An Interview with Leslie Stein
"I think this book was a reaction to being isolated during the pandemic. I thought to myself, 'Here I am in my room alone... What's the opposite of that?'"
We are excited to feature an interview from Leslie Stein, author of the critically acclaimed graphic memoir I Know You Rider and other great comics. We talk her comics journey and what it was like making her first full-length work of fiction, Brooklyn’s Last Secret. Read on for more!
Describe your comics journey--how did you get into making comics?
I grew up in Chicago where the newspaper The Chicago Tribune had a huge full color comic section every Sunday. I really looked forward to reading it every weekend and soon started drawing my own strips, which I continued through middle school. When I got to high school someone introduced me to alternative and underground comics and I was hooked right away. I went to Quimbys and bought issues of Eightball and Black Hole and reprints of Zap.
How did you develop your "voice" and unique comics style?
I've had a few different visual styles over the years which generally evolved from experimenting with different materials. Early on I was making collages out of construction paper so it was of course blocky. I learned a lot about composition through moving the characters and dialogue balloons around against the background. After that I wanted to do a kind of classic hippie comic style in black and white, which is how my series Eye of the Majestic Creature developed. That was extremely labor intensive because I used a stippling technique. The current style I work in has a more fluid line because it has to match well with watercolors. I really enjoy working with color, and I believe it informs how the viewer takes in information. Sometimes I'll use the brightest colors when the material is on the darker or sadder side. It's like a reward for making it through, for myself as much or perhaps even more than the reader.
"Brooklyn's Last Secret" is your first full-length work of fiction. What inspired you to create a fictional story based on your experiences touring as a musician, and how did you approach the process of translating those experiences into a narrative?
I think this book was a reaction to being isolated during the pandemic. I thought to myself, "Here I am in my room alone... What's the opposite of that? Well, being on tour with a band touring the country definitely is."
Also because all my touring musician friends were in the same boat I thought it would be a nice gift to them to put it online as a series to give their days isolated alone a bit more humor.
As far as writing the narrative, it felt pretty seamless. I wanted to make a book that accurately described what tour is like for most musicians, not a sensationalized version. Since I've had experience touring that came pretty naturally.
In "Brooklyn's Last Secret," you explore the highs and lows of tour life, including the sex, drugs, and the emotional toll of rock 'n' roll. How do you balance these elements with the more tender moments of the story, and what message do you hope readers will take away from the novel?
I want the readers to have a great time and to laugh a lot and feel connected to and invested in the characters. That comes from getting to know them and their backstories, which is where the more heartfelt aspects come into play. The book has little agenda, it simply is there to entertain! I really hope it does.
Leslie Stein is the cartoonist of the LA Times Book Prize Award winning Present, as well as I Know You Rider, Bright-Eyed at Midnight, and the Eye of the Majestic Creature series. Her diary comics have been featured on The New Yorker, Vice, and in the Best American Comics anthology. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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