the read. It helps because it feels like we aren’t missing out on a single detail. It opens on the marriage, to her general idea of marriage and finally how she met John. The storyline cuts back and forth a bit, but once the engagement is on it trucks on through every trial Knisley had to negotiate leading up to the big day. Between these moments Knisley splices in fun collages, flow charts and other inventive ways to explain common bridal customs. From “Should I go to this wedding” to common bridal hairdos, marketing schemes and even the history of wedding rings and their symbolic purpose, the book is so damn robust you could easily give this as an engagement gift to help friends understand interesting customs of marriage to get a preview of what might be in their wedding planning future.
I’d really love to know how much and planning went into the layouts of this book. There’s sometimes a sense that she simply pulled out a page and started drawing, but then there are interesting complexities that help explain what’s going on. Take for instance a section of the book detailing the trials of moving from New York to Chicago. The new apartment is barely moved into and Knisley and John are having a lot of trouble sleeping due to the noise their neighbors make. We see a staircase in the top third of the page as John walks up to talk to a boy who plays military video games. Underneath the boy is Knisley, frustrated in bed. It’s a nice little cutaway shot to do it all in one image. Overall there is so much variety and imagination on every page it’s hard to ever feel bored–in fact, you’ll want to turn the pages simply to see what she has cooked up next (like a cool map showcasing the “Land of Bride”.
A modern look at marriage.
Knisley also adds a new flair to this book I haven’t seen her use in books past with photography. The chapter pages use real images from her year of planning with a bit of drawing over them. It’s a fun way to mix her art with reality and remind us this is all a true story.
It can’t be perfect can it?
The density and length of this book does at times make it a labor to read. Nothing is bad or boring per se, but there’s just so much of it. There were times I had a hard time turning the pages because I wanted to get to the wedding already. It doesn’t help that there are sections that feel as though they could have been cut down due to the repetitive nature. In a lot of ways this is like a scrapbook story with every moment and detail in for posterity. The problem with that is the overall narrative suffers as a “scene” goes on too long and your appetite for new information and a turn in the story grows. More than once I’d check the page number and sigh wishing the book was 50 or even 100 pages shorter. Or at least an editor came in and gave some feedback on how the narrative plays out.
Nice use of photography.
Is It Good?
This is a fantastic book and the perfect gift for anyone thinking about or planning to get married. It not only details the amount of work and effort that goes into planning a wedding but offers plenty of anecdotes and fun facts about the custom of marriage. Knisley is an incredibly imaginative and creative graphic novelist who is unmatched in autobiographical storytelling. I can’t wait for what she comes up with next.
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