The third and final event of the Grimsby Author Series spring session was overwhelmed by topics that make one consider what is taken for granted amongst humankind. Joe Ollmann discussed the connection between father and son; the falsehoods of that relationship which are so easily masked when hiding behind a comic strip. Heather Marshall dove into the broken trust between body and government when human rights are withheld, and the aftermath that is now playing out as her book is released at a time where it may be seen as controversial and instructive.
In 2021 author Joe Ollmann made history when his novel, Fictional Father, was the first graphic novel to be nominated for the Governor General Literary Award. Caleb, a conflicted middle-aged painter, grapples with his decision to take over his deceased father’s comic strip Sonny Side Up. Although the strip eludes to an idyllic family life for the original author, time at home is in fact where Caleb found himself neglected as a child and living in the shadow of his father even as he grows up. Ollmann works with (mainly) nine-panels per page and includes colour in each frame. Although Ollmann is colourblind, he relies on his knowledge of colour theory and his children to guide his artistic intentions to intertwine with the words on the page. After a mere year and a half of work, Fictional Father was released. The final page is dedicated to a character furiously drawing, papers scattered around the floor and sweat beading down his face. We like to think this is Joe Ollmann, working in his element.
“It’s like pizza. Even when they’re bad, they’re good.”
While he created the artwork for Fictional Father Ollmann listened to hours on end of audiobooks. When he admitted to listening to hours of Victorian literature, Ollmann reminded the crowd, “There are no guilty pleasures, just pleasures. Read whatever you want.” To have a familiar face on the other side of the camera is always a joyful welcome to begin the final event of the spring 2022 series.
“It’s like pizza. Even when they’re bad, they’re good and I am glad [comics] are around, whatever form they are in,” Joe Ollmann reminisces on the nostalgia of sitting at the kitchen table with cereal and reading a comic strip and the beauty of the art form. Nowadays, Ollmann works exclusively on what is in his heart.
When a book is inspired by real events it invites a sense of curiosity and uncertainty. In Looking for Jane, Heather Marshall’s debut novel, she writes about the horrific life of maternity homes while weaving together the lives of three individuals. While doing her masters, Marshall had a thread of an idea about her now bestseller. It wasn’t until later when she came across an article on maternity homes that she decided to write it. “Why not a blockbuster or non-fiction examination?” Ken asked, regarding the form her research was presented. “The content was so compelling and dramatic…it has just reached so many readers as fiction,” Marshall replied. Looking for Jane continues on multiple bestseller lists, its praise high and its content heard.
As Looking for Jane evolved, Marshall always had the conscious decision to braid in details of maternity homes with reproductive choice, to advocate for women to have agency over their own bodies. The number of babies taken away from their mothers is larger than a ballpark, it is an entire city; over 300,000. Looking for Jane is set to release in the United States in the coming months and Marshall could have no way to predict the gathering storm as publicity is ablaze with comments about Roe v. Wade. The Grimsby Author Series looks forward to welcoming Heather Marshall back to discuss the reception of her novel in the United States.
To our dear Joe Ollmann, thank you for creating such a thoughtful and kitchen-sink worthy graphic novel, we are grateful to be connected with you. It has been wonderful to have Heather Marshall at the series. We thank you for your stimulating and timely conversations and wait to see the lasting impression your novel will have
Thank you to our sponsors: Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, Objects to Desire, Home Team Realty Group, Melrose Investments and Rosehaven Homes, as well as our benefactors. We could not do this without your support. Additional thanks also to our book sponsor, Epic Books, for supporting the Grimsby Author Series.
A final big thank you to our guests for supporting the Grimsby Library through your participation in the Grimsby Author Series!
This blog post was written by our wonderful guest blogger Teanne Teeft, thanks Teanne!