by Isabel Cushing
Throughout the process of exploring and creating graphic narratives, pairing textual and visual imagery to tell a story, I draw on my love of writing and I take the medium of text as a grounding force. In writing my own words or splicing together text from other sources, I craft the backbone of a narrative which can then be expanded, challenged, and illuminated in the visual realm. I am experimenting with a variety of visual forms, still developing an understanding of the different forms of expression which offer me the most freedom and which I can execute successfully. I am excited by the possibilities of freeform collage, which allows me to bring together all the individual forms which interest me—such as photography, hand-drawing, archival imagery, maps and documents—in a single multidimensional work.
My artistic work tends to focus on the personal, exploring themes of identity, family, and self through the lens of oral histories and personal narratives. Often these intimate individual stories reflect larger historical and political trends, and I am excited by the interplay between the two. As a prospective English and History double major, I am always exploring the threads that tie literature, historical records, and graphic narrative together: the central foundation of storytelling. In the biographical and historical graphic novels we have read for class, I find inspiration to tell my own histories. I am currently working with the oral history of my grandfather who passed away in 2016, pairing the text of his narrative with multimedia collage. The process of creating visual art to accompany his words allows me to step into his story, to engage with the complexities of our relationship across time and space: I am able to re-animate his voice and add my own through the illustration process.
My comfort with visual storytelling and my confidence in working with my hands have grown exponentially over the course of the semester. Coming into this class—my first foray into the visual arts at Williams—I was hesitant to put pencil to paper, hypercritical of my work, and unconvinced that I had anything interesting to say. I now find myself eager to explore different media and proud of what I have created for my final project. I have been able to return to old family histories with a fresh perspective, opening up new questions and finding my own place within them through the act of illustration. I am looking forward to continuously expanding my final project and sharing it with my family, perhaps merging it with the graphic narratives of other family members and, someday, my own.
Notes on Craft
In 2015, I sat down with my grandfather George Imrey—whom we grandchildren all called Poppy—and recorded him as we spoke about his life story, a few months before he passed away. This semester I am returning to this interview in the context of our Graphic Narrative class, seeking to combine the text of his oral history with my own visual representation in a creative collaboration that stretches across generations and continents. In my study of history at Williams College, I have been drawn to the way personal accounts challenge the simple and conventional telling of history, reflecting important historical events and political changes through the intimate lens of an individual experience. I am also obsessed by the complexities of my family and how this has come to shape me, a topic I have been exploring throughout my life: my parents are divorced and both of their parents are divorced, so my family is full of people who are not related to me by blood. Tracing Poppy’s story brings up these complex emotions in me. Although I know I am not biologically connected to the Hungarian family shaken and displaced by World War II, traveling across the Atlantic to Venezuela and then somehow making their way to Boston, I do feel a deep connection to this story. I am struggling to unpack and make sense of what ancestry means in an emotional rather than a biological sense.
I began this project with nothing but an hour-long audio file and an urge to revisit the long-ago interview it contained. Listening to Poppy’s voice again for the first time, I transcribed his words and from them I created a script for my graphic narrative. With the textual backbone of my work already solidified, I was able to explore many different possibilities for visual representation, from hand-drawing to digital manipulation and photography; I ultimately chose to use a mix of hand-drawing and collage, bringing together archival images, family records and assorted colors and textures to illustrate Poppy’s story. It was often challenging to find all the necessary imagery in my collage materials (magazines, newspapers, etc.) so I ended up printing out certain images, such as maps and family photographs, creating a mix between found collage scraps and chosen ones.
Throughout the process I gained confidence in my artistic choices and thought more critically than ever before about the pairing of image and text, how the two work together to tell an impactful story. Inspired by historical and biographical graphic novels and the reportage project, over the course of the semester I have explored what it means to illustrate another’s story: through the process of creating a visual representation alongside Poppy’s own words, I have become intertwined with the narrative, my story equally a part of it. This is a deep and powerful entanglement which I only begin to explore through the notepaper ‘process’ pieces interspersed with the collage. And I know I will continue this project in all the work that I do, in sharing my work with my family, in telling and retelling Poppy’s story. With each retelling, I am tangling his narrative up with my own a little bit more.
Augur. “Reich Aim to Get Hungary Now Seen.” The New York Times (New York, NY), August 11, 1939, 1.
Boston Skyline. Photograph. Boston Magazine. November 29, 2017. Accessed December 9, 2018.
Boston Vintage Travel Postcard Restored. Photograph. Fine Art America. August 17, 2015. Accessed December 9, 2018.
Budapest, Hungary City Skyline Sunset Postcard. Photograph. Accessed December 9, 2018.
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 1. Ferenc Nilof’s Hungarian ID. Photograph. Accessed December 9, 2018.
Falconer, Robert. Hungary. Map. N.p.: Timothy Childe, 1701.
“51 Pinckney Street, Boston, Massachusetts.” Map. Google Maps. Accessed December 9, 2018.
Fw 190, WW2 German radial engine fighter airplane. Photograph. Accessed December 9, 2018.
Jersey Coachways, Golden Cruiser Bus. Photograph. Accessed December 9, 2018.
“List of aircraft of the United Kingdom in World War II.” Wikipedia. Last modified December 4, 2018. Accessed December 9, 2018.
Manning, Thomas. Turkey, in Europe and Hungary, from the best authorities. Map. N.p.: Mathew Carey, 1814.
Matterhorn. Photograph. GearJunkie. Accessed December 9, 2018.
Mountains. Photograph. Sciencing. March 13, 2018. Accessed December 9, 2018.
The New York Times (New York, NY), May 8, 1945.
The New York Times (New York, NY), September 1, 1939.
“Germany Looking East.” The New York Times (New York, NY). February 18, 1938, 18.
“White-Hot War: Other Fronts.” The New York Times (New York, NY). December 3, 1944, 112.
Ortelius, Abraham. Hungaria. Map. N.p.: Michel Coignet, 1603.
Regner, Daniel. Trainyard. Photograph. Flickr. December 8, 2010. Accessed December 9, 2018.
Saludo de Venezuela 1957 Postcard. Photograph. Pinterest. Accessed December 9, 2018.
Snow-Capped Mountains. Photograph. World Wildlife Fund. Accessed December 9, 2018.
Untitled (Interview with George Imrey). Adapted by Isabel Cushing. By George Imrey. MP3. Recorded March 2015.
Zuerner, Adam Friedrich. “Americae tam septentrionalis quam meridionalis in mappa geographica delineatio.” Map. 1700s.
MORE WORK BY ISABEL CUSHING