The Soviet: A Graphic Novel
What IS The Soviet?
The Soviet is a 223-page autobiographical, historical, nonfiction graphic novel about the author's great-grandmother Lola, based on memoirs Lola wrote before she died. Born in 1910 outside of Kiev to a poor Jewish family, Lola lived through the Bolshevik revolution, a civil war, Stalinist purges, and World War II, in which she lost almost her entire family to the Holocaust. In the meantime, she taught herself to read, supported her entire family with odd jobs, and joined the communist party. Then, like a Soviet Jay Gatsby, Lola worked her way up to becoming a secretary for the NKVD (an early equivalent of the KGB), a volunteer nurse during World War II, and a sergeant in the Red Army. At the end of her life, Lola was a feisty, independent-minded widow and divorcée, mother of two.
The Soviet is also about Lola's unusually close relationship with the author. Even though their ages were almost 80 years apart, their personalities—both driven by a kind of uncontrollable, passionate will—brought the two closer than anyone in their family would have thought possible. Staying true to Lola’s optimistic character, The Soviet develops as an adventure story—full of romps through Kiev, raucous parties and flirts with Soviet intelligentsia, training to fight and shoot bayonets like a soldier, long-lost loves, and train rides spanning one-sixth of the world. Although The Soviet takes you chronologically from the Revolution to the fall of the Berlin Wall, each chapter begins with a jump to contemporary times, with a short comic narrative from the author’s point of view: moments between the author and Lola, the difficulty and pain of teenage years, the experience of historical and personal trauma. Weaving together stories of Lola’s youth, old age, and death as an immigrant in Chicago in 2010, The Soviet is not only a biographical memoir about a single extraordinary Jewish woman in the USSR (as well as her anxious and pessimistic Russian-American great-granddaughter), but a story of the USSR itself—over twenty years since its dissolution. It is a story that continues to be played and replayed in the tragic current events in Russia and Ukraine, in which the history of this no longer existing nation gets increasingly muddled in nationalist propaganda and the chaos of international politics. We must ask: what was the USSR, and what was it truly like to live there? Moreover, how does the current generation come to terms with its fascinating, painful, terrifying, yet also bright and idealistic history? This connection to history is what propels the story of The Soviet forward, but it is the connection between Lola and the author which examines the ties all of us have with our families, ethnicities, and the still-fresh trauma of the 20th century. Although heavily indebted to historical Jewish-themed graphic novels such as Maus and Unterzakhn, The Soviet is the only graphic novel about World War II that is a story of real-life fight, pluckiness, and unimaginable strength, not of victimhood—and the only one to feature a female Jewish protagonist. Truly a novel befitting for the 21st century, The Soviet—both tragic and comic—is a book for everyone who has ever wondered what it was like to live in a country painted red.
How much of The Soviet is currently completed?
As of this moment The Soviet is only 1 chapter away (out of 12) from being completely finished! It is set to be entirely completed by early August, and sent to a printer by that time.
How will you use the Kickstarter funds?
The Soviet does not yet have a book deal, nor an agent, so the Kickstarter funds will be entirely used to help procure a book deal. They'll be used for things like:
Getting art supplies for the final chapter (bristol board, ink, white paint, etc.)
Creating custom watercolor covers/book jackets via Shoestring Press
Printing copies of the book to send to publishers, via BookMobile
Shipping the book to nonfiction graphic novel publishers around the world, such as Uncivilized, Drawn&Quarterly, Fantagraphics, First Second, etc.
Shipping the book to potential agents
Keeping me alive for the next few weeks as I finish the last stretch of the book
What does The Soviet look like?
Well, I'm glad you asked! Here are some example pages (more on my personal website):
So who ARE you, anyway?
I'm a 4th year PhD student of Comparative Literature at Harvard, who decided to crazily take a year off from grad school and live entirely on savings and a few freelance gigs in order to write and illustrate this graphic novel. This meant moving to Brooklyn, living primarily on crackers and sardines, and going to as many comics-related events in the New York area as I could possibly handle.
Although I'm enmeshed in the world of academia, I am also a trained artist, and have been drawing since I could hold a pencil. I've taken visual arts courses at the Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia University, and have taught figure drawing and basic arts courses to grad students at Harvard University. This January at Harvard, I also created and taught a successful course on the history and study of the graphic novel-- the only course of its kind to be offered on campus. I have also received press from publications such as Reuters, the New York Times, and Bloomberg Business for illustrating the first graphic novel legal brief ever created, written by Bob Kohn and submitted as an amicus brief in USA vs. Apple, and recently included in the 2013 Almanac and Reader for Best Legal Writing.
EDIT: The Soviet has officially reached its first funding goal!! Thank you so much for the tremendous support! On that note, with the surprisingly positive feedback I've received on this project, I thought it might be good to create a few Stretch Goals for the graphic novel, in order to expand the project a bit and improve the quality of the work.
If this Kickstarter reaches:
$3200: the screenprints described in the rewards section for any donation over $75 would become beautiful, limited edition Intaglio prints on fine-toothed paper. (Full-disclosure: I want to do this so badly that I chose an absolutely/almost too attainable stretch goal just to give me an excuse to make something pretty) REACHED!
$3500: I will expand a full pdf version of the text to all backers $50 and over! About the same price as a reeeeally nice hardcover of the book, no? ;) A good deal all around. I will also expand original commissioned artworks to all backers $100 and over, which will vary depending on the donator's request. REACHED!
$4000: I will have the time and funding to incorporate my great-grandmother's handwriting into the drawn sections of the book, and would therefore be able to improve the book significantly, and give the formatting of the book the attention it deserves. I'll also expand a full pdf version of the text to all backers over $25, and the limited-edition Intaglio print to all backers $50 and over.
$5000: I will incorporate a 5-10 page inlet/epilogue detailing the laborious process of the book's creation, including reference photos, sketches, photographs, and other important (and super interesting!) Soviet ephemera. In addition, every backer, regardless of amount, would get a pdf of the book once completed, and every backer $50 and over would also get a first-edition printed, bound mock-up version of the book, printed by BookMobile.
Risks and challenges
Although this comic does not yet have a book deal, I am confident that the quality of the book, as well as its relevance to current events, will allow it to be picked up by a publisher within a year. I've had some contact with publishers of nonfiction graphic novels, and there has been enough interest garnered by the few pages I've shown thus far that publication should not be a major problem.
The Kickstarter rewards will be completed and shipped out far before their due dates, as I've allotted enough time to finish them in the coming months. There is also no chance of the book not being finished, as the process is 99% complete and just needs a few more weeks to get fixed up. Otherwise, it's pretty much ready to get shipped off, and the hi-res PDF version immediately delivered to backers' inboxes.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)