Crafty comics: Undertow by Ellen Lindner
Vintage is king right now as hipsters everywhere clamour to strut old-style chic. Standing head and shoulders above the wannabes when it comes to vintage style in comics, the lovely Ellen Lindner (your Crafty Crafty New York correspondent) has re-released her graphic novel, Undertow, that has retro written (and drawn) all over it. Prepare to travel back to 1960s Coney Island, New York.
Undertow, published by Soaring Penguin Press, is a graphic novel about growing up. It's set across one 1960s summer weekend on New York's Coney Island, and tells the tale of Rhonda "a girl overwhelmed by events beyond her control".
The Story and setting
The book begins with a breathtaking scene on a beach (which you can take a peek at here) and pulls you into Rhonda's world of "heroin, sex, and hopelessness, with a dash of nightclub dancing and swimming after curfew".
Rhonda is a bit of a lost soul, and Ellen's story is very easy to get lost in. You can almost smell the sea air and the cigarette smoke.
Undertow has the air of old romance comics with less fluffy side, with pin-point accurate dress and dialogue that makes you feel you're peering through a window into the past. It's the little touches that make it so very vintage: from the amusement park signs, to the puffy shouldered shirts, to the classic dialogue ("two-bit jive joint" is one of my faves), to the images on the walls of the beach-front tattoo parlour.
What I love best about this new edition of Undertow is that it also features Ellen's sketchbook, showing how the comic came to life.
There are fascinating reference pictures of Coney Island that Ellen took in the year 2000. It's great to see how some 50s and 60s elements remain, and to realise how much research has gone into bringing this era to life in the pages.
There are also sketches from the old romance comics that inspired her. Along with images of the character creation, and some fantastic portraits of unsuspecting commuters Ellen sketched during her time at Camberwell College of Arts in London.
There's even a little advice for would-be comics creators on how to shape a story through sketching. If you're curious about what it takes to make a vintage tale authentic, this is an excellent example.
Who's it for? Undertow is a rather lovely example of comics storytelling for grown ups. If you've never read a graphic novel before it's a fine place to start, with its stylish images and a storyline that pulls you along.
If you're into the vintage chic craze this is also the graphic novel for you. Not only is it a retro tale of troubles, it's also a beautiful book, from the pearls and pins on the intro pages to the fact that it's hardback and actually feels like it's arrived from the era it's written about.
And if you're one of those odd types who thinks comics are all superheroes and busty damsels in distress, written by blokes for blokes, you'd be doing yourself a favour to wander through Undertow's depths too. You might learn something.
Brilliant, breathtaking comic storytelling from someone who knows their vanilla float from their seven-and-seven.
Where can you get a copy of Undertow?
Grab your copy of Undertow from Ellen's Little White Bird website (you can ask for a full-page sketch just for you if you buy it direct), which also has info on how to get her other fabulous publications.
You can also grab your copy of Undertow from Soaring Penguin Press in the UK.
I'd also highly recommend you snap up more of Ellen's work and that of other amazing comics ladies in The Strumpet comic anthology.