The Mary Sue Exclusive Interview: Lucy Knisley On Her New Graphic Novel, Something New
In which weddings are weird. And awesome. But mostly super weird.
Lucy Knisley’s new graphic novel, Something New (which we exclusively announced earlier this week), is coming soon from First Second Books, and we’re so excited about it. Something New follows Lucy as she attempts to plan a wedding – a process this geeky foodie finds entirely alienating. Lucy sat down to chat with The Mary Sue’s Weekend Editor Sam Maggs about her wedding, the graphic novel, cupcake dresses, and Darth Vader.
The Mary Sue: Congratulations on your wedding – and on the new book! What can you tell us about it? How did it come about?
Lucy Knisley: It’s really exciting! I’m working with the same editor I worked with on my last book, Relish – I’m really proud of that book. So in a recent editorial meeting, we were discussing my wedding, and how insane the whole wedding industry is, and how I feel like this character in a strange, girly land of mystery and cupcake dresses. And she asked me, “Well, what do you care about?” and I said, “I care about the food. And, you know, actually getting married.”
And so we ended up having this really interesting conversation about her wedding, and how she tried to buck all these ideas of bridal expectations, and how I was trying to forge my own path in a similar way. It’s fascinating, all the aspects of feminism, and societal expectations, and the idea of a non-religious wedding. And so it kind of snowballed from there, and became the foundation on which I made the book.
TMS: The wedding industry, from an outsider’s standpoint, often seems to prey on women to a certain extent – and marriage in itself can sometimes be controversial. How have you been aligning your feminist values with this whole process?
LK: I think the whole issue of matrimony in our modern society is fascinating in its transference from something where it was this business transfer, this ownership of property from men to men, where women were kind of the chattel that were sold. Now it’s become this woman-powered industry; women are still being sold, essentially, but they’re being sold excessive things like princess dresses and this fantasy idea. I’ve never been someone who was always fantasizing about my wedding, that never happened. I remember times in my childhood where I’d be talking with other girls and they’d be like, “I drew a picture of me as a princess bride!” and I’d be like, “This is a picture of Darth Vader!”
So it really threw me for a loop when I was suddenly expected to learn all this information that it seemed like other women just knew. It’s been really liberating, actually, to meet other women who have chosen marriage, or chosen not to get married, and to see how they’ve approached the idea of being the chattel or the princess. Because that’s basically the choice – you could either have the wedding as something you do to please your father or your husband, or you can make it something really empowering like, “Yeah. I am a fucking princess.” So I’m trying to get ahold of this – it’s not the kind of fantasy I originally had for myself, but I’m trying to engage with it as an empowering thing, like, “This is my wedding. YEAH.”
TMS: Despite it being amazing fodder for a graphic novel, it still sounds pretty stressful. Have you found yourself wanting to be like, “Screw this, we’re eloping?”
LK: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I was thinking about it this morning. The wedding is now nine weeks away, and we’re at that point where the whole summer has turned into, “Well, we have to have a party for the people who can’t come to the wedding!” and it’s like how many parties can we even? Are we really? This is ridiculous. So every week or so my fiancé and I look at each other and go, “What the fuck are we doing here?”
I never would have gotten away with eloping anyway – my mother is a professional caterer. I would be in hiding now, from my mother. But besides that, it’s been such great fodder as an artist. Think about it: when you have a book launch, or an art exhibit, and you’re trying to get everyone you know to come out and look at your work and appreciate your career – nobody comes to that. Nobody flies across the country to do that. But for a wedding, people from all over the world who haven’t seen you since you were an infant are willing to come and support you in this endeavor. So part of me is like, I have to take this opportunity to throw an amazing party, and use my art school education to make the crap out of all the stuff at the wedding, and to really show off for all these people. And now I’m like, well, I’m making a graphic novel about this, so they have to be part of my career now!
TMS: So what is it about the graphic novel that makes it the perfect medium for telling the story of planning a wedding?
LK: So much of a wedding is this visual aspect – people would ask me that about my last book, Relish, and I’d say the graphic novel works because food is really beautiful; so much of it is about taking it in through all your senses. A wedding, perhaps even more so, is about this idea of having it be a “beautiful wedding,” and it’s been really fun to get to draw my confusion and desperation and really go over-the-top with it.
One of the projects I really want to do for the book – after the wedding – I want to go to the worst bridal shops that I can find and try on the very worst dresses. One of the hardest aspects of this whole wedding planning process was finding a dress that I’m willing to wear – so many dresses are these princess fantasy dresses, and I was like “So, where is the Jane Austen section of the wedding dresses? I just want to look like Elizabeth Bennet, would that be possible?” I found dress shopping incredibly stressful; you have to make an appointment, and there’s special sections, and there is someone in the room with you, putting the dress on you. I don’t even like clothes shopping to begin with .
TMS: Oh man. That’s a lot.
LK: Right? So the dress shopping became this fascination for me, and I really want to do that project as part of the book. Go to these insane bridal shops that you see when you’re walking to get a coffee and you’re like, “Who goes to that? Is that a front for the Mafia? Look at that gigantic pink cupcake dress in there!” And I want to go. And I want to wear those cupcakes.
TMS: I am so, so excited for that. Your last book, Relish, was about the food business, which is also a pretty crazy world. Between the bridal industry and the food industry, which have you found to be inherently more strange and hilarious?
LK: Well, I grew up in the food industry, so I’m at least used to the insanity of that. My mother is this empowered, cool, earthy person who looks at food from this perspective of wanting to make food to share with people, to connect to her body and to the world – so the food industry always seemed to make more sense to me.
The wedding industry, on the other hand, has just been like, “What? You have to pay how much for pictures to be taken?!” It’s a shock at every corner. I never grew up with this; I don’t have siblings, I never had an older sister get married, so I’m just like wow all the time. I’m enjoying that it’s this woman’s industry – but it’s horrifying that the “marriage-crazy lady” has become a trope tha’s so frowned upon in society. It’s ridiculous; marriage started out as a thing where women didn’t have any choice in the matter, so now it’s like, why shouldn’t women want to take control of things, and ensure they’re not chattel?
It’s just such an interesting industry – there are women who are so indoctrinated into the business that they’re like, “What do you mean you’re not going to spend $4000 on shoes? That’s just what you do when you get married!” and then there are the women who are like, “I would never do that in a fucking million years.” It’s so interesting to see the political stances that women take within the industry. I’m trying to keep the book personal, about my experiences the crafts I’m making for the wedding – but it’s very hard to hold back from this exploration of the entire societal and industrial wedding complex.
TMS: Given that it’s so crazy, is there anything you know now that you wish you’d known at the beginning of the wedding-planning process?
LK: I had so much advice coming at me from friends and relatives, but the best thing a good friend of mine told me was “You’re never going to make everyone happy.” Every incident of frustration and misery and torment over the course of this otherwise very happy and exciting event has come out of me trying to make everybody happy. It’s an aspect of me as the controlling artist type – you want to please everybody, but you can’t do that, and that’s fine.
It’s like, everyone telling me that I can’t have tacos at my wedding? Like, whatever. Tacos will make me very happy, and so I’m going to find a way to do that.
TMS: For what it’s worth, if I went to a wedding and they had tacos, that would immediately become the best wedding.
LK: I know, right? A funeral with tacos would be considerably better! I don’t understand why you’re not allowed to have tacos; you’re not allowed to do various things. It’s all because you want to make everybody happy. It’s really, completely dumb.
TMS: One last ridiculous question – which comic book superhero would make the best bridesmaid?
LK: My favorite superhero of all time is Faith, otherwise known as Zephyr, from the Valiant comic series Harbinger. This is such a canned, feminist answer, but she’s amazing. I actually got a chance to work on the Harbinger re-launch, but I grew up in the ‘90s reading the original series. Faith was this chubby, nerdy girl, and her only power was that she could fly. I thought that was amazing and I really wanted that power. I was like, “That’s all I want, is to be able to fly and read comic books.” So if I were to pick a bridesmaid superhero, it would be Faith. She’s awesome.
TMS: If Faith was a bridesmaid and there were tacos, that’s it. That’s the best wedding. Any other advice you want to give to ladies out there?
LK: This belies a lot of my travelogue work, but I would say that if you’re completely enmeshed in some situation and you’re like, “I’m going to write a book about this!” I would recommend perhaps waiting!
Lucy Knisley is the bestselling author/artist of a number of graphic novels, including Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, an Alex Award-winning graphic novel about growing up in the food industry. Her popular comics are honest and endearing, earning her a loyal readership and well-loved online presence (most notably, through her web series, “Stop Paying Attention”). She is three months out from her wedding, and still has to make a crazy amount of things before the approaching date.