MAPH Alumni Profile: Andrew Rostan

MAPH alum Andrew Rostan has a new book coming out and was kind enough to answer some questions for us!

Tell us about your book! 

Form of a Question is an autobiographical comic with a heavy dose of magical realism. It tells a version of my life through age 22: my bond with my grandfather, my friendships, my yens for the opposite sex, all interspersed with my run on Jeopardy! during my final semester at Emerson College in 2007. I'll add that while it's technically my story, and I think my writing is really darn good, the real hero of this book is Kate Kasenow, whose pictures accompany my words. Kate's art is on a different level than what a lot of other people are doing in comics right now and it transcends whatever may be in my storytelling.

How did you start working on this book? How did the idea come to you and how did you go about the creative process? 

This is going to be a long answer, but I think people will find it interesting! 

This idea was first proposed in 2008 by the man who at the time was editor-in-chief of Archaia Entertainment, Stephen Christy (a Chicago native, by the way) who brought me into the comics world with my first book, An Elegy for Amelia Johnson. I had recently finished the original version of Amelia and Stephen thought the story of me going on Jeopardy would make a great comic that no other publisher could match. I said no, and kept on saying no for three years, because I felt writing about myself would be egotistical.

A major rewrite and a change of artists kept Amelia from coming out until 2011--to rave reviews in the national press that made another book feel imperative. 

By that time, I'd graduated from MAPH as well, had some failures and successes in post-college life, and also had suffered a bit of heartbreak. All of this allowed me to look back on the Jeopardy story with some perspective. Kate and I had been working on a trilogy about two teenagers who fall in love, only to discover that they're connected to two secret societies locked in a duel to the death (it may never see the light of day but we loved it), and when we pitched this, Stephen said we could do it as long as we did the Jeopardy book first. I gave in, especially after he and the late Jack Cummins (another Chicagoan, a great attorney who loved fantasy novels and saved Archaia from going under) told me what they thought the book was about: a person who feels like an outsider because of a particular quality they have, only to discover that this trait is like a superpower. Their words, not mine, but I latched onto the idea of how in our lives we approach what makes us feel different from the rest of humanity, and that inspired me to weave the Jeopardy experience in and out with how my own insecurities manifested in my relationships with others.

It's vital in comics to have a great editor, and Rebecca Taylor shaped this material into a story where both the biography and the Jeopardy parts were woven together, while she, Kate, and myself came up with a scheme to tell the story with specific primary colors tied to different scenes. (One of my close friends from MAPH told me it reminded her of A Single Man, while Rebecca compared the story to Finding Neverland...hard to run away from a cinematic influence.) Once we had the style and structure down, the book emerged over several drafts and a lot of unexpected delays for reasons ranging from corporate changes to acts of God--when your artist faces a hurricane at the same time as her wedding, that throws a wrench in the works! But it was worth the wait.

What is your favorite part of the work you do?

Right now, I have several more comics projects and a novel (the latter partly set at UChicago) in development, and in every instance...it's not only that I love telling stories, but also that I love entertaining people while also hopefully saying something about life and the world around me. That's my privilege as a writer lucky enough to have a national platform, and I'm always aware of the privilege and striving to deserve it. Moreover, I am proud of Amelia and FOTQ, but I think my as yet unpublished work surpasses them; that I can recognize myself getting better is one of the best feelings I have.

What did you do during your time in MAPH that prepared you for the work you're doing now?

SO MUCH. MAPH allowed me to fully explore all the things that I'm obsessed with regarding storytelling, both the technical work of how to devise the best narrative structure and the emotional work of creating something that makes an audience react and how to produce that reaction. I learned from Elaine Hadley (my thesis advisor) how to write for a popular audience while still being able to convey deep, provocative themes, from Boris Maslov and the comparative literature professors how narrative theory can help you shape any story, and from Deborah Nelson and her postmodern autobiography seminar the sheer variety of ways to tell a story and how you can mix methodologies into a satisfying whole. And from many nights spent over a couple drinks or board games with my cohorts, I was constantly reminded of what kinds of art the world at large will be tuned into...I definitely acquired an even deeper respect for the art of playing games thanks to the friendships I made here!

Do you have any advice for current MAPH students about how they can take full advantage of their MAPH year?

1) Get out of your comfort zone! Explore a field you might not have thought about in the past, and if you can, take advantage of extracurricular activities not related to your concentration. You'll learn a LOT. (I'm a better person because I got involved with Brent House and made that part of my routine. You can find your own thing to do!)

2) To quote the question, take advantage of the University's mental hearth services, Doc Films, and Tuesday night trivia at the Pub. They can all boost you in lots of ways that have nothing to do with class.

3) Don't drink too much and have a quasi-nervous breakdown when you can't comprehend Lacan. 

4) Most importantly, and this ties into all of the above, make friends who can enjoy things with you and who can support you as you support them through all of the endeavors of this year. Coming to MAPH was the best decision I ever made, but it is HARD. And the people you meet along the way will indeed be friends for life.