Title: An Age of License: A Travelogue
Author: Lucy Knisley
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
Check this book out on Goodreads.
Acclaimed cartoonist Lucy Knisley got an opportunity that most only dream of: a travel-expenses-paid trip to Europe/Scandinavia, thanks to a book tour. An Age of License is Knisley’s comics travel memoir recounting her charming (and romantic!) adventures. It s punctuated by whimsical visual devices (such as a new experiences funnel); peppered with the cute cats she meets along the way; and, of course, features her hallmark drawings and descriptions of food that will make your mouth water. But it’s not all kittens and raclette crepes: Knisley’s experiences are colored by anxieties, introspective self-inquiries, and quotidian revelations about traveling alone in unfamiliar countries, and about her life and career that many young adults will relate to. (Source: Goodreads)
Lucy Knisley was invited to travel to Norway for a comic arts festival. She decided to make a bigger trip of it, stopping in to visit friends, new acquaintances, and lovers along the way. The trip leads her to some introspection on her life and career, which is relatable for everyone, young adults especially.
I really enjoyed this book, which surprised me because I wasn’t such a fan of Knisley’s Relish. I’ve always liked Knisley’s art style, which is gorgeous, but I had a bit of a problem with her storytelling and lack of introspection on her own privileged lifestyle in Relish. An Age of License really fixed up all of these problems that I was having with her earlier work. I found the story interesting, fun, sometimes a little heartbreakingly real for someone who is also in what is meant to be my “age of license”, and beautiful.
The storytelling in An Age of License is done well. I found the transitions from piece to piece smooth for the most part, with only a few places where I felt jarred by the movement from one section of the story to another. I did find the pace a little quick, which was sometimes annoying. Knisley would introduce concepts, ideas, and stories that piqued my interest but she would simply pass them by without reflecting or sharing further, which made the book feel a little too quick for comfort sometimes. This being a graphic memoir I can understand the desire to keep it a little shorter, but it just made me long for some Guy Delisle (like in Jerusalem) style lengthiness. I felt like Knisley touched on a lot of really important subjects, like feeling disconnected, feeling like her life was moving forward, heartbreak, longing, which really helped me form a deep connection with the content of the book.
A lot of people have described this as the Eat, Pray, Love of our generation, I can definitely see where the comparison comes from as the journeys start from really similar places. I was not a fan of Eat, Pray, Love so for me the comparison is a little like…well yes but this book is better. I would probably say this, to me, felt a little like You Can’t Get There From Here, because it had the same levels of introspection and dealt a lot with the tension of relationships, heartbreak, and love. These books are very different books, but had similar emotional/introspective moments for me. I found this introspection in An Age of License really fantastic because I had found Relish difficult to read because it completely ignored Knisley’s privilege, whereas in this book she really explores what privilege she has and how to deal with it.
I was also glad to she her deal with the idea of editing. She shared her life, but of course she has edited and censored it to some degree. I was glad to she her discuss this, and it was really excellent to think about how she made these decisions. One decision I found interesting was her discussion of the two men who stalked her and then made a zine about wanting to do explicit things to her. I think it was an interesting (not bad) decision to, essentially, call them out in her book. I did find the placement of this a little weird, but it was good for her to take a stand. Overall I was really quite pleased with the actual content of the story and how she told it.
The art in this book is the high point for me, as it often is. I absolutely love Knisley’s style, and I always have even when I didn’t enjoy the book itself. Knisley’s style is clean, round, sort of cute looking. If I had a graphic memoir I would want it to look like An Age of License. The story is mostly told in these panels with sparse details, and just people with a little background, however there are some pages with lots of detail and lots going on. Those are my favourite, and I feel kind of glad to get them less often because they’re like a treat. Same with the coloured pages, these are the absolute best thing in the book. I love the colours and the way she uses them so rarely, there’s something really sweet about this to me. I don’t really know how to explain it, but it just makes me happy to sometimes turn a page and see this coloured illustration of a house, while the previous page was black and white. It’s like a gift. Also it’s watercolour, which is just perfect because it’s never too vibrant, it all feels very natural.
I highly recommend this. It’s probably not a perfect travelogue, but it’s a very good book for introspection and exploration of the “age of license” we’re meant to have. The art is beautiful and the story is moving. I just really loved this!