Laurie Sandell’s The Impostor’s Daughter, a graphic memoir about the reality behind her father’s fraudulent tales of international adventure and espionage, was nominated for an Eisner Award, the Oscar of the comic industry. CulturePOP chatted with Sandell in a Middle Eastern restaurant in New York City’s East Village on a rainy summer night.
CP: Why did you decide to tell your story in pictures?
LS: I tried to write it as a straightforward memoir first, but found I was too afraid to expose my father, who was alive and married to my mother, and still is. One day I stumbled across a box of my childhood cartoons, and they were so fearless, I thought maybe I should try this as a graphic memoir instead. It allowed me to tell a sometimes dark story with moments of levity and comic relief.
CP: How does drawing a picture affect your memory and your storytelling?
LS: It lets me access a part of my brain I don’t usually tap into, which gives my memories more depth and dimension. A conversation takes on a whole new life when it’s played out in pictures.
CP: Picasso said, Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
LS: Oh, Picasso said that? I thought I did. [Laughs.] I have about 500 cartoons I drew as a kid, and I’m astonished by their chilling accuracy: They’re about my parents’ fights, their money woes, my father’s weight problem, the fact that he wasn’t who he said he was. I saw absolutely everything then. So as an adult, I try to be as honest in my writing as I was as a kid. The key is to write and draw without fear, whether it’s fear of telling the truth, angering someone, or being judged by the public.
CP: Do you ever draw to figure something out in your life?
LS: I once had a two-year telephone relationship with a guy I’d met on an online dating site. I created a cartoon strip exclusively for him, which I would mail to him after our conversations, called, Love, Jamie. It was pretty dark and funny and played out our fantasy relationship. I really hope he threw them out.
CP: How can people try telling their life story in pictures, even if it’s just in a small way?
LS: If you look at the best underground comics, the artists aren’t necessarily virtuosos, but there’s a freedom in their line because they’re drawing from a place of passion and truth. The best way to start is just to go to a cafe and start sketching people. Keep your drawings to under a minute, which will help stop you from censoring yourself.
CP: What are the five creative tools that you can’t live without?
CP: Did that last question make you feel like you were filling out an online dating profile?
LS: You read my mind.
Michelle Fiordaliso, MSW, is a writer, psychotherapist, coauthor of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Ex, and 2008 recipient of a PEN USA award for fiction. She has been featured as a relationship expert on TV and radio shows such as Today, Tyra and Oprah & Friends and believes that true bliss lies in bringing creativity to the quotidian acts of life.
Childhood drawing: Courtesy of Laurie Sandell. Book cover and excerpt: The Impostor’s Daughter by Laurie Sandell. Copyright © 2009 Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.
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