Imagine Wanting Only This: an Interview with Kristen Radtke, by Krystal Cantú
Kristen Radtke is a writer, artist and editor whose graphic memoir, Imagine Wanting Only This, has just recently been released by Pantheon Books. Her debut book boldly explores the all too human experiences of loss, family, and adventure. Radtke uses visual art in a way that hasn’t been seen too often in memoir, and the end result is remarkable. Her illustrations bring vivacity to the story that pull the reader even closer to her powerful prose. The graphics and the narrative work together seamlessly to present an imaginative and refreshing memoir.
Imagine Wanting Only This has received rave reviews from numerous sources including the Chicago Tribune, Newsweek, and the Los Angeles Times. Kristen will be visiting Fresno State on Tuesday, April 25th, 2017 to do a reading and signing of her book at 7pm in the Alice Peters Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.
Krystal Cantú: I’ve read graphic novels before, but I haven’t come across a whole lot of graphic memoirs. Where did you come up with the idea to do a graphic memoir?
Kristen Radtke: I was always writing nonfiction, so when I started working visually, it just made sense to me that the visual work would be nonfiction, too. I didn’t intend to make it a memoir–that came later when I worked with my agent and editors. I originally envisioned it as a collection of essays, but creating a cohesive narrative was important to my publisher, and in the end, they were right. I love essay collections, but it wasn’t the right mode for this book.
KC: I think, and I think you might agree, that without illustrations the book would be something completely different. How does the addition of visual art help to narrate a story like yours?
KR: I’m honestly not totally sure. I think that’s more for a reader to say than it is my place to speculate–for me, I just began seeing this book in images, saw it in my mind unfolding in panels instead of paragraphs. I like to think that any idea or project can function in some form in any medium, but the more I talk to others about this, the more they say that’s nuts. Who knows? For me, the graphic form just made sense to me.
KC: One of the things I love most about your book is the boldness of it. For example, I love your use of print photographs mixed with illustrations. It seems that you weren’t afraid to just do what you wanted and tell your story the way you wanted to. In what ways does mixing different mediums of art open up more possibilities in storytelling?
KR: Thanks for saying so! I love that you saw something fearless here, but the process for me was quite the opposite–every time I tried something new, I thought, “am I allowed to do this?” I’m new to comics and wasn’t working in the medium before I began the book, so I had a lot of anxiety about doing it “right.” I’ve tried to let that go. I love mixing mediums, and it certainly does open up more possibilities in storytelling, simply because there are suddenly more tools at your disposal.
KC: I’m curious about the illustrations. Why did you choose to use black and white illustrations rather than color? What other kinds of craft choices did you make in this book, in regards to the visual art?
KR: Black and white seemed like a practical choice when I began the book—both in terms of economical printing costs, but also because I’ve never been all that comfortable with my skills in terms of color. I’m working on projects now in non grayscale palettes, and love doing so, but it’s a whole new language to develop, and one I didn’t quite know how to begin with when I started drawing Imagine Wanting Only This. Many of the other craft choices I made didn’t feel so much like choices as they did intuition. I just worked in a style that felt natural to me, and then tried to refine that over time.
KC: I’m also curious about how you divided the chapters in your book. You don’t seem to be a stickler about chronology here, so I was wondering how you decided to break up the chapters?
KR: The structure emerged very slowly, and evolved dramatically over the last few years that I was working on the book. For me it’s always one of the last things to take shape. I can’t say that I can pinpoint specific methodologies regarding how I broke up chapters—eventually, everything just started taking shape. It feels like a miracle every time that happens, because so much of working on a long project—even something short, really—is the feeling that it’ll never come together.
KC: I’d love to know what your process was in writing Imagine Wanting Only This. Did you write all the prose first and then work on the illustrations, or did it all come together at the same time?
KR: The first pieces of Imagine Wanting Only This began as a handful of disparate prose essays. It took me a long time to realize that they were a part of the same project, and longer still to realize that the project would be graphic. After I’d developed that first initial prose framework, I had to negotiate how images could function with the text I’d written, and as a result a lot of that text got cut. When I entered the second half of the project, and when I work on new projects now, the process is a lot more fluid than it was initially. I move back and forth between text and image, and they emerge together much more organically than they did when I started working in this medium.
Kristen Radtke is the author of the graphic nonfiction book Imagine Wanting Only This (Pantheon, 2017). She is the managing editor of Sarabande Books and the film & video editor of TriQuarterly magazine. She has an MFA from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. She lives and works in Brooklyn. Find her on Twitter @kristenradtke.
Krystal Cantú is a Master of Fine Arts candidate in fiction at California State University, Fresno. She serves as an editorial intern for the Normal School.