Friday, December 16, 2011

For Monday: Simmonds' Tamara Drewe

Starting in the late 70’s, Simmonds worked as a cartoonist for The Guardian, introducing a weekly strip called The Silent Three of St. Botolph’s.  This led to other strips and a full-fledged book in 1981, True Love, which can be seen as her first attempt at a graphic novel.  Her penchant for satire and literary adaptation led naturally to her most celebrated work, Gemma Bovery, which, in the tradition of the nineteenth-century novel, appeared serialized in The Guardian every Monday through Saturday in 1999.  The success of the series prompted its publication in book form the same year.  The book quickly garnered critical interest and attention, even being nominated for the celebrated Prix de la critique award (best comic published in France, organized by the Association des Critiques et des Journalistes de Bande Dessinée).  Though Alan Moore’s From Hell took the award, the resulting critical interest helped Gemma Bovery jump the pond and find an American publisher in 2004.  Her most recent book, Tamara Drewe, was published in 2008 and was recently adapted into a 2010 film directed by Stephen Frears (which got mixed reviews, mostly because the film could only tell the story--and the richness of the book derives from her unique approach to the graphic novel). 

Here's a sample from an interview with Simmonds by Paul Gravett, an authority on graphic novels:

You’ve got, very cleverly, in this book the different voices and the different ways of getting across those voices, not just in typeset prose. Or you have Gemma’s diaries, letters or handwritten things. You’ve used the graphic and typographic voices of the book.

Yes. I realized, once I started doing it, that you have an extra voice. You could give the characters their voices in whatever way, whether it be in reported speech, in balloons or it could be diaries or their own voice-over, but then the actual drawings could be another voice as well. The drawing could also do things like films do where you could have things going on in the background.

Counterpointing on what else goes on.

Yes. I didn’t have enough room to put it in but I planned that if you went back through Gemma Bovery you could see that her husband Charlie actually had an affair with Martine, Madame Joubert, the narrator’s wife. Just maybe in the background or they would be talking where you’d see them. So you saw how Charlie got lonely and fed up when Gemma had her affair.


  1. The artwork in “Tamara Drewe” is a very stylish cartoon type. The actual scenes have usually bright and vivid colors, while recollections and thoughts are usually monochromatic blue hue. Unlike in reality, she also tends to make the evening hours monochromatic or a blue or purple color. The style of art used in the piece reminds me of those generally used in the illustration of a book. The overall feel of the art is that it is only there to accentuate the text, unlike Batman or Chunky Rice, it seems almost as an afterthought.
    Simmonds seems to be more suited as a novelist rather than an artist. The text and the words play a parallel role, they both tell the story. I do think though that piece would suffer if one of the two components would disappear. The art while adequate, seems to lack the impact of the words. The inner monologues of the pure text sections of the piece reveal more to their motives than the frames do, with Glen especially. To me, this was the most interesting of the three we have had to read up this point. The combination of an almost novelish approach intertwined with a graphic novel is a worthy endeavor. It shows thought and skill as both a novelist and graphic novelist.
    The story has it seems five narrators. They are characters inside the story, and we get their input in the form of thoughts in the frames as well as via the text blocks in which they give us their inner monologues. The frames almost seem like an out of body rememberance of the evens that happened and the text is almost a real time inner monologue from the events. Every narrator has their own story, but intersects with Tamara. Her life and the fall-out from it is what tie the entire story together, as well as giving her own commentary in the way of the occasional memory or piece of her column. This makes it, like Chunky Rice, a collection of blended stories told from first person perspectives.
    My favorite scene, the one that to me is the most significant takes place on Saturday evening at 6:30 on Spring Day. The page has no words other than informing us of the time this scene takes place. Other than the pages denoting the change of the season, this is the only page with no dialogue, no text blocks, just a simple 6:30pm. This I believe is to allow us to focus solely on the images of what can be found in the pasture. We first see Tamara’s house then zoom in on her in the window. She knows what is coming later in the evening and we see the playful smile grace her features. Then the impactful things begin to happen. Just the simple shot of the cows grazing as the night begins to take hold of Stonefield. Then it begins to zoom in on the trough. Slowly the framer gets closer and closer to what it wants to show us. Finally it reveals the body of Nick, lying face down in the mud next to it. Then we get a full landscape view of the countryside revealing the setting sun and pure loneliness of the scene. The fact there are no words makes this seem so much more important of a scene. The lack of words tells us that this is not what it seems. The lack of words means we are to focus on this scene and truly look at the pictures, not read what is going on, she wants us to see what transpired.

  2. 1 This comic was drawn in the nice gray zone between cartoony and realistic. The anatomy is fairly accurate, but sometimes the expressions are exaggerated. It feels much looser than both of the comics covered before in class thus far, and the colors used fit the setting of the story quite well. They are typical of county homes, pastels and softer tones. Honestly, while it was very well done, I have the deep urge to grab all of my hi-lighters and go to town on a piece of paper just to get some contrast.

    2 Tamara Drewe would lose absolutely nothing if it were translated into film, which, as a little sticker on the front cover of my book says, it already has. I can only hope that the film makers did it correctly. The same sorts of bland color schemes can be worked into a film as they were in this comic.

    3 This story is told from so many view points, it makes my head spin just thinking about it. What I did find interesting was, from what I could tell, a few points where the narration changed just beautifully. When Glen is sitting in the kitchen with Beth, talking about how he has basically taken over the chores of Beth's husband, enjoying the peace that the room offers, Beth, on the other hand, is livid about her husband having another affair while one of her guests is taking care of things that he would normally have to do.

    4 There is a frame toward the first of the book, right after Tamara is introduced, that the writers are all sitting down at the dinner table. Nicholas is charming all the women, leaning toward one as he makes his comment. Really, he could have been saying anything, but the fact that he says, “...the real secret of being a writer is learning to be a convincing liar.” It is later admitted that most of the people who come to the farm are “UFF's” or Unknown Fifty-ish Females. And, as can be seen, most of the people at the table are women, all are sitting next to Nicholas, and most of the women are well past their prime. This shows in one lump sum exactly the type of person Nicholas is.

    My thoughts on Tamara Drewe:

    I couldn't stand it. Reading it was like pulling teeth. I couldn't stand any of the characters. I felt nothing when Jody and Nicholas died. I couldn't have cared less about these people and their horrible problems. Honestly, this is rare for me to dislike a story as much as I did this one. And why are there sheep on the front cover when the underlying threat is the cows?

  3. Did you notice the sheep mating on the cover? Reminds me of the goat scene from inside the book.

  4. 2. I think Tamara Drewe was written as a graphic novel to give the readers a full view of the story. It has a very good combination of narration and graphics. If it was written as a novel or short story we would not see the side of the story displayed through the art. Sometimes a character is narrating a part, but the pictures show something else is going on. A novel or short story does not have many pictures to show the actions of the characters.
    If the story had been translated into a movie, it would also lose aspects. A movie usually does not include the inner thoughts of the characters. We would not be able to experience Beth’s inner feelings regarding her husband, Nick. A movie would not include what is going on within a person because it would seem weird. With Simmonds, her story consists mostly of inner thoughts. So, the whole story is lost with the transformation into the movie.

  5. 1) The illustrations consist of framed characters that are sometimes exaggerated for effect. None of the artwork has intense detail, but enough go get by. The feel of the artwork is tight, with the constant change of colours to reflect the mood, setting, or a flashback. I feel that if the artwork was more detailed, it would take from the story, because the story is more focused on the characters and what's with them, than the surroundings.

    The artwork juxtaposed with the narration makes this a graphic novel only type of piece. Film, novel, TV - none of them could keep the constant transition of narrators effectively. The comic flow let's us understand the characters and what they're dealing with. Like we talked about in Batman, imagine for a moment that people were constantly walking and just a voiceover was playing. The public would find it cheesy, but in this format it works great.

    3) Many people tell the story. What I like about this for this particular novel is you get inside the head of Tamara, then of Nick and the rest of them. Because of this, you can see how Nick and all the others are really captured by her. Because of this, we get an understanding of the plight of each character, and how some hate how Tamara makes them feel.

    4) My favorite scene was a foreshadowing scene. The scene is a memory of Nick's, where he and Tamara go to breed the goat. The entire scene is hysterical (Really? Taking a picture of two goats mating?). Tamara makes a comment about the goats being forced into a marriage, which for me seemed to foreshadow the relationships that Tamara always finds herself in- kinda forced.

  6. 2. This seems to be better suited for a graphic novel because if it was turned into a film you would loose the richness of the narration. With there being three different narrators, a film would have a real tough time projecting how each narrator felt. At the same time, if it was transferred into a novel you would miss the cleverness in which the panels were configured around the narration.

  7. 1. Tamara Drewe is illustrated in a very casual style of drawing but also very detailed, especially in regard to facial expression. It’s almost as if you’re seeing a very vivid and detailed scene through a fuzzy lens. The artist uses the frames for dialogue scenes between characters. Extra frames are also used to point out specific responses, clothing, memories or impressions the various characters have. Even some just drawings of common household objects are inserted beside areas dominated by text.

    2. I like the degree of control this graphic novel gives the author; she is able to show us and make us see exactly what she wants by developing this story with graphics in addition to substantial text. By using pictures the author was able to cut out a lot of time explaining the scene and characters appearance; she shows us the scene and the appearance and gets to spend more time on the thoughts, feelings and dialogue interaction between the characters. It’s a fairly long graphic novel but it would be a much LONGER text novel without the illustrations. By producing this work as a film I think a lot of the insight we have into the characters thoughts would be lost because so much time would need to be spend just acting out the scenes and dialogue without getting that intimate look into the characters personal thoughts and feelings.

  8. 3. This novel really allows us to know almost every character in a very personal way through the narration of their thoughts. Each character narrates his/her own significant special moments of thought.

    4. I really liked the series of images titled “Andy: Reflections on Tamara Drewe” in this scene we see Andy sitting and thinking about Tamara; he sees images from his memory of what she was like before. We see him again out feeding chickens thinking about her again with images from his imagination about her cosmetic surgery and new appearance. This is depicted in two different scenes showing us that he thought about her on two separate occasions and he looks almost depressed in both scenes as if he misses the old Tamara and cared about her; her emphasis on physical appearance seems to sadden him. He liked her the way she was. I think this is significant