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POSTCARDS: True Stories That Never Happened

An interview with book creator and editor, Jason Rodriguez.

Interview given by Scott Tingley - April 15, 2007

You've seen them at flea markets and in antique shops and used bookstores across the country. Vintage postcards with handwritten notes from the past, evocative messages that capture a thought, an expression, a concern, a snapshot of someone's life once upon a time.

Jason Rodriguez has collected a remarkable array of these correspondences, dispersed them among thirty-three of comic's greatest creators, and asked them to each create a story about the person who sent it. The result is a vividly imagined, gorgeously rendered graphic novel anthology illustrating tales of romance, adventure, hardship, and mystery. In [POSTCARDS], these gifted artists share some of the most rich and inventive work of their careers. (From postcardsanthology .com )

Mr. Rodriguez was nice enough to answer a few questions about his upcoming anthology.

Comics in the Classroom: Mr. Rodriguez, thank you for this interview.  What can you tell us about this project?  How did it get started?

Jason Rodriguez: Thanks for having me! Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened is a collection of 16 stories inspired by used postcards. It features tales of romance, adventure, mystery, and heartbreak as told by Harvey Pekar & Joyce Brabner, Phil Hester, Tom Beland, Antony Johnston & Noel Tuazon, Stuart Moore & Michael Gaydos, Rick Spears & Rob G – 30 creators total. It's coming out June 26, 2007 from Villard Books, a division of Random House.

I was committed to this project as soon as I read my first postcard. It was sent in 1942 from an army private to his mom, informing her that his brother just shipped out and he should be going soon, too. I read this card and I realized that there's a much larger story behind it. A story about this one person, at the beginning of our involvement in World War II, shipping out to the great unknown to put his life on the line for something that was bigger than he could ever fathom. This person (and his brother) – he's in a foreign country, probably not older than 18. Might even be his first time leaving Pennsylvania , let alone the country. Does he come back? Does his brother? Are they heroes? I knew what story I saw behind this card, I wanted to see what other people saw in it.

So I started buying more postcards. My collection is quite large and well catalogued now.

CitC: When you approached the various creators with this idea, what was their reaction?

J.R: It proved to be an easy pitch. I started with guys I knew and have worked with in the past. Everyone was down. I moved on to guys that I knew but never worked with – they were down. I eventually moved onto the guys that I didn't know and that I never worked with in the past – that's never easy. I got a lot of “no thanks” and no replies with that particular group but, you know, I got Harvey & Joyce, Tom Beland, Ande Parks , and Antony Johnston through that group as well so, it was well worth the effort.

You can tell who got it and who didn't get it. The people who got it – they wanted to get started on it right away. I couldn't keep up – I had people harassing me for postcards to work with. I got pitches ahead of the pitch deadline, scripts ahead of the script deadline – half of the stories were fully illustrated a month before the art deadline. I've never seen people attack a project like this. And the best part? A lot of the people who worked on this book told me that they felt like this is the best story they ever did. And, for the most part, I have to agree.

Like I said, they simply got it. They got that these were people's lives we were expanding on. That some of these postcards may be the only remaining glimpse into who they were. They got that the story they're seeing in these cards have a little bit of their own story in it; that it's impossible not to relate in some way to these hundred-year-old sentences. They got that other people will see their own stories in these cards and expand on the stories that the creators come up with.

They got it and they went after it with a passion. It was tons of fun working with everyone on this.



CitC: I get that this was not meant as an "all ages" project, but is there a place for it in schools?  If so, where?  Middle or High School? What should parents, teachers and librarians be aware of before considering this for their teenager or school library.

J.R: Actually, I wanted it to be an all-ages project but I didn't want to restrict my creators too much so I didn't really enforce that rule. I simply said, “Don't be gratuitous.” I'd put it at teen+, a solid PG-13 unless the rating system's changed drastically over the past ten years since I graduated high school.

It's hard to gauge these things with comics. There are plenty of literary classics within a wartime setting that are required reading in most schools. Rich in detail, the reader can see a battlefield covered with bodies in their mind. But, with a comic, you actually see the war. And despite how much shadowing and angling you use to murky up the images, there's no denying the fact that what you're looking at graphic representation of a dead body.

So stuff like that could be considered objectionable. There's a fair amount of death in this book but the killing is never shown. Considering the period (most stories take place around 1910) it's difficult to avoid death. There are some implied sexual relations and light cursing (nothing worse than the s-word and that's only used once).

CitC: On the POSTCARD website you have postcard related contests [that page will be linked here].  Where did the idea for that come from?

J.R: It made sense. Like I said earlier – there are people who get it and people who don't. I figured the best way to make sure people get it is to launch a contest where they need to essentially do what the creators did – tell the story behind a hundred-year-old postcard. In order to get people excited to take part in this I put some Michael Gaydos art up as the Grand Prize. We got a lot of entries, more than I thought we would, and they've all been wonderful. I'm probably going to have to come up with some runner-up prizes.

I want people to get into the concept. It's a lot of fun. It's something I've been doing for years, although never with postcards. But I've come up with characters inspired by writing I've seen in the margins of library books or little phrases written on coffee tables or bathroom walls. A postcard – these were meant to be private conversations between two people and the stuff you see sometimes…it's quite personal. So I want people to understand that, respect it, and have some fun with it.

I even want to make a supplement for people interested in carrying out this exercise. Just a couple of sheets with some postcards that weren't used in the book – something that can be downloaded from the website. People can use them to come up with their own stories. I have hundreds upon hundreds of cards and I get more every week – I might as well use them.

CitC:  That is a great idea. It would be a good resource for teachers looking for an idea for a creative writing lesson. Is there anything that you would like to add about this or any other project you have going?

J.R: Well, Postcards should be in your local comic shop and bookstores starting June 26 th . If you want to make sure that happens, feel free to print and clip the relevant flyer from the promote page. If any teachers or parents want more detailed examples of potential objectionable content I'd be happy to send along some images. If enough people are interested I'll even make a packet with a run down of each story. My contact info is on the website.

Another book I edited, Elk's Run , is currently in bookstores. That's also from Villard books. I'd put that book as an AP English or college-level type of book. It's a great study on isolation and the influence of family but it's for mature readers. It's like Stand by Me in a militia town.

I have some other books cooking up in the all-ages/teen age range including a second volume of Postcards under way. It'll be more of a period piece, featuring only cards from California pre-1920. I hired a history editor, Christina Rice from the LA Central Library's History Department to help us make this next volume a true representation of turn-of-the-century California .

And that's that – hope you all enjoy the book.

CitC: Thank you very much for your time.

J.R: Anytime.

-UPDATE-

I have just finished reading Postcards, and it is even better than I hoped. It features snapshots - small portions of people's lives. Some are uplifting, some are heartbreaking. "Corra's Dress" still haunts me. I won't give it away, but it is a simple tale of loss that everyone sees coming but little Corra.

I think this would be fine for high school aged readers, but I don't think I can really recommend it for school use though. A couple of the stories are a bit risqué. Tame compared to most of the entertainment that high school students take in, but a bit much for school use. I can see a teacher recommending it to students he/she thinks may enjoy it. I remember my grade 10 teacher going on about Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, which is way-way beyond Postcards in questionable content.

That said, I am an elementary teacher and may be out of touch with what is and is not appropriate in schools. If you have read this book, please let me know if I am off base.

This would make a great idea for a writing project. It would be nice if a full story would go online for this purpose.

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Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened will be released June 26, 2007 from Villard Books, a division of Random House.


 


 

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