{comic} Page by Paige


Natalya had been acting more peculiar than usual. I figured it was the lingering effects of David Almond’s My Name is Mina which inspired all sorts of strange yet creative behavior. After finally getting to Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge, a comic I had picked up at the Library and N had read and raved about, I understood. In fact, after I finished it, I handed it to Sean and said, “You might should read this.”

In understanding, of course, I worried. “Please, tell me I am not like the mom,” I whispered to N; because sometimes I feel like I must be wearing a Mrs. Smiley-face mask in an effort to make everything appear normal, or at the very least more vibrant and optimistic. It comes with the “I’m your mom” kit. It comes with knowing there are decisions parents have to and will make that will cause their children difficulty. It can come with the resentment or exasperation of the child—at least those who are very observant and highly intuitive—and who don’t appreciate the effort. Sometimes we don’t know when to take the mask on or off, especially with our aging children. N put her arm around my shoulder and squeezed, “You’re not.” And then we talk about the story, because while the mom is the focus of some of Paige’s angst, there is so much more.

When Paige’s parents move her family from Virginia to New York City, Paige doesn’t know where she fits in anymore. At first, the only thing keeping her company is her notebook, where she pours her worries and observations and experiments with her secret identity: ARTIST. With the confidence the book brings her, she starts to make friends and shake up her family’s expectations. But is she ready to become the person she draws in her notebook?

Laura Lee Gulledge’s stunning art digs deep into the soul and exposes all the ups, downs, and sideways feelings of being a young adult on the edge of the rest of your life. ~back copy

It was interesting to me how isolated the artistic Paige feels from her parents who are both writers, “I don’t feel totally like myself around them. I bite my tongue a lot. It just makes things easier.” I guess it goes to show parents and children are parents and children, even if they are all artists. But you do quickly come to understand that a sense of routine and expectation has settled into the household, and indeed Paige’s life. And where the move creates an opportunity for Paige to take some risks, maintaining “normalcy” is a natural desire on the part of the family as well. Ah, the conflicts of change…

Page by Paige is an angst-ridden read. Paige is necessarily self-absorbed, a situation she (&/or the author) acknowledges here and there. But the book is her “notebook” where she illustrates her inner life. The transitions of external and internal are part of the charm,and Gulledge has a gift for rendering a narrative without a lot of text; although at points there is a lot of text. Her illustrations are very appealing, I think they would especially resonate with the young audiences of the book; the imagery is highly accessible.

As Paige meets and makes friends, finds a boyfriend, and stretches her artistic muscles, Gulledge creates an optimistic atmosphere of change. She also inspires the reader’s own creativity. Paige takes risks, the positive kinds. Vulnerable in sharing her work, she takes a leap and entrusts it with friends (and later family). She learns the art and pleasure of collaboration. She enacts some cool art projects; the notebook, of course, being a first great idea—inspired by her artist grandmother. Paige’s grandmother came up with a set of “Sketchbook Rules” and the chapters of the book follow these rules. The first is “No more excuses! Draw a few pages each week. Buy a sketchbook.” More than the rules and the notebooks, Paige talks her new friends into projects that are community oriented, or challenge themselves to grow as individuals and artists.

{image from Author’s/Paige’s blogsite, see links below}

The pages are black and white and Gulledge leaves no page to simple panel lay out. Yes, that phrase “a feast for the eyes” comes to mind. It is a “notebook” and for the most part the images and texts are not hard to follow. Pages 8-9 were difficult. One of those, I don’t know how she could have refigured the lay-out, but tracking wasn’t smooth (I tested this on S and N). There were a few other moments of visual gymnastics. So sometimes the rule “Keep It Simple Stupid” was not adhered to. I would like to think that the trickier parts were nice thematic additions, but such thoughts didn’t stick. A minor quibble nevertheless. Page by Paige is a fun book to look at.

The creativity at play may deceive the page-flipper into the thinking the novel a light read. It is actually quite dramatic. The romance portion is sweet, but the friendship and familial angst, to say nothing of the inner drama of constructing an identity, has some weight. Like Paige herself, you get that there is a lot going on with the other characters as well. Their initial introductions of personality take on some nuance; especially with Jules. I really like that Paige makes friends with fellow creative types who deal with identity as an artist and its risks, too. The reader, in a way, becomes just another part of their group, commiserating and becoming excited by like-minded souls. They get to geek-out with one another, dissolving any feelings of loneliness and drawing Paige (and Reader) out of their head, to live and engage in the present.

While Paige is finding a satisfying fullness in her inner life and in her outer life with friends, home life has yet to catch up—something she feels the need to remedy (thank goodness). Having grown in confidence, she takes the initiative. Like many situations in the book, it is a bit awkward at the onset but nevertheless heartfelt. One of the most important things Gulledge does marvelously in Page by Paige, is sincerity. As an artist and educator who also grew up in Virginia and moved to New York, Ms. Gulledge translates a rich inner life of Paige onto the page.

One added pleasure to the reading experience: the music/band references.  No doubt N really responded to these inclusions as well. I smiled seeing Badly Drawn Boy scribbled across a character’s tee. There is a “Page by Paige Soundtrack” at the back of the book with a list of bands referenced (e.g. Regina Spektor, Broken Social Scene, Sigur Ros). Another smile: Paige reading Brian Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man.

recommendations: for the artists in the family; fans of comics or no; primarily girls, but I wouldn’t discount the boys on this one; it’s a gentle coming of age; middle-school and up; lovers of music.

of note: I have every intention of gifting N with a copy of this book with a fresh notebook for her writing and a request to participate in and encourage the growth of her artist identity. I think this a good enough idea to share. Maybe I will go with her to pick out her journal, some pens… Maybe we could take a friend or two along… Page by Paige is certainly one to share.


Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge

Amulet Books, 2011


Paige’s blog

{all images are Laura Lee Gulledge’s}

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Carl V. says:

    Nicely reviewed! You sent me immediately to the library to put a hold on it before hopping back over here to comment. This book and at least some of its themes are the perfect pairing with the feelings that I have after walking away from the wonderful weekend I’ve spent surrounded by art and artists. The weekend’s event has my wheels spinning.

    I like this art style. I really like black and white comic art. I saw a wonderful pencil piece this weekend and the lady was contemplating painting it and my feedback (for what it was worth) was to not do so. While I love color in art, you lose something when the artist is talented in rendering things in pencil or in pen and ink.

    I love that you and your husband have this kind of relationship with your children. Reading about how you and Sean and N. interact is always very encouraging. Too few people invest in their children this way. I don’t say that to be judgmental, life can sometimes be very rough, I just say it as an observation. One that makes me sad, sometimes.

    1. L says:

      thanks. I look forward to your thoughts on it. It was by no means flawless, but it was definitely inspiring. And there were plenty of pages I had to refrain from excising.

      Very jealous of your weekend! but I am so glad that you got to experience it, and that it sent you home with wheels spinning; those are the best.

      I like b/w, too, and agree with you about sometimes there is a loss in the coloring. given color and b/w, I tend to gravitate toward the pencil and pen/ink.

      I’m glad we are encouraging. these are the kind of interactions that are good for me to record so I may be encouraged by them in those not so delightful moments… Really, I feel very fortunate in having a child that I can understand somewhat, and share. Sean is a huge help as well.

      1. Carl V. says:

        There are always going to be those rough moments with our children, and it is indeed nice to have a “remember when” to go back to in order to find encouragement for ourselves that at least sometimes we are doing the right thing and are on the right path.

        I don’t mind flawed when it lights a fire, and it sounds like this book has that potential.

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