For someone who loves stories so much, I’m a terrible oral storyteller. I get the pacing wrong, bungle the chain of events, forget who said what when…. Oral storytelling is a performance, and I’ve always had a hard time with performance. It’s one of the reasons I knew I’d never be a real musician: I always preferred recording on a four-track to singing at the open mic night.
I spent a good hour yesterday in the barber’s chair, telling “The Ballad of Austin and Meghan” to the girl cutting my hair. Since getting engaged, I’ve told the story at least a dozen times, and each time I feel like I never do it justice. Maybe that’s why for our wedding favors, Meg and I want to make a mini-comic about our lives together up until this point. To tell the story and to get it right!
For months I’ve been thinking about what form it should take. At first I thought it should look like a Lynda Barry or a James Kochalka, with the narration covering large gaps of time, and the pictures singling out individual moments and bits of dialogue. (This might be a good place to point out that the usual adage in creative writing class, “show don’t tell,” is useless in the medium of comics — you can show and tell all you want.) But somehow, that idea just didn’t seem right, so I put off starting on it.
Then I started going through my old American Splendor anthology, and came across one of my favorite Crumb/Pekar collaborations:
(If you’ve seen the movie, this story was adapted into a great Paul Giamatti monologue.)
With background, facial expressions, hand gestures, pauses, and other visual cues, comics turns out to be a great way to approximate the experience of oral storytelling. Better yet, you’re not a passive listener — unlike the real-time experience of film or real life, you get to set the rate at which you receive the story. The only thing you don’t get is the sound of the storyteller’s voice.
So, for our mini-comic, it’ll essentially be Meg and I talking to our guests, telling them our story. Only afterwards, they can stick us in their pocket and take us home.