Sunday, February 6, 2011

An Interview with Leland Purvis

 The Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour, sponsored by the Association of Jewish Libraries, kicks off today!  One of the Honor Award Winners for Older Readers is Resistance by Carla Jablonski with art by Leland Purvis (First Second, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group)

Today I'm pleased to be interviewing the artist, Leland Purvis

Congratulations on your Sydney Taylor Honor Award for the artwork in Resistance, and thanks so much for participating in the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour

SE: I’m always curious about the manner in which great books are created. In  graphic novels and nonfiction, is the story generally written in its entirety before the artwork is conceived, is it a collaborative effort, or something completely different?

LP: Not all graphic novels are made the same way. In the case where the writer and artist are different people, often the working method grows out of the creators themselves, and the skills they bring to the table. In this case Carla did a full script but (unusual in comics) no panel-by-panel descriptions. The page design, shot-choices, and character design were all on me. Also, Carla had never done comics before. There are peculiarities of visual storytelling unique to the medium. Carla was very collaborative when occasions arose where I thought things needed changing for clarity, and really open to suggestions of solutions, which made it very satisfying. 
SE:  In Resistance, you often use Paul’s sketchbook to portray people or events  in the story. I found it interesting that, in most cases, Paul’s sketchbook depicts events not through the filtered eye of the young boy, but as they are. In my mind, that tells a story in itself - that the behavior of Nazi  Germany was so horrific that exaggeration, even for an imaginative young boy, is impossible. Was that the point that you were trying to make, or does the sketchbook have another purpose in the story?

LP: The sketchbook serves a couple of purposes, which is why you were sensing a dual-role, essentially. On the one hand it was a narrative device by which Paul could be valuable to the Maquis resistance in a credible way. Also it does provide a look into Paul's head about his reaction to the town and people around him. We very much included panels that were strictly Paul's P.O.V. This has continued into the sequels.

Copyright 2010 Leland Purvis and Carla Jablonski

P.O.V. shots can alter perspective and focus without necessitating exaggeration. Horror exaggerates itself. In this case, though, most of those scenes that really depict some of that were not so much in the sketchbook as they were shown from overheard conversations, or witnessed by the characters themselves. I think it was best to give the emotional landscape through the eyes of the children in the story. Otherwise, as horrific as we might have displayed a context, the readers wouldn't have related as fully. Carla did a wonderful job with that and it made my work much more engaging. 

SE: Your Blogger profile states that you’re from Brooklyn, but I read an earlier interview in which you hailed from Portland, Oregon . Two drastically different cities - one brooding (no offense, NY) and one earnest (ditto, Portland); where are you now, and are you happy there?

LP: I've fixed that now! It's funny that you see these cities as so different. In fact Portland, Oregon and Brooklyn, NY are sister-cities in a lot of respects. I know quite a few people who have lived in both places. There's a lot of do-it-yourself creative energy, artists, writers, bicycle riders, musicians, a really vibrant cultural life going on in each. Brooklyn is more diverse, Portland less stressed, but there are many similarities. And there are more comics-artists in Portland than anywhere but Brooklyn. After six years there (sixteen for my wife) we moved to my hometown of Portland last Summer.
SE: Based on Vox, Suspended in Language, Resistance and other projects on which you’ve chosen to work, I take it that you are a very serious thinker. But then, there’s Pubo. So, I’m puzzled... is your stated interest in “fighting entropy to soften the dreams of reason,” lighthearted or serious? Do you care to elaborate?

LP: Art, or making anything, really, is an 'organizating' that soothes the mind and offers some defense against the slings and arrows. So in that sense it's serious. But if you're going to take your work seriously, I think it's important to not take your Self too seriously. It's never out of place to lighten up a little. PUBO, while on the surface looks like just a funny-animal comic, does yield more to a closer read. It has some things to say, or at least questions to ask, about trust, fear and survival, what it's okay to do to our fellow Man, and how there is a distinction between that and what's allowed in the natural world. At least I hope it does. I meant it to. The first idea with PUBO being that a character who is a physical map of how we feel, would be a metaphor all by himself.
SE: And finally, what’s next?

LP: Next I'll be finishing up the three-book Resistance series. So there's more to hear from Paul and Marie and their little town. After that, I'll be stepping out of YA but continuing with historical work with writer Jim Ottaviani on a book called The Imitation Game, a biography of Alan Turing the British WWII codebreaker.
Many thanks to Leland Purvis for his time and thoughtful answers,
and to the Association of Jewish Libraries for sponsoring this tour. 


  1. Very thoughtful interview - thanks!
    Looking forward to checking this book out.

  2. Great interview! I am always so impressed with artistic interpretation of the written word and how the artist/illustrator approaches the work. Leland, congrats on your accomplishment and I look forward to the other books in the series. Lisa, fabulous questions! Thanks to both of you for participating in the Sydney Taylor Book Award blog tour!