Exhibit preview: Renowned graphic novelist Lilli Carré comes to Columbus

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From the March 27, 2014 edition

For its third year The Columbus Museum of Art and Thurber House chose Chicago-based artist Lilli Carré for the annual Graphic Novelist Residency. Carré, like previous recipients Paul Hornschemeier (2012) and Ed Piskor (2013), is crafting a work-in-progress comic, exhibiting her work during the three weeks she’s in Columbus, and staying in an apartment at the historic home of author and cartoonist James Thurber.

“I’m trying to script my next comic story. In my regular life, that’s the hardest part of comics for me. I’m so distracted by my own home and life,” Carré said. “It’s really nice to be here, out of my element, in an attic of this historic house trying to fluidly put my thoughts to paper … writing and doing thumbnails and building out this one story.”

Carré’s exhibit opened March 14 and runs through June 8, but her time in Columbus is coming to an end soon. Before that though, Carré will sit down with comics writer and blogger Jared Gardner, also a professor of English and film studies at OSU, to discuss her creative process Sunday, March 30 at the museum.

The reason for the residency program is two-fold: The literary and art institutions wanted to collaborate, and comics and graphic novels were the perfect overlap, and Columbus is a burgeoning place for the art form.

“One of the reasons we started the residency is just how much attention Columbus is getting as a center for comics. There’s a really strong creator community here, plus there’s some academic symposia and the Billy Ireland [Cartoon Library and Museum],” said Columbus Museum of Art Creative Producer Jeff Sims. “As Columbus becomes more of a place for comics and their study, we want to be a part of it.”

Carré, the daughter of two graphic artists, is originally from Los Angeles and moved to Chicago to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago at 18-years-old. She intended to study animation, but Carré — who “was really obsessed with Mad Magazine” and later “Bone” and “The Sandman” — was quickly drawn into the world of self-published comics.

“There were all these people making this stuff at Quimby’s Bookstore [in Chicago]. It was just really inspiring … that so many people are working that way, making things in this humble format, just Xerox and by hand,” Carré said. “I really took to that and found it really exciting that you could have an audience that easily; by doing it yourself and putting it in a shop.”

So Carré began self-publishing and it wasn’t long before readers, peers and critics alike took notice. Her 2008 book “The Lagoon” was widely acclaimed, and she’s been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, “Best American Comics” and “Best American Nonrequired Reading.” The 2012 collection “Heads or Tails” encompasses a number of short story comics, experimental one-pages and graphic novellas from the last five years.

The personal touch of Carré’s work is what brings readers in, enraptured by the stories.

“There’s so much of a person in a comic because you can see their hand in the drawing and you also have their voice in the writing. That way of storytelling I find really exciting; a connection to another person, but also as a way to communicate an idea,” Carré said.

While these stories — and their execution — are personal, there’s also a dedicated effort toward fiction because Carré excels with that storytelling approach.

“A lot of them have my own life nuggets buried in them … my own life experiences or observations weaved in with this other character’s story,” Carré said. “But I get too excited about trying to invent this other world, or the flexibility of writing from a fictional character’s viewpoint.”

While Carré is highly respected for her comic and graphic novel works, it wasn’t the only reason she was selected for the residency program. It’s the breadth and depth of her work; the exhibit has original comic pages, but also ceramics, animation and fine art illustration.

“The kinds of thinking we’re promoting makes Lilli really appealing to us, and … her work and [how] she’s willing to experiment with media and formats is just right in line with our philosophy,” Sims said.

Photos by Meghan Ralston