Liz's Epic Adventure: Liz Plourde took her MFA in fiction from Southern New Hampshire University into the world of comic books, and in so doing won one of the last Xeric Awards


MANCHESTER, N.H., Sept. 30, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- "Too fragmented," said Liz Plourde, author of "How i Made the World," an award-winning new adult comic to hit the stands this summer. "That's what a creative writing teacher at the University of New Hampshire told me about some of my short stories."

Liz agreed. The fragments needed to be soldered together a little better for their scenes to become the sort of stepping stones that could easily lead her readers through the narratives, and in 2005 she found some unexpected help with that while working as a work-study intern at a local TV station. There she met an artist and comic book enthusiast, Randy Michaels, who—for the fun of it—took to illustrating some of her stories. The comics-style panels that Michaels created, Plourde found, were just such stepping stones.

In 2008, Plourde entered Southern New Hampshire University's low-residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction program. For her thesis she produced a traditional novel manuscript that flowed quite nicely, but which she hasn't yet tried to publish. "It has some plot issues I still need to address," she said. "I'll get to it."

Why the delay? Blame it on comics, though Plourde herself had not been a comics fan growing up. "I was a voracious reader, but not of comic books," she said. "I just wasn't exposed to that—except through one book that I read and loved, and that was the autobiography of Bill Peet, who was one of Walt Disney's chief storyboard artists."

Peet's book planted the seed for what would become an adult interest in graphic novels, and also a shock of recognition, perhaps, once she saw her own fiction rendered in panels. "I realized that this was a medium that really spoke to me, and that my sort of fiction really seemed to work better in that form."

If she was to do anything in that form, however, an important expiration date was approaching. In 1992, Peter Laird—the co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comics franchise—founded the Xeric Foundation, whose primary purpose is to help small nonprofits and charitable organizations in western Massachusetts.

As a sideline, though, the foundation also provided publishing grants to first-time comic book authors, and a Xeric Award quickly became the comics equivalent to a PEN/Robert W. Bingham Award for a first novel—until 2011, when the foundation announced that the 2012 grants would be their last.

Plourde and Michaels went to work on "The Monster," a semi-autobiographical story Plourde had written about the tension that had beset her carrying out an art project for one of her college courses—a tale that serves as a pilot episode, as it were, for what became "How i Made the World," a comics franchise "featuring Liz, a college student and writer who translates her everyday experiences into epic adventures."

Michaels's clean, black-and-white illustrations evoke that combination of child-like wonder and hip sensibility that fueled the underground comics market of the 1960s. Together with Plourde's affecting story, they proved stepping stones to not just the winner's circle in the last round of Xeric Awards, but to all the buzz and distribution that such an imprimatur provides in the comics industry.

Issue #1 hit the stands in June with "The Monster" and one other story, and to immediate critical praise. The storytelling, said Johanna Draper Carlson of Comics Worth Reading, is "fresh and insightful, and the linework is wonderful, dynamic, and streamlined." Craig Neilson of Big Comic Page wrote, "It had me hooked within just a few pages."

"How i Made the World" also arrives at a time when stories told in panels have climbed to a new level of literary recognition. This month alone Alison Bechdel—author of the graphic (i.e., comics-format) memoir "Are You My Mother?"—was awarded a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship, while another graphic memoir, "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?" by Roz Chast, was long-listed for a National Book Award in nonfiction.

"Liz has become a writer skilled in several modes, actually," said Richard Adams Carey, assistant director of Southern New Hampshire's MFA program. "But so many of us were first introduced to the power of narrative by comic books, and we're delighted to see her among those building a direct bridge between literature and that medium."    

While Plourde has by no means abandoned straight narrative, she enjoys working with a skilled partner, and she also loves the literary frontier nature of this burgeoning art form. "There's so much that hasn't been done yet," she said.

Photos accompanying this release are available at:

LizPlourde HiMtW PromoArt-small

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