Carol Tyler: This old lady’s got something to say

Carol Tyler showed a video she’d made with her students at the University of Cincinnati, where she teaches cartooning. They rebelled at her boring assignments and threw a classroom party, and she told them that she was going to Center for Cartoon Studies, where they take their work seriously. Then she primed her temporary classroom in Vermont to play a trick on the Ohio class, which was set to follow her lecture by Skype. She was soon called out of the room to take a phone call, when the local cartoonists partied down, swigging from classroom items labeled “BEER.”

When the fun was over, Tyler put on her Lois Lane Reporting Hat to deliver her scoop on herself. She started with a photo of her home, which boasts a bountiful garden out front. “That isn’t yard work,” she said, “What you’re looking at are scripts. If I can’t figure out a punchline, I’ll just rip up part of my lawn.”

Perhaps this is a small way for her to start something over. Throughout her life she has made gestures ranging in grandeur from the personal to the operatic. She has transformed herself overnight into the fun, crazy art girl, dumped all her old effects over a cliff, and poked her finger randomly at a map to find herself picking up and leaving for Cincinnati.

Tyler has made a career of documenting her life dramatics, and brings the same energy and enthusiasm to her comics as she does to the classroom. She got her start with stories in the seminal ’80s anthologies Twisted Sisters and Wimmen’s Comix, collected by Fantagraphics in The Job Thing. Her comics had to be put aside while she worked and raised a daughter, but she recently returned with an account of her youthful foibles called Late Bloomer.

She has been exceptionally prolific since then, with two books of a three-part series out in the past two years. She’s now working on the third You’ll Never Know volume, about how the Second World War affected her father and his relationship with his family. The memoir is drawn in a lush watercolor-style (Tyler actually uses colored inks for her drawings). Sometimes the page will break from the panel grid completely, but will maintain a sequential narrative moving across a singular image.

And Tyler has plans for what she’ll do next. She thinks she’ll buy a bread truck and travel the country, pitching her books from town to town like a snake oil salesman. First she did some market research, asking, “What will you young people buy?? This old lady’s got something to say still!”

–Pat Barrett
photography by Jon Chad

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Filed under Fall 2010

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