Too often marginalized by a male-dominated cultural canon, Jane Bowles’ contemporaries called her “one of the finest modern writers” (John Ashberry) and “the most important writer of prose fiction” (Tennessee Williams). Jane’s life was as fantastic and bizarre as her writing. She drank more than she wrote, worried more than she worked, and had more epically disastrous love affairs than completed books. STRANGE WIT is a nonfiction graphic novel that offers both her life story and adaptations of 10 of her roughly one dozen published and unpublished short stories.
Her stories offer a window into both her life and times even as they presciently address themes of identity, feminism, and queerness. This graphic novel is part true biography, part literary adaptation. The biography will follow Jane’s life chronologically and will alternate with ten adaptations of Bowles’ short stories. The contrast of the real and the fiction rendered by this great stylist will offer readers insight into her complicated inner life and outer exploits. The biography pages will feature art from Tyler Jenkins (Peter Panzerfaust), and each adaptation of Jane’s work will feature a different artist, with a single colorist and letterer unifying the palette and text throughout.
After being sent to a Swiss sanatorium as a teen with a diagnosis that seems, today, unusual—tuberculosis of the knee—she developed a spectacular variety of obsessive behaviors ranging, from all-consuming literary analysis to a paralyzing fear of making decisions. These obsessions drove her unique prose, intimate and telling stories about men and women navigating self-definition and the destructive restrictions of their various cultures. These short stories took various forms, including a puppet play in which two sisters come to physical blows over a glass of milk, and a narrative of a tourist following a stranger to a darkened house where women drink tea and mock her. STRANGE WIT adapts those strange stories and her life, juxtaposing them together to create a mosaic portrait of a singular personality. Three decades after Maus became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer, graphic literature is now the fastest growing market, and this book is transitioning from the popularity of memoirs like Maus to the up-and-coming biographies like Box Brown’s Andre the Giant. Jane grew up in New York, a strange and sarcastic child with a wild imagination and a pronounced limp. At age 10, her favorite game was to burn effigies of Calvin Coolidge. A teen in the late 1930’s, she moved to Greenwich Village and wrote a novel on the myth of Phaeton, the sun god’s son who nearly set fire to the earth when he borrowed his father’s chariot. Her sexual adventures included men and women, and in the course of her life and travels she became a part of the famous Parisian lesbian bar scene, wooed heiresses, and fell in love with a woman in a Moroccan grain market. She was open about romantically preferring women, and had several long term partners, including Helvetia Perkins, a woman twice her age when they met, and Cherifa, the grain market vendor in Tangier, with whom she did not have a language in common. Upon meeting author and composer Paul Bowles, Jane remarked to a friend, “he is my enemy,” but almost immediately vacationed with him in Mexico, and married him a year later. She and Paul lived briefly in the now-famous February House, a communal living experiment which housed the artistic minds of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee. She and Bowles counted among their friends Orson Welles, Richard Wright, Allen Ginsberg, Gertrude Stein, Gore Vidal, and William Burroughs. While they remained married and devoted to one another for their entire lives, they openly had extramarital affairs with men and women and frequently maintained separate homes, neither situation seeming to decrease their love for one another.