Comics History

Read Year of the Rabbit

Read Year of the Rabbit by Tian Veasna

Year of the Rabbit tells the true story of one family’s desperate struggle to survive the murderous reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge seized power in the capital city of Phnom Penh. Immediately after declaring victory in the war, they set about evacuating the country’s major cities with the brutal ruthlessness and disregard for humanity that characterized the regime ultimately responsible for the deaths of one million citizens.

Cartoonist Tian Veasna was born just three days after the Khmer Rouge takeover, as his family set forth on the chaotic mass exodus from Phnom Penh. Year of the Rabbit is based on firsthand accounts, all told from the perspective of his parents and other close relatives. Stripped of any money or material possessions, Veasna’s family found themselves exiled to the barren countryside along with thousands of others, where food was scarce and brutal violence a constant threat.

Year of the Rabbit shows the reality of life in the work camps, where Veasna’s family bartered for goods, where children were instructed to spy on their parents, and where reading was proof positive of being a class traitor. Constantly on the edge of annihilation, they realized there was only one choice—they had to escape Cambodia and become refugees. Veasna has created a harrowing, deeply personal account of one of the twentieth century’s greatest tragedies.

Like Maus, the story of a genocide from one family’s perspective. They escape on foot from the capitol city, evading death several times, before they are divided and captured close to their destination. Forced into labor camps, starved and overworked, they try to avoid attention to survive, while relying on family and friendships to get them through.

There is limited graphic violence shown, much obscured or minimized or alluded to. But, enough to make clear the senselessness of the killing, and the extent.

The artwork made it a little hard to tell all the family members apart, and there was a very large cast, so I got a little lost in some parts.

Comics History

Read They Called Us Enemy

Read They Called Us Enemy

A graphic memoir recounting actor/author/activist George Takei’s childhood imprisoned within American concentration camps during World War II. Experience the forces that shaped an American icon — and America itself.

Long before George Takei braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s — and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.

They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

Part memoir, part history, part tribute to his father — I think the storytelling approach worked well, using the personal and individual to tell the greater story, and tie this piece of history together to the present. George Takei credits his father with guiding him into advocacy, which has also been powerful. Things were even worse than I realized — we read a book about Manzanar in elementary school but I think I was too young to totally understand, and we glossed over Japanese internment later in school. It’s helpful to have the pieces assembled in a story to follow along the timeline and explain how people reacted to different things. A powerful story to read now, when fear of “the other” has surged out of the shadows. I really liked the art style and use of halftone shading.

Humor Mental Health

Read Broken

Read Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson

As Jenny Lawson’s hundreds of thousands of fans know, she suffers from depression. In Broken, Jenny brings readers along on her mental and physical health journey, offering heartbreaking and hilarious anecdotes along the way.

With people experiencing anxiety and depression now more than ever, Jenny humanizes what we all face in an all-too-real way, reassuring us that we’re not alone and making us laugh while doing it. From the business ideas that she wants to pitch to Shark Tank to the reason why Jenny can never go back to the post office, Broken leaves nothing to the imagination in the most satisfying way. And of course, Jenny’s long-suffering husband Victor―the Ricky to Jenny’s Lucille Ball―is present throughout.

20% laugh out loud funny

20% entertaining

20% meh

40% mental health, chronic illness, serious stories – dark but eloquent

Her mental health is much worse than mine which always scares me a little that I might get to that level. But her writing about her experiences with depression and anxiety help me accept my own foibles better.

Quotes + Notes

Emphasis mine.

“It’s probably not true. It’s not true.

That first line is what I feel. The second is what I know.”

“My doctor told me that when you finally get into remission from depression you are 350 percent more likely to stay in remission if you exercise thirty minutes a day six times a week.”

“I know that time given to yourself to make yourself healthier is good for you and for everyone around you. I know that it takes time and effort for some of us to stay sane. I know that I’m worth the work and that I should feel grateful that I can take care of myself without feeling guilty. So the next step is moving from knowing to feeling.

“Treat yourself like you would your favorite pet. Plenty of fresh water, lots of rest, snuggles as needed, allow yourself naps.”

“Avoid negativity. That means the news, people, movies. It will all be there when you’re healthy again.”

“Forgive yourself. For being broken. For being you.”

“Give yourself permission to recover.”

“I make the call. I keep the appointment. I work my program. This is the never-ending work of recovery.”

“[S]ometimes you have to do the hard thing. Sometimes you have to say no. Sometimes you have to make waves. Because otherwise you can get swept away.”

“[A]ll small terrors pass. That fear can make you think irrational thoughts. That you are only ever truly trapped when you give up and allow yourself to be. Don’t give up.”

“It’s a strange thing … to be tangled up in things no one else really cares about. To be so busy with worry that your constant back-and-forth looks like utter inaction. To be so afraid of doing something wrong that you end up doing something worse. To be exhausted by a marathon that looks like complete paralysis on the outside but feels like being on both sides of a violent tug-of-war on the inside.”

“And some people, like me, have a shard forever missing, a chasm that goes straight down to the core. Anxiety. It creates a fear—of people, of strangers and friends, and of life. It makes you fragile and vulnerable and you throw up walls so that no one can reach inside, because you have to protect that core. But—and here’s the tricky part—you also have to protect the break … that empty place that you always feel, because that break is what makes you who you are.”


Building a Memoir of Chapters or Essays

Quoted How Are Your Chapters Doing Today? by Jami Attenberg (CRAFT TALK)

I turned my attention to my manuscript. Originally it was to be a collection of essays, and I would write some new material. I was imagining it to be sixty percent new material, something like that. I had written so many essays the last twenty years of my life, couldn’t I do something with them?

Essays can be chapters, but of course chapters aren’t necessarily essays. And now, in this big revision I am doing, it is becoming clear, most of these chapters are not meant to be essays – not classic, beautiful, pristine essays. They are chapters in a book about my life, they are stories I am telling. And they have to give way in service of the narrative…

I’m not trying to say that an essay collection cannot form a narrative, a picture of a writer’s life…The most successful I have been artistically with my work has been when I let the chapters be what they need to be in the realm of the bigger book.

All of these actions alter the pristine essayistic nature of the chapters. Were they to remain essays, with these changes, they could not exist on their own in the universe as successful ones. But I do not care anymore, because the chapters will now serve the book better, and I now only care about the success of the entire book.


Funny Memoir Project

My evil friend, as I was telling a story yesterday, suggested I should write a memoir. I argued that I get too stuck on all the bad stuff, which she said was the point of reading memoir, but another friend suggested the slightly different angle of humorous, self-deprecating episodic memoir in the vein of Jenny Lawson or David Sedaris.

That’s much more up my alley, and I found myself actually thinking about it as I lay in bed last night, despite already having as many projects as I can write in the next ten years already.

Since I’m a glutton for punishment, I thought I’d make notes about some of the possible stories that sprung to mind.

* marks outdoor adventures. ** marks travel stories. Bold are the best stories.

  • The illegal swim**
  • Eat that vein*
  • The Sandblaster and dune buggy rollover*
  • Backpacking in Canada in November*
  • Wanna Dive*
  • Mediterranean cruise on a ship with no sail*
  • Frozen water bottle at Joshua Tree*
  • Weirdo at horse camp*
  • Kansas City road trip**
  • Kahurangi backpacking*
  • Water heater explosion
  • Band camp
  • Egypt**
  • They call me Strings*
  • Camping next to the katana wielding felons*
  • Two a.m. siren in a New Zealand beach town**
  • “We’re so fucking lost” backpacking trip*
  • Inviting ourselves to camp of the howlers*
  • Woman popping out of the river into our campsite*
  • Bear doing the lakeside tour in Yosemite*
  • Photography camp
  • Poetry camp
  • Winning a nerd-off contest
  • One Teva Down*
  • Hiking Mt Tam in a day*
  • North Cascades bear cam*
  • Fiji vacation**
  • 4th of July at type 2 waterfront
  • Olympic National Park in July*
  • 30th bday backpack*
  • Hiking in to Goldmyer*
  • Long weekend in New Zealand*
  • South Island road trip*
  • Northern tip of New Zealand**
  • Kaikoura marae and the dolphin dive**
  • Halloween hotel and the brunch meltdown**

Phases in my life I could probably turn into a story:

  • Band Mom
  • Cats from hell
  • National Park internships*
  • Pen pal competition / “the friend tree”
  • Montana “study abroad”*
  • Roommate opposites: OC and the Jesus battle
  • Living in the crew girls’ attic
  • Cross country and Coach
  • Middle school excursions with Hannah
  • Mud Magnet*

Some possible kind of title themes I could stew on more:

  • Stupid ways I could have died in the woods, and other fun excursions
  • Why do I like backpacking again? And other fun adventures
  • Woman vs Wild: misadventures in the not-so-great outdoors
  • Outdoorsy: a suburban girl with adventurous aspirations
  • Unprepared: tales of mutual suffering in the not-so-great outdoors