Wednesday, February 1, 2023

TBR: Big Man and the Little Men: A Graphic Novel by Clifford Thompson

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences


April Wells, an African American writer, is embedded with the campaign of the presumed Democratic presidential nominee when she is approached by a woman who claims that the candidate once assaulted her. If April doesn’t report on this, she will fail in her duty, but if she does, she will help the racist, misogynist Republican nominee. April’s difficulties only begin there.


Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why?


I most enjoyed creating April, because she is the way I imagine my ideal reader to be and also has aspects of myself. She is intelligent and decent, and she is sometimes sad for reasons she doesn’t fully understand. She has a touch of impostor syndrome. She discovers that the world is even more screwed up than she thought it was, and she tries to call it out, even if she can’t do much more.


Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


The high—and it was constant—was just the opportunity to tell a story visually, to sit at my drafting table with old blues on the stereo and spend time drawing the characters I came to love. There were some production issues that would be as boring to hear about as there were frustrating to experience, but those frustrations were learning experiences, and they were far outweighed by the good moments.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


It was spoken by the writer Susan Cheever when we co-taught a writing workshop: “Every ant has to carry a crumb.” In other words, if something is in your essay, story, or poem, it has to perform a job—or be taken out.


What surprised you in the writing of this book?


Probably the biggest surprise of all is that I got to do it. My first ambition in life was to be a comic book artist and writer; later I turned to prose writing, but the visual-art impulse never left me. About fifteen years ago I started painting, and I joined Blue Mountain Gallery, a New York City–based artists’ collective, in 2020. (My first solo show opens there in late February.) In about 2019 I had the idea to create a graphic novel, and my publisher, Other Press, was on board. So on the cusp of sixty, I have fulfilled the ambition I had when was a teenager. Not everyone gets to say that, and I feel extraordinarily lucky.


How did you find the title of your book?


Over twenty years ago, I had the idea to call something “Big Man and the Little Men.” It was a title in search of a book—but I was taken with the idea of a charismatic man surrounded by a group of lower-key friends. And there is such a group in my graphic novel: Sam Benjamin is April’s friend from high school and is now the mayor of their hometown. When things get dicey for April, she turns to them for advice.











DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.