When we got our hands on Karrie Fransman’s widely-praised debut graphic novel we were eager to see what all the fuss was about – and boy oh boy it didn’t disappoint. It’s a dark tale of a woman moving into a shared house, and the cavalcade of characters she meets there, including a grandmother who blends into her surroundings like a moth and a man obsessed with diseased or dying women. But although there’s wonderfully-funny grotesque touches, there is a complexity and a depth to her creations that somehow anchors the whole thing in real life. We caught up with Karrie to find out more…
Hi Karrie. How long have you had the idea for this book in your head? Where did the inspiration come from?
Probably not long enough. I was in conversation with publishers quite early on when the idea for a book was still forming, so it was a case of selling something that was not yet finished – or blagging it as they call it in the business! But I was punished for my sins with a looooong, isolated year-and-a-half of having to live up to what I’d promised.
I guess I’d had fragmented ideas for the characters and shorter plots in my head for years before that. The inspiration for the book stems from my fascination with the wider theme of Western society’s obsessions and anxieties about our bodies. I studied psychology and sociology at university and was inspired by R.W Connell’s ideas that our individual bodies are ‘canvases’ on which the larger anxieties of the social body are reproduced.
And what better way to explore these bodily canvases than the graphic novel?
How fun was it coming up with some of these characters?
Great fun! My graphic novel pays homage to all the strange supervillans of the comic world, except mine are caricatures of Western society. They were inspired in many different ways. For example, used to work as a creative in an ad agency whose client was a diet company offering 24-hour helplines.
‘Who needs diet advice 24 hours?’ I wondered, and I started to imagine a dietician on the graveyard shift answering an anonymous call at 12am from a woman in the middle of a midnight feast. The militantly hedonistic group of women called the ‘Midnight Feats Front’ are now in the book, tormenting poor Janet with midnightly phone calls where they whisper recipes Nigella-Lawson style down the phone. I listened to a lot of those food-porn M&S ads when writing their dialogue!
I love magical realism in literature when inner psychological turmoil is played outwardly on the character’s bodies.
It’s very dark and feels quite oppressive – how did you create that atmosphere?
The only time you actually leave the confides of the house is during the flashbacks where you learn how the character’s past shaped them into these extreme caricatures. I tried to make each incident in the house a bit like a ticking bomb as we move towards the inevitable. But the book has a lot of humour in it – albeit dark humour!
How did you find the transition to the longer graphic novel format?
Each space I’ve worked in is very different. I started my career drawing a four panel comic strip in The Guardian’s G2, then moved on to a 20-part weekly graphic story for The Times and then created this 200-paged graphic novel.
I strongly believe each medium has specific possibilities and limitations that can shape a story. The House That Groaned plays with the features of a book: the die-cut cover draws you in like a voyeur, the pages are turned to reveal twists and I’ve hidden things in it that only make sense on a second reading.
With so much content moving online books need to play to their advantages – the fact you can hold them, touch them,and escape your e-mail while you read them!
Likewise I think narratives on iPads shouldn’t just pretend to be a book with page turns and lengthy text. Jonathan Plackett and I have been creating digital books that put the features of the emerging medium at the heart of the narrative: ie. using the touch screen or the accelerometer in the iPad – as with our ‘tilt’ comic The First Witch.
I’m kind of obsessed with exploring different media for storytelling and I try and fit stories in all sorts of strange places: jewellery boxes, dolls Houses, iPads and iPhones.