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Asian American Film Home > Features > Ann Marie Fleming on the "Long Tack Sam" graphic novel

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Ann Marie Fleming on the "Long Tack Sam" graphic novel

01.29 - Posted by Editor

Ann Marie Fleming's feature film, "The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam," won rave reviews at film festivals and nabbed awards like the Grand Jury Award of the 2004 Asian Film Festival of Dallas. And now it's a graphic novel that the American Library Association has named one of the Top Ten Graphic Novels for Teens. AsianAmericanFilm.com editor Greg Pak spoke with Fleming about her new adventures in comics. Read on for the interview -- and click on the images below to see preview pages from the book!

AsianAmericanFilm.com: Please describe the book in three sentences or less.

Ann Marie Fleming: "The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam" is a graphic novel based on the animated documentary of the same name, which traces my search to find the life of my great grandfather, Long Tack Sam, who was a world-famous, globe-hopping Chinese acrobat and magician that my family had really not know very much about at all. It takes us on a trip of the events of the 20th century through the prism of this one particular man's life, and, stylistically, it riffs off from the collage-like, multi-media quality of the film itself.

AAF: How did the plan to make the film into a graphic novel come together?

AMF: This was very serendipitous. Megan Lynch, an editor at Riverhead Books in New York City, saw the film on the Sundance Channel and got in touch with me, asking me if i'd be interested in adapting it into a graphic novel. She thought it would be particularly relevent for teaching inner city kids about valuing themselves in the world through the stories of their own families.

AAF: How did working in comics allow you to tell the story differently than working in film?

AMF: 2D is VERY DIFFERENT from 3D... from time-based media. I had to completely rethink the film. I didn't have the sound and music element, and my voice-over, which is such a large part of the film and gives it so much of its colour.

I tried to shift the layout on every pages, so you can explore the information differently, and change it up... I guess it was my way of visually pacing... I added other elements (like Stickgirl, my avatar, the narrator) and I also got to go on more tangential lines which I had to cut down or out in the film. I play with lists and timelines, which is very much how I began to structure my search in the first place.

AAF: The book uses photographs, archival material, your own cartoons, and sequential art by Julian Lawrence. Tell us about the challenges in adapting this particular story to comics and how you made your decisions about how to tell the story.

AMF: I was really intimidated, and didn't know how to begin to make this into a comic. I am a huge fan of indie comics, graphic novels and have such respect for the artistry of people in the field. It was like, I was stuck. I took a page (sic) out of the world of 'zines... which said "collage is okay". After all, it had worked for the film, and I think was a good parallel expression to the nature of Long Tack Sam's act and life. I used so many different media and techniques because I did not have any film of Long Tack Sam's act, and it turned out that the scrapbook nature was perfect for my subject... which really is finding a life.

AAF: How did you find Julian Lawrence and what was the experience like working with him? Did you have to learn new techniques to work with a comic book artist?

AMF: I am an animator as well, and I used to have a production company that had interviewed Julian for some storyboard work for commercial projects. I thought he would be perfect for creating the Golden Age of comics style for the origin stories in my film. and tim stuby animated them. I worked with a whole bunch of different artists. Julian was fantastic, as his background was both in comics (he does his own indie comic... "Drippytown," which is an anthology of people's works) and in film storyboarding. So, his sensibility was perfect. It was so great to be able to represent his work in its original form in the graphic novel.

AAF: What new information or experience will fans of the film get from reading the comic book?

AMF: Well, oddly enough, the book is more emotional. And it takes you to a few more places, asks a few more questions, shows you a few more things.
It was made a few years after the film, and I am constantly finding out new information. Some which augments, some which corrects, what I knew before.

AAF: Tell us about your own history with comics. You're well known for your Stickgirl animated films -- is there a secret life as a cartoonist that we don't know about?

AMF: Yes, I have done a ton of animated films, and I TOTALLY SUCK with my drawing abilities. As a kid, in high school and in university, I used to draw comic strips. I was a voracious comicbook reader, from Archie and Little Lulu to the action heroes. I used to recognized the names and styles of the artists and the writers of all the Conans to the work of Seth, Chester Brown and Los Bros Hernandez and Chris Waring. And I love Little Nemo. Manga. Loustal. My hero was Charles Schultz, and i think you'll see Jules Feiffer's influence. Do you remember the strip about Woody Allen, the detective?

AAF: Any more comics work in your future? And what's next for you in the film world?

AMF: I used to do a Stickgirl comic blog on my myspace site for sleepydogfilms. Right now, i've just finished an animated film (Stickgirl with acupuncture pins, actually) that was scored by 4 different composers that just played live with the Victoria Symphony the other day. That was a fantastic experience. I'm trying to promote my latest feature, a dark comedy called "The French Guy" through an on-line festival which viewers vote for. I need your clicks on: FromHereToAwesome.com/thefrenchguy. I'd love to turn it into a teleroman. It would be perfect for that. I'm adapting an illustrated memoir to an animated doc for the National Film Board, and I have a few live action ideas up my sleeve, including a dramatic version of long tack sam's life called "Shanghai Follies". I'd love to have an opportunity to write another book. I've always thought of my independent film work as self-publishing.


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