Not So Sweet Eighteen

Tracy White’s How I Made It to Eighteen is one of those “mostly true” graphic autobiographies that is so compelling I was inspired to meet the author. So, like any good digital generation couch potato, I looked on her website instead. Ms. White, I learned, is the creator of TRACED, an ongoing comic about her life that’s mostly true but sometimes isn’t. On the site, I found the following biographical statement (lowercase is hers):

“I’m a girl who grew up in NYC, doesn’t drive, loves dark chocolate, and collects japanese stickers. i’m not very tall but i’m a big reader. growing up i always drew and i always made up stories and now i do both together but not at the same time.”

Well, that wasn’t enough information to make a good post. So I got off the couch, made her acquaintance and asked the questions (below) about her bittersweet, emotionally charged, comic graphic novel (see video), which I urge you to read for yourselves.

Heller: You subtitle How I Made It to Eighteen with “Mostly a True Story.” Please explain the discrepancy?

White: I think almost everything we remember is only mostly true because our memories are colored by our experiences and subjectivity. We recall some events, forget or revise others, and sometimes invent entire moments. Don’t you ever have those conversations with friends about past shared experiences where one of you says something like, “and then I did X,” and your friend says, “You did X?  I thought I did.”

In fact, when writing this book, I actually ended up researching my own life. My diaries, which I’d assumed would be a treasure trove of details, ended up being pages and pages of writing worrying about my-then boyfriend’s faithfulness. So I got my hospital records, called the therapist I’d been seeing just before my breakdown, got those documents (high school transcripts included), and interviewed five friends who knew me at the time for their recollections. It really proved to me once and for all how little we actually remember of our own lives.

Heller: What prompted the book in the first place?

White: Speaking from my experience, when you are in it, when you are depressed or angry or sad, it doesn’t seem like there is anything else. Like you are in your own universe and everyone else occupies that other normal happy place. I wrote this book because I didn’t have something like it. I really truly believed I was totally alone – that no one felt the way I did. Hopefully when people read this book, they won’t feel so alone at least for a few moments and sometimes that’s all you need: a small nudge in another direction to set you on a different path.

Heller: I know this is a story about a girl, but I find some things relevant to me. Who did you see as your audience?

White: Very curious about which things you find relevant … I write with teen girls in mind but because I’m focused on shared experiences, everyone is ultimately my audience.

Heller: I noticed you have a unique way of making speech balloons. Snakelike. Where did this come from?

White: Literally, from my Wacom tablet pen. Metaphorically, from my desire to visually depict the slow responses we sometimes have within conversations and the meandering of the mind before we speak.

Heller: You say, “if only I could be happy.” So what is the happiest part of your book, for you? And the saddest?

White: The dedication to my mom is the happiest part. It took a long time to build a friendship with her and it’s something that is of great value to me today. The saddest part of the book is Stacy’s (my) inability to see that she (I) had any value to herself or to those around her.

Heller: How does your mother like your story?

White: To her credit, my mother has 100% supported my story. She told me early on that she would keep her comments to grammatical and spelling issues because this was my story and she didn’t want her opinions to change it.

Heller: By the way, how old are you?

White: Seven. That’s the answer I always give my two and half year old daughter, so I’ll stick to it for the sake of parental consistency.

P.S. For those of you in New York this weekend, White will be at New York Comic Con (Jacob Javits Center, 10:45 am – 11:45 am, Room 1A2.), “walking around a part of the afternoon Friday and most of Sunday when I’ll be doing a couple of panels and a signing.”

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