Last week, I shared the graphic memoir that I created alongside my students this semester. I detailed, in that post and the post where I described the project, my thought process for the narrative and what parts of Lillian Smith’s story I wanted to tell. As well, I walked through a three page sequence where I focused on Smith’s work as the director of Laurel Falls Camp. Today, I want to look at a few more pages from the project, talking about my choices in regard to narrative and layout.
My favorite sequence in the graphic memoir has to be the last three pages where I move from items that Smith brought back from her trips around the world to her walking down main street to the ten-foot fireplace and large chimney that anchored the gym to her final resting place beside the chimney. In this sequence, a lot of Smith’s life and work coalesce over the course of nine panels.
On these pages, I rely on subject-to-subject transitions. These transitions, as Scott McCloud describes them, moves from one subject to another “while staying within a scene or idea.” The only movement outside of the scene occurs when I use the image of Smith walking down Main Street in Clayton, Georgia. However, this panel still works within the subject-to-subject transition because it exists within the same idea.
With these pages, I wanted to highlight Smith’s call for us to build to bridges to one another and on her legacy, so I chose to focus on images that drove this point home. Initially, for page thirteen, I had four equal-sized panels on the page. Each panel had an item that Smith brought back with her from her travels to China, India, or elsewhere. I didn’t like this layout because each image had the same type background and it was not really dynamic. So, I decided to change to the current layout.
I kept the four-panel page, but I varied the sizes of the images. I kept three of the images that contained items she picked up during her travels, and I incorporated the image of her walking down Main Street at the bottom. These images worked well with the narration that I chose to use as well. In the first panel, at the top right, I added Smith’s words. She writes about her travels, but she did not say, “During my life I had the privilege of traveling and connecting with people.” She did, however, in her “Letter to Mr. Hartley,” express the importance of building bridges from one person to another, and this narration is a direct quote.
The building of bridges is extremely important in Smith’s writing because by building bridges we connect with one another. She talks about this with Laurel Falls Camp when she discusses learning from the campers and the topics they discuss, and she talks about this in her letters. In the top-left panel, I show the connection between her travels and the camp. To the right of the two figurines is part of a picture of campers from Laurel Falls Camp, highlighting the building of bridges.
From the items that Smith brought back from her travels, I transition to the panel of her walking down Main Street. I always loved this image because it shows Smith walking in her hometown. She stands in the middle of the street as life goes on around her. She is part of that life. There are other images of her in town, one of her in the drugstore talking with other patrons.
For this image, I knew I wanted to use the opening lines from her 1954 book The Journey. These lines, which I have written about on numerous occasions, highlight the beliefs and fears that we bring with us as we journey throughout our everyday lives, as we travel, as we navigate our worlds. I took some liberties here, changing the pronouns and altering parts, specifically adding “white supremacy” to the list. In doing this, I brought in Smith’s work on confronting and dismantling white supremacy. In regard to the layout of the narration, I wanted the reader to move over the image, taking in each part. That is why I have two text boxes at the top, then one in the middle, then one in the bottom left, opposite Smith herself.
Perhaps my favorite page from the whole project is the one with the chimney and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words about Smith. Like I noted in a previous post, this is not what I envisioned this page would like; however, I like this version a lot better because it brings the chimney (i.e. the camp) to the forefront at the end and brings in King, tying Smith’s work at the camp and her Civil Rights activism together.
When I took the images for this page, I knew the movement that I wanted. I knew that I wanted to move from a large image of the chimney to the hearth then to her grave (on the next page). As such, I purposefully took pictures of the chimney from different angles. On the day that I went, the weather cooperated with the dreariness and the rain, and the daffodils cooperated, a couple of them blooming in ideal spots. The first picture I took was the top panel of the daffodil and the chimney, and this panel, along with the third panel that shows a daffodil on the side of the chimney, brings together the solemn nature of the scene but also the hopefulness of Smith’s words.
As I laid out the page, it struck me that I was zooming in on the hearth, and I liked this. Symbolically, the hearth is where the fire is, the warmth. In a way, it works well with the daffodils. The chimney, recalling the camp, also serves to symbolically show that Smith’s legacy remains. That is why I chose to have King’s words in the final panel read, “She carved for herself an imperishable niche in the annals of American history.” The hearth is somewhat carved, the chimney remains as a testament to Smith’s history and the history of Laurel Falls Camp, and Smith’s grave resides on the same spot that where this history occurred.
The words on Smith’s grave, again from The Journey, reiterate King’s assertion. “Death can kill a man,” Smith wrote, “that is all it can do to him. It cannot end his life because of memory.” Smith’s legacy remains, and her role in the history of this nation and the world remains alongside it. This graphic memoir is a way to remember that history, to maintain Smith’s existence because if we don’t then she, along with countless other, will succumb to death.
What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.
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