For one very good reason… one day in the near future, you will become it. In the case of graphic novelist Deborah Vankin, she began devouring tons of graphic novels at a young age. All this reading. eventually led her to write her bestselling book about the Los Angeles subculture. Get to know the LA Times mixer.
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Current Residence: Silver Lake area of Los Angeles
Bio: Novelist, writer, editor and launcher. Currently, works at Los Angeles Times
Areas of Focus: Arts & Culture, Entertainment, Nightlife
Your graphic novel Poseurs was inspired during the launch of Metromix LA. Are some of your fictional characters based from real life folks?
Only the backdrop of parties and nightlife was inspired – and only partly – from my time at Metromix. It was just a naturally colorful and provocative background to set the book against. The characters are totally fictional.
For those unfamiliar with LA’s night-life culture, how would you describe it?
LA has one of the most varied, textured, diverse nightlife scenes I can think of. I’ve lived all over the world; in Tokyo, San Francisco, Boston, Jerusalem, and Manchester (England). Well, OK, Manchester had a pretty great nightlife scene. But the city of L.A. itself is a mash-up of cutting edge art, fashion, music an film…and it all comes together in the nightlife world. There’s everything from big, splashy Hollywood film premieres to little underground speakeasies, art openings by the beach, movie screenings and comedy shows in cemeteries. It’s pretty wonderfully nutty.
Tell us about the partnership with artist Rick Mays – i.e., how did the collaboration happen? Did you draft the story lines in text and then hand them over to Rick for him to draw? What were some of the workflow processes like?
It’s fascinating how a writer and artist work together on a graphic novel – I always say it’s one of the hardest genres to work in, but also one of the most collaborative.
Basically: I came up with the story, the characters, all the scenes and dialogue in the book. I wrote a script that outlines what happens, panel by panel, and what the reader will see graphically in each panel. It’s like writing a movie script and then art-directing it. Rick did a great job of realizing my vision and adding to it as he interpreted the story/characters.
In many instances, I sent Rick photographs and links so he could see what I was visualizing in my head. I went around LA and found the house where each character supposedly lived. I then photographed it and sent the photo to Rick. I also photographed certain neighborhoods and city views that I imagined being in the book. And I sent him photographs and links to LA parties I had been at, so that he could use them as a basis when drawing. It was a pretty elaborate collaboration – it took over a year and a half.
Working with the LA Times for some time, you’ve gotten to cover a lot of interesting aspects of L.A.’s arts & culture scene. What can you say has changed from five or ten years ago to now?
Well, everything has changed. Everything. Not only has the city morphed and grown at warp speed over that time, as big cultural hubs will do. The world has changed too; especially the media/arts/technology/publishing scenes. It’s changed how we create, what we create and the pace at which we move. It’s too big a question to even address in such a short interview. But I can use the book as an example….
Language and technology factors into how these kids live and navigate the nightlife world. Cell phones, texting, Twitter, Skype – it all factors into the plot, actually. The lead character gets sucked into this world via an online ad. One of the characters turns her homework in on “turn-it-in.com”. Another character is obsessed with youth slang – he’s a slang junkie – and he’s the 9th most prolific contributor to a user-generated slang site. I never could have written all that 10 years ago. It didn’t exist.
What brought you to settle in LA?
I came to finish a final semester of grad school – Emerson in Boston had a program out here. I ended up at the LA Weekly for an internship, and got a “crash course” in the city by covering the arts scene for the paper. I quickly saw how much the city had to offer – and stayed.
What do you hope people will take away from your first graphic novel, Poseurs?
On the surface, it’s a fun story about three teenagers who meet in the underworld of Hollywood nightlife and parties. There’s a kidnapping, some shady characters, some love interest – it’s silly, but a fun romp.
But I hope people will see the somewhat smarter themes and “literary fodder” running through it. The main character wants to be a photographer, and so her narrative is shot through with references to her photography and literary heroes. Diane Arbus, Margarte Bourke-White, Catherine Opie. James Ellroy and Joan Didion all pop up somewhere in the story. There are some light “comic noir” touches. And there’s a lot of attention paid to word play – puns, found or invented “slanguage,” clever lines of dialogue, “breaking the fourth wall” and stuff like that.
Story wise, it’s also a story about identity; about finding your tribe in life and accepting yourself. So, for a comic book, there’s a lot there.
What is next for you?
I’m working on a follow-up to this book that has the same characters. And I’m adapting a piece of long-form journalism – one that I published a few years ago – to the graphic medium. I’ve begun working with an artist on that one already.
And then there’s my job at the LA Times, which is a constant source of inspiration for me. I love the LAT and I love covering the city of LA. So it’s a perfect match.