Planning for a wedding isn’t always easy or even especially enjoyable, from the dress drama to the family drama to everything in between. Thankfully, one artist has harnessed these hijinks into a poignant new work that captures both the humor and horror of one of humanity’s oldest—and most gendered—traditions.
In her new graphic memoir Something New, acclaimed illustrator Lucy Knisley chronicles the perils and pratfalls she encountered on the overwhelming path to marriage. From her early romance with her (now) husband, John, to the ensuing year of wedding planning, the book captures the internal wrestlings many feminists feel in determining what a wedding means in the modern era.
Like Something New, Knisley’s previous graphic memoirs—Relish, An Age of License, and Displacement (the latter of which was recently nominated for two Eisners, the “Oscars” of the comics world)—examine the way certain life events are remembered. While Relish dealt with the sensory memory of Knisley’s family’s connection with food, Age of License and Displacement are about the author's travels around the world—and were written while she was actually doing that traveling.
Something New was written in a similar way, with Knisley capturing her feelings and thoughts and journeys in real time. “What's interesting about Something New is that it was kind of this hybrid, because a lot of the book was actually written while I was going through it, but drawn after the fact,” Knisley told me. There is a liveliness to the text because of this, a sense of being in her head.
Before reading Knisley’s memoir, I didn’t realize how wedding planning can start to mess with you. Sure, I had an idea—I have a friend getting married at the end of this month, and while she is a sweet person, she won’t deny that the planning can be exhausting and overwhelming. But it’s never happened to me personally, and not even the comedy and chaos of wedding movies can truly reveal the why of how weddings warp one’s reality. (Though Knisley does poke fun at those depictions as well.)
Knisley gets deep in her reflecting on how relationships with one’s mother, no matter how close, are pushed to the limit; how budgets require a kind of magical, out-of-the-box thinking that can force one to take DIY too far (Knisley admits in the book that she and her mom may have been biting off more than they could chew when they decided to build a barn especially for the wedding); even looking at how, in this day and age, weddings are still supposed to be primarily a woman’s deal.
“It’s interesting, the trajectory my career has taken,” Knisley says. “Especially in terms of [tackling] getting married and birthing babies and cooking food, and other traditionally feminine pursuits, [which] in the past have been relegated as lesser than, somehow, because they are traditionally feminine.
"But these concepts are pretty universal," she said, adding, "What's interesting to me is writing about it from the perspective of a woman who's struggling with the concept of traditional gender roles, and these major life events, which are actually not gendered at all.”
Fans of Knisley’s work will recognize some panels from her regular webcomic, Stop Paying Attention, which also centers on her life and personal experiences. In particular, a comic titled “Salvaged Parts,” about initially breaking up with her now-husband John because he didn’t want to have children, and “A Light That Never Goes Out,” about suddenly getting engaged to John after having been broken up for three years, both make expanded appearances in Something New. (I highly recommend both.) Knisley posted these comics years before Something New, and recalls that the online response was “overwhelmingly positive.” She says, “I just love the way that readers identify with it and can connect to it, and connect it to their own experiences.”
In particular, she says, it’s fascinating to see how people who’ve been following her comic for years react to the big life events. “I love that I have such a wonderful group of readers who feel this real connection to me. I think that that's a good indication of the power of telling true stories in comics.”
Something New also explores Knisley’s balancing act of being an artist with strong feminist ideals while also desiring a family and enjoying being partnered—a reality that Knisley frequently grapples with in her work. “There are still parts of me that miss the single life, would miss what I could've been as a single person, and I really loved that I was able to include that part, because so many single friends were very happy to be single, and very content in their lives,” she says. “I would never want this book to just be like this treatise on why everyone should get married. I don't believe that at all. I think, especially as a working artist, you struggle a great deal with this idea of sharing your life so much with someone else, and not sharing it just with your art.”
In Something New, Knisley demonstrates that, sometimes, maintaining these ideals and identities requires an incredible amount of willpower. The struggle is real, as they say.
Another great aspect of Something New is the conceptualization of weddings—in memory, in the abstract, in capitalism, and in Knisley’s own vision. Knisley revisits her romantic and wedding-laden past, provides context and history through droll interludes, and marries (pun intended) the personal and political of modern feminist ideals. “I wound up doing a lot more research for this book than I have for books in the past,” says Knisley. “I was researching, you know, what traditional wedding ceremonies meant, and what all of these weird, esoteric, misogynistic things associated with weddings mean, historically and culturally.”
Knisley is already working on a new book regarding another big life change: pregnancy and children. Like with wedding planning, Knisley is fascinated with the feminist context of the subject. “[There’s] this kind of stigma for women who are considered 'baby-crazy.' And how that has come to be so negatively connotated in our society, when it's a very natural human response. I think that it's really nice [for readers] to see that represented in work by somebody who is thinking about these things,” she says.
Sulagna Misra is a freelance writer who lives in the New York area and the small hovel http://sulagnamisra.com. You can find her on Twitter at @sulagnamisra.