Hartman, Rachel 1972-
HARTMAN, Rachel 1972-
Born July 9, 1972, in KY; daughter of an art teacher; married Scott Hartman (a physicist). Education: Attended Washington University. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, playing role-play games, dancing, playing cello.
Home—Wynnewood, PA. E-mail—[email protected]
Cartoonist and author. Children's Book World, Haverford, PA, clerk.
Ignatz Award for Best Minicomic, 1998, for Amy Unbounded; Xeric grant, 2001.
Amy Unbounded: Belondweg Blossoming (originally published as a minicomic), Pug House Press (Wynnewood, PA), 2002.
Author of three children's books on tree care for International Society of Aboriculture; author of minicomics and of comic strips "Ellen of Troy" and "Amy Unbounded," 1998—. Contributor to anthologies, including Brainbomb and Rampage. Contributor of articles to Web site Strange Horizons.
Rachel Hartman is a pioneer in the comics genre: she created the minicomic, a self-published, black-and-white product that the author/illustrator photocopies herself and staples while watching Star Trek television-show re-runs. Despite its home-made quality, Hartman's minicomic series, Amy Unbounded, is anything but amateurish. The story of a spirited nine-year-old girl growing up in the fictional land of Goredd, the comic began four-times-a-year publication in 1996. Hartman won a Xeric Foundation grant in 2001 that funded a book-length work containing six interlocking issues of the minicomic. Published in graphic-novel format as Amy Unbounded: Belondweg Blossoming, the work was described as a "gently paced ensemble comedy of manners," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.
Although Hartman is the daughter of an artist and former art teacher, as a child growing up in Kentucky, she dreamed of becoming an author or poet. Interestingly, given her adult work, Hartman was not a fan of comics as a child, although she did read comic strips such as Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, Doonesbury and Pogo. In the seventh grade she wrote a poem about Amy, a "little girl knight," as she told Lee Atchison of Sequential Tart, whose "mother was a Valkyrie-style warrior, and the father had a black bear somewhere up his family tree." Titled "The First Adventure of Sir Amy," the poem would later inspire Hartman's minicomic series.
Another influence from Hartman's childhood was her sense of place. "I grew up in the Middle Ages," she explained in an article for Strange Horizons, adding: "Well, not the Middle Ages exactly, but in Kentucky, which is close, and with a father who believed that if you didn't have garden soil under your nails, you just weren't working hard enough.… We grew berries and vegetables, canned tomatoes and made jam, chopped wood and spread mulch; and when I wasn't imagining I was really a princess in exile amongst the surly serfs, I gained an appreciation for the timeliness of growing things."
Years later, in college as a literature and classics major, Hartman responded to an advertisement in her school paper and began writing a comic strip titled "Helen of Troy." Given that she had no formal training, she produced the strip with a fervor that surprised her. Although she had intended a life of scholarly pursuit, suddenly writing and drawing comic books took hold. Graduating from college, Hartman returned to the little poem she had composed as a seventh-grader with an eye to adapting it as a children's book. She sent it out with some of her own illustrations, but it was rejected. "By then I was hooked on this little girl," Hartman told Atchison in Sequential Tart. "I had other adventures mapped out for her, I could tell you about her family—so I couldn't just let go of her. With a few changes … she became the Amy of my comic."
The minicomic Amy Unbounded premiered in October of 1996, with the episode Amy in the Grip of Good Weather. This premier issue introduces young Amy and her parents, Bob, a weaver in the village of Eddybrook in the medieval kingdom of Goredd, and Nahulla, a barbarian clockmaker. The story arc follows the plucky girl as she accompanies her father on a visit to widow Sampander, a great believer in the rule that children should be seen but not heard, and Amy must muster all her patience to stay silent for her father's sake.
In the five stand-alone issues that followed through the spring of 1998 readers meet the other characters in Amy's medieval universe: older friends Molly and Susa; Uncle Cuthberte, a knight of the banished Order of the Rabbit Rampant; next-door neighbor Bran Ducanahan, a frustrating boy in Amy's life; Bran's sister Niesta the cheesemaker; and other assorted personages, including a dragon named Lalo. Amy is rambunctious; she wishes she were a knight or explorer or scholar. Her imagination often causes misadventures, and as the series progresses she goes to fairs, has tea for the first time, tells tall tales, and experiences her first romantic crush. "I have this fascination with scholars and scholarship which I think comes through in a lot of the issues," Hartman explained to Atchison, adding: "The comic … frequently gets framed as a scholarly treatise of some sort, usually an anthropological monograph, and of course there's the whole scholarly race of dragons at my disposal." "We all know the comic is just an excuse for me to buy lots of medieval books," the author/artist also quipped.
Hartman originally intended her minicomic as a children's book for girls from ages nine to thirteen. However, she discovered that readers of all ages and both genders were purchasing books from her improvised distribution system, which consisted of online ordering and sales at comic-book conventions. An Ignatz award for best minicomic in 1998 helped make her name known to comics readers, and her naïve drawings of people with bulbous noses and dots for eyes coupled with her gentle humor and subtle feminist tone gained her a growing following.
The "Amy" series' coming-of-age theme also attracted readers. "Amy is at an age where her cognitive skills are well developed, but there's still a lot she hasn't experienced," Hartman explained to Atchison. "Much of the world is new to her, and she struggles to figure it all out." Hartman went on to note: "I think a lot of what Amy experiences, even though the story is set in the Middle Ages, is pretty universal. She has to figure out how to live—how to treat people, who is worth respecting, how to overcome her own prejudices and assumptions, what is love … all those really basic questions."
Begun in the fall of 1998 as six separate comic books comprising a single story arc, Amy Unbounded: Belondweg Blossoming wound up as a volume on bookstore shelves with the help of a grant. The story line follows Amy and Bran Ducanahan during the summer they both turn ten years old. Amy has begun to read the national epic poem of Goredd, Belondweg, about a mythical queen who saved her people from fierce invaders. Inspired by this stirring epic, Amy wishes for such adventures in her own life. Amy and Bran meet the dragon Lalo, who is disguised as scholarly Mr. Ollpheist, and she becomes an assistant to the dragon as he researches the odd bit of Goreddi life and culture. Conflict erupts when Amy's father is ejected from the local weavers' guild, and love enters the picture when Amy discovers an attraction for a boy.
"What Hartman is doing here is subtle and more difficult that it looks," wrote Shaenon Garrity in a Strange Horizons review of Belondweg Blossoming. The critic praised Hartman for "creating a place so vibrant and real that readers ache to step" into it. The same reviewer also found the "unadorned black-and-white art" to be "rough … but charming." Tom Spurgeon, writing in the Comics Journal, was less enthusiastic. While noting that "there is a great deal to appreciate in what Hartman does," he also deemed the "writing, art, story, and character insights … accessible but never compelling." However, a reviewer for ArtBomb.net was more positive, concluding that Amy Unbounded "is a book meant for reading and re-reading and reading once again." Similarly, Rich Watson, writing in the View from the Cheap Seats online, praised the "endearing charm" of Hartman's writing, and further noted that she "has a fabulous eye for … detail, and for drawing … in a manner that, while cartoonish, is convincing and true." A Publishers Weekly critic also commended Hartman's "bold, cartoon style" and her "elegant writing," as well as the "memorable and vivid" characters.
For Hartman, self-publishing her comic books provided a certain artistic freedom she could not have if they were produced conventionally. "I like the fact that I can afford to produce them and keep them in print," she told Atchison. "I like the fact that nobody in the world can keep me from making them—they'll never be canceled, or edited beyond recognition, or be put into any other kind of publishing limbo." As she told Jen Contino on Comicon.com, doing the art is about the best occupation she can think of. "There is nothing in this world as wondrous as a day spent drawing, a day that just slips by and is gone without your ever noticing, leaving behind a very nice page or two."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Comics Journal, June, 2002, Tom Spurgeon, review of Amy Unbounded: Belondweg Blossoming.
Publishers Weekly, August 12, 2002, review of Amy Unbounded, p. 278.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December 2002, review of Amy Unbounded, p. 371.
Amy Unbounded Web site,http://www.amyunbounded.com (September 2, 2005).
ArtBomb.net, http://www.artbomb.net/ (September 2, 2005), review of Amy Unbounded.
Comicon.com, http://www.comicon.com/ (September 9, 2002), Jen Contino, "Getting to Know Rachel Hartman."
iComics,http://www.icomics.com/ (June 22, 2000), Greg McElhatton, review of Amy Unbounded.
Mindspring.com, http://www.mindspring.com/ (August 7, 2003), "Amy Unbounded."
Sequential Tart,http://www.sequentialtart.com/ (July, 1999), Lee Atchison, "Plucky, Imaginative Heroines: Rachel Hartman"; (September, 2005) Lee Atchison, "Emotional Trajectories: Rachel Hartman."
Silver Bullet Comics Web site,http://www.silverbulletcomics.com/ (October 5, 2004), Darren Schroeder, interview with Hartman; (September 2, 2005) review of Amy Unbounded.
StrangeHorizons.com, http://www.strangehorizons.com/ (February 12, 2001), Rachel Harman, "The Medieval Agricultural Year"; (June 23, 2003) Shaenon Garrity, "I Sing, Ye Gods, of Amy: Amy Unbounded: Belondweg Blossoming."
View from the Cheap Seats Online,http://www.orcafresh.net/ (September 2, 2005), Rich Watson, review of Amy Unbounded. *