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Take What You Can Carry

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless

Kevin C. Pyle is an accomplished illustrator, having done work for The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, and many other publications.  He’s also played in a band, produced puppet shows, and has been part of art installations.  But wait---there’s more.  Pyle also co-edited a comics anthology, teaches, and is currently working on a non-fiction docu-comic.  In between all of this, he has three graphic novels to his credit: Blindspot, published in 2007, Katman, published in 2009, and Take What You Can Carry, published this year.

Kevin C. Pyle
I ran across Take What You Can Carry a few weeks ago.  The cover immediately caught my eye, and was what compelled me to pick up the book.  It’s visually striking, and piqued my interest so that I did what most authors hope a reader will do: flip it over, read the synopsis, get hooked by said synopsis, and decide that it should come home with you to be read.  Whomever chose the title was spot on too; it evokes a sense of urgency that adds to the “must read“ feeling.  Inside, the panels are either shades of brown and black, or shades of blue with black and white accents, highlighting the lines and details of the illustrations.

Being a writer, I’m so immersed in using words to drive a story that it took me a while to get used to the graphic novel format; I'm used to creating pictures in my own mind, based on the text an author has written.  Here, that experience was reversed.  Take What You Can Carry tells the stories of two teenage boys, decades apart.  Ken is caught up in the US’s relocation of Japanese Americans, in the months just after the Japanese air force attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1941.   Kyle, a teenage boy in 1978, has recently moved to Chicago and is propelling himself down a path of increasingly destructive behavior.  The two boys’ stories leap frog throughout the novel, then weave together towards the end.  The back and forth of the stories wasn’t what gave me pause though; it was the lack of any dialogue and minimal written words in the section that tells Ken’s story.  It was a different experience to let my mind rely solely on the illustrations to get the story across, but one that I definitely enjoyed, lingering over the details of the pictures once I got into the flow of it.  Since the Japanese American relocation camps are such an emotionally charged part of US history, the lack of words is profound and a powerful storytelling device.  It allows for more freedom in a reader’s own interpretations, without text to complicate one's thoughts about what you‘re seeing on the page.

Kyle’s part of the story, in contrast, is where the words are put to use, mostly as dialogue and in narration from Kyle himself, giving us a glimpse into his thoughts, feelings and motivation.  Though it’s an effective juxtaposition against the sparseness of Ken’s part of the story, I would’ve liked Pyle to give just a little less explanation, and to let the illustrations speak for themselves more.  His style of drawing is expressive and lively, so the emotions come across quite clearly regardless.

As the novel came to a close, I was especially drawn to the second to the last panels of Ken’s story and the metaphor within them.  The novel ends with a section of historical notes at the back that help to explain some of the nuances you might not catch unless you’re well versed in this part of history; helpful to enrich the overall experience of the novel.

The "entrance" to Pyle's clever website
Take What You Can Carry is truly a case of something better left seen rather than explained, so if you’re a fan of graphic novels, I’d recommend it.  And if you don’t usually read the genre, I’d recommend it even more.  You can find more information about the book, Kevin C. Pyle and his other work at www.kevincpyle.com.