Twenty years in the making, Crane’s Keeping Two (Fantagraphics, Mar.) explores human connection through the lens of tense moments between a couple.
Does your engineering background play a part in your approach to designing a comic?
Not directly, but the part of me that was interested in engineering plays a part. One of the things I love about cartooning is that I see it as simplifying. You get rid of barriers to freely associating with the story and the character. When I first started drawing comics, it’d be a little off-putting that it would take me months to make a comic, I’d go to a convention and sell it to people, and they’d step away from the table and read the entire thing while standing five feet away. But then I realized: that’s the power of clear visual language. So much experience and information can be condensed into such a small amount of time.
How has Keeping Two developed over time?
I began it in 2001 and it became the constant heartbeat behind everything else I was working on. In one sense, it’s always been the same simple story. But as I went deeply into what was going to happen, different elements started coming out, and they grew as my own experience as a human grew. I couldn’t have finished this book 20 years ago. It would have been very one-dimensional at that point.
Some people like to pencil a whole book out, which is contrary to my understanding of writing, but I have felt fairly unconfident about writing, at certain times. But I love the way Anne Lamont puts it in Bird by Bird, where she says, imagine you’re driving a car at night and you’ve got your headlights on. You write about everything in your headlights. As you’re moving in that car, you see more, you hit more things, and you write about those things. You don’t worry about what’s beyond your headlights. That was a beautiful way of putting it and gave me a lot of comfort.
It ends up being a very complex narrative. How did you get there?
What’s happening in the main timeline is very simple. I wanted to be able to tell the story of internal life, giving equal weight to what’s happening in the physical world and the internal world.
Oftentimes I have troubling thoughts about people I love, about something bad happening to them. I’ll have this emotional and horrific thought, but while I’m chopping celery for soup or something. There are a lot of stories about exceptional events happening, and the novelty of the story comes from the exceptional event. I wanted to reverse that and say: all these things are happening inside of me, and that’s enough, isn’t it? That’s a lot happening as I’m making soup. Let that be a story.