An interview with Jimmy Gownley
In previous installments of his regular comic book series “Amelia Rules,” local cartoonist Jimmy Gownley has tackled such difficult childhood traumas as divorce and moving to a new town.
Now Gownley is tackling an even weightier subject: the Iraq war.
The latest issue of “Amelia,” titled “The Things I Cannot Change,” deals with one of Amelia’s friends, an Army brat whose father is being shipped off to Iraq. Gownley chronicles her family’s attempts to deal with his upcoming departure, as well as her friends’ attempts to raise her spirits.
Q: How did you get the idea to do this particular issue?
A: It was something I was wrestling with for a long time. It seemed like the kind of thing that I could deal with in “Amelia,” but I wasn’t really sure how to approach it. And then I found out that my friend Steve, who was my college roommate, was actually being sent to Iraq for a year. Suddenly it became much more pressing for me to address it, especially when I thought of how his absence was affecting his kids. I wanted to do something that would speak for them and give them a voice.
Q: What sort of research did you do?
A: I interviewed Steve, who is now back from Iraq. I interviewed him to get the perspective of the parent. I also interviewed his 10-year-old son, Taegen, who was perfect because he was the exact age as the characters in the book, and he gave such an authenticity of emotion, because he answered questions in a way that only a kid could.
The third person I interviewed was Steve’s wife, Mary. She gave me access to her journal, which is an amazing piece of writing. It goes into excruciating detail of what it’s like to send someone off to war.
Q: Outside of the family, did you do any other sort of research?
A: We decided to limit it to one family, because the truth of the matter is you could go all over the place and get any number of stories, and they would all give you a facet of what this is like. But if you kept it to one family ... that would make it so specific it would feel more authentic. I didn’t want to tell every single person’s story. I just wanted to tell one person’s story.
Q: What were some of your biggest concerns in tackling a story like this?
A: It’s a nice edge to walk on because on the one hand I’m primarily speaking to kids. I have to keep that in mind at all times, but it’s a very, very serious issue. So you have to deal with it in a way that’s honest and true, but also helpful and accessible to kids, because it’s kids who are really going through this.
Q: Have you gotten any feedback at all?
A: I’ve shown it to very few people because I’m sort of afraid to jinx it, but I did show it to the Murphys, and they were very pleased with it, which was very gratifying to me.
Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007