Allison's Book Bag

Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer

Posted on: September 21, 2013

Recently I complimented a picture book author by saying that thanks to her, I desire to read more picture books. Now I’m going to extend a similar compliment to Ramsey Beyer. Thanks to her college memoir, Little Fish, I wish to read more graphic novels. If you read Beyer’s Behind the Scenes of Little Fish, you’ll discover that as part of planning for her memoir, Beyer outlined the plot points that she wanted to hit, from leaving best friends to making new ones, to navigating a new city, to meeting a romantic interest. The combination of all of these certainly has the potential to make for an interesting memoir, no matter the style. The graphic novel format, though, of combining comics, drawings, lists, and journal entries is ultimately what made Little Fish such a unique reading experience.

On many levels, I related to Beyer’s memoir. Although for college I moved from one small town to another small town, the latter proved so different that it similarly pulled me out of my comfort zone. Beyer and I both experienced warmer weather year round, our first exposure to a racially diverse population, and encountered new foods and more radical lifestyles. While our selection of schools might have differed, mine being an all-women’s college and hers being an art school, our selections strongly affected our college experience. Beyer chose hers because she wanted to focus on creative endeavors, while I chose mine because I wanted to attend a women’s college. To a certain extent, for better or worse, we both realized our goals. Beyer ended up discovering the world of animation, comics, and storytelling, which led to the creation of her two novels. I enjoyed getting to dress up on special occasions in gowns, gloves, and heels. In addition, I felt free to grow as a person without romantic entanglements. As a side benefit, by majoring in English, I exposed myself to a variety of literature and attempted to imitate some of my favorite authors in my own fiction. Last, although we both mostly stayed away from the dating scene, I did develop a crush on a blind date during my second year and Beyer did develop a tentative relationship with a guy who was also her best friend. Even in the ways that I didn’t relate to Beyer’s experiences, such as her participation in activism and the punk scene, I still felt connected because college for me was also about trying new things, seeing new places, and meeting new people. Anyone who has gone to college will appreciate Beyer’s struggle to make friends, pick courses, and find a balance between being homesick but also independent.

As I said at the start, the format is ultimately what made Little Fish such a unique reading experience. The bulk of graphic novels to which I have been exposed seem to come in one or two formats. First, they so highly resemble comics that I’m not sure how to tell the difference. Second, they’re so text heavy that I’m not sure how they’re graphic novels. Little Fish feels like a hybrid of those two formats, which really worked for me because of how it drew on multiple mediums to present a memoir. The comic side basically provides the narrative. From it, one learns that Beyer lived for eighteen years in a small town called Paw Paw and then moved to the big city of Baltimore to attend art school. Each new section moves the narrative forward, until the climax in which Beyer fills out paperwork to teach at a summer art camp, decides to change majors, and returns home for another summer where she quickly finds herself missing college life. The drawings kind of work to add details to those comics. A few examples include sketches of herself, family members and friends, and the landscapes of both her hometown and of the city where she attended college. Then there are the lists and the journal entries, both of which allowed Beyer to share her thoughts throughout her college experience. Most people love lists, be it a top ten or the year’s worsts, and so should immediately feel comfortable with the format. Because Beyer was selective with her lists, they never bored me and always proved insightful and/or fun to read. Some of Beyer’s lists include: things to do in Paw Paw, pros and cons of going to art college, things done to prepare for college, annoying things, top ten worst sounds, ways to make new friends, and scary things. As for the journal entries, like the drawings for the comics, these kind of served to add meat to the bones. A few examples include: best days, worst days, schedule updates, and notes about classes. In creating Little Fish as a graphic novel, Beyer picked the perfect format.

If you’ve read Year One, also by Beyer, you’ll start to understand the difference between seeing any of these parts on their own and seeing them all together in a composite. On her blog Everyday Pants, Beyer posts comics from her first year after college. I’m enjoying them but I miss the lists and the journals, which give deeper insights into her actual thoughts. On her blog, Beyer also links to photos, which are akin to those one might find on a Facebook page. On their own, they seem mostly relevant to family, friends, and possibly fans. As she notes in her Behind the Scenes of Little Fish post, only the highlights made it into Little Fish. This extra care, taken with commercial publication in mind, resulted in a memoir which I love.

Beyer is marketing Little Fish towards college students, but I could see it having many other audiences. High school English teachers could supplement lessons about “I Am From” poems and other similar literary outputs with examples from Little Fish. With its blend of comics and journals, Little Fish is visual enough to appeal to struggling readers, but also rich enough in content to appeal to more avid readers. Myself, I could see using it as an idea bank of scrapbook pages to create for my college-bound sister. Little Fish will prove a treasured read for many audiences.

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