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On a graphic novel by Kay Hartmann

Kay Hartmann, Associate Professor in Graphic Design at Columbia College Chicago, specializes in advertising and information design, and has taught in design programs in Germany and Italy. One of her recent projects included working in Cabo Verde, Africa, on branding graphics for sustainable tourism. She also became involved with the case of a Kurdish immigrant who was seeking to remain in the USA in order to escape possible persecution in Turkey. (NB: For reasons relating to a pending US Supreme Court case, the Kurdish man is referred to here as 'I.') Just this year, Kay completed a stunning graphic novel describing I.'s story. It's titled 'Dear Livia', and it's unlike any graphic novel I've ever seen. 



Kay Hartmann, from 'Dear Livia' (Click image to see more legible version of the text)


Philip: Why did you choose the graphic novel form as a way of telling this Kurdish man's story?

Kay: I wanted to present this complicated and true story by distilling and compressing the information, without dumbing it down. I figured that if I used a compelling and entertaining format like the graphic novel, more people would read it. Also, this story is about an oppressed political hero, which seems a perfect subject for a graphic novel.

Philip: What was your working process for developing the material (hand-made, photoshop, both, etc)?

Kay: I know how to draw, as I was an undergrad art major, but I am definitely not an illustrator. As an art director and  graphic designer, I work with illustrators, but I don't possess illustrator skills and techniques. So I started with writing the story, then gathered references: photos, graphic styles, textures, etc. At first, I drew the main characters in a simplified graphic style, as well as a realistic drawing style, but neither style by itself fit the content well. Once I discovered a way of combining photos with  simplified and symbolic graphics, I was happy. Of course I relied heavily on Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign.

Kay Hartmann, from 'Dear Livia' (Click image to see more legible version of the text)

Philip: How is the book going to be published and distributed? Ideally, what effect would you like the book to have?

Kay: Well, the effect I want is that this book will help keep I. safe and free, with his  legal resident status restored and/or citizenship granted.  As for publishing, I am pursuing all venues, digital, traditional and on-demand printing. I will make a decision as soon as the US Supreme Court makes its own decision in this case, which should be around about now.

Philip: Do you think you will use the graphic novel form again?

Kay: The graphic novel was a great fit for this project, but I don't think I'll do another like it. I'm currently working on an illustrated creative nonfiction piece, called "A Breast Cancer Journal," that will have an information design style.
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