Last December, I had the opportunity to head over to Oslo to speak with Videregående skole (VGS) teachers about the use of comics and graphic novels in the classroom. I spoke about texts such as G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s Ms. Marvel, Jeff Lemire’s The Underwater Welder, and more. In preparation for the talk, I started reading more texts and came across Lucy Knisley’s An Age of License (2014), a graphic travelogue detailing Lucy’s trip to Scandinavia and France for a book tour. As the description of the book puts it, An Age of License explores “Knisley’s experiences are colored by anxieties, introspective self-inquiries, and quotidian revelations—about traveling alone in unfamiliar countries, and about her life and career—that many young adults will relate to.”
Since I have been in Bergen, Knisley’s An Age of License is a text that I keep thinking about for a myriad of reasons. One of the things that keeps popping up, of course, is that Knisley traveled to Bergen for the Raptus Comics Fest in 2011. Along with this, her descriptions of the anticipation she felt before traveling and the ways that the experience affected her are direct things I have been able to relate to throughout my year in Norway. This post will focus on these aspects of Knisley’s text, but there is much more that makes her work engaging, especially for young adults, as the quote above states.
What I enjoy about Knisley’s work in this graphic travelogue is the use of white space that eliminates the artificial boundaries and borders that we construct around ourselves, specifically in regard to nation states. Travel breaks down barriers and borders, showing us that even though we each hail from different parts of the world we have much more in common than we may think.
As she prepares for her journey, Knisley has two full pages, without borders, that describe what she likes about travel and where her anxieties about the trip stem from. In the first, we see her lying at the top of the page, daydreaming as she states, “What I really love about travel is that it takes us outside ourselves. . .” On cue, another image of Knisley leaps from the reclining one and dives headfirst into a “funnel of new experience.” The words emanating from the bottom of the funnel continue the thought by stating, “and allows you to see possibilities for change, growth a new life.” From her, we move back to the left hand side of the page to see another image of Knisley, this time with arrows stemming from her body and pointing in all directions. Immediately above her head are the words, “It unhomes you.”
This page, with its movement from the top, down the right side, then back to the left, provides us with a sense of movement. It provides us with a sense of something different because instead of reading the page from left to right, all the way down the page, we move in a fashion that goes against the ways we read texts in English. This movement works, in a way, to “unhome” the reader. Along with this, the removal of borders creates within the reader the thought of unlimited possibilities.
The words, of course, directly encapsulate what travel does for an individual, and the next page I want to look at highlights the anxiety that comes along with this “unhoming.” On this page, Knisley sets up the page in a more traditional manner, still without borders. We move from left to right and tip to bottom through three lines. At the top, we read, “Where the worry comes from,” and the rest of the page describes the worry that arises with travel to an unfamiliar place. Knisley shows herself stepping from her home, a defined space with buildings to “New Things,” a space filled with indeterminate question marks, signifying the unknown, the “romance, adventure, excitement” she expects to find on her travels.
The next image follows the same pattern, having the reader move from the left to the right of the page. Here, the top reads, “Part of me is focused on grounding myself in one place. Finding some . . . STABILITY.” Knisley stands on terra firma, on the left side of the image and says, “I am here.” In this section, her desire for stability and grounding shows up in the fact that she has distinctly illustrated the ground, placing herself firmly upon it and staking the claim that this is where she currently resides. The bottom image, though, displays the other side that she feels, the side that wants adventure and travel into the unknown. Here, she flies through the air, away from “responsibilities” as she lets out a jovial “Wheeeee!”
When I think about “unhoming,” I reflect on this past year and wonder if I have really felt “unhomed.” Granted, I am here with my family, so for me home entails being with them. In this case, anywhere that they are is home. However, I have a home, a place of origin, and over the past year, I’ve started to think about this “homing” myself. When people here ask me, “Hvor kommer du fra?” (“Where do you come from?”), I give a long winded answer that goes something like this: “I’m originally from Louisiana. Right now, I’m from Alabama. When I move back, I’ll be in Georgia.” I’ve been thinking about why I give this convoluted answer to such a straightforward question. For me, I do this because “home” has been each of these places.
Home has been Bergen, Norway. I’m leaving Norway soon, but it feels like home. I do not consider myself Norwegian, but this place has become home, at least for this year. The people I have connected with, the places I have been, the things I have done all make Bergen home. It makes it a place I will always feel connected to, in some manner. It will become, as the years move forward, a nostalgic site of memory that I will always be connected with.
Ultimately, what does “home” mean? Does it mean the place where I reside at this specific moment? Does it mean my place of origin? Does it mean the place I have connected with the most? I think home is all of these. At any particular moment, it is where I currently live. At other moments, it is where I grew up and spent my formative years. At other moments, it is the spaces that I have connected with the most. All of these constitute home. All of these constitute spaces where I have lived and grown. All of these represent home to me and different stages in my life.
At the end of An Age of License, Knisley has a full page displaying a tree with an arrow pointing to the sky that represents “life cycles through the ages.” These include things such as” an age of license,” “an age of alteration,” “an age of heartache,” and more. Knisley stands next to the trunk of tree and says, “Either you plan everything and bank on a certain age–panicking when what you planned doesn’t come to pass . . . or you give yourself license to make changes–to take risks. . . and hope for the best–for a better age.” Here, Knisley sums up what I’ve been writing about. Life happens. We need to be open to experiences, to these different ages. We need to be open to having multiple homes that allow us to grow and interact with others.
Next post, I will look some more at Knisley’s An Age of License, especially how some of her images of Bergen and other cities make me think about my own experiences this year within the same spaces. Until then, what are your thoughts? Let me know either in the comments below or on Twitter at @silaslapham.
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