Art News

Grieving Mall Debuts at Mutiny Information Cafe

Grieving Mall creators Sarah Menzel Trapl and R. Alan Brooks.
Grieving Mall creators Sarah Menzel Trapl and R. Alan Brooks. Sarah Menzel Trapl/Justine Martinez
Denver writer and Regis writing professor R. Alan Brooks has made a name for himself in the graphic-novel game, first with his book The Burning Metronome, and again a couple of years back with Anguish Garden. Now he returns to the form, partnering with local artist Sarah Menzel Trapl, to tell a very human tale of a very magical, if empty, mall. The product of that collaboration is the new graphic novel Grieving Mall, debuting at Mutiny Information Cafe at 4 p.m. Sunday, September 19.

“Mutiny is a gathering place for lovers of comics, art and independent creators,” says Trapl, “so it’s the perfect venue for our release party.”

“Mutiny Information Cafe has been part of my writing career since it began,” Brooks adds. “They were the first store to buy my book, the first to support my work, and they're even the place where I've always done my podcast. Anytime I can do anything with them, it's a pleasure.”

For fans of Brooks and Trapl’s last collaborative effort, Anguish Garden, the pleasure will be mutual. Grieving Mall had its inception in past partnerships, and based on the success of those previous artistic projects, Brooks reached out to Trapl to see if she wanted to do it again.

“I suggested we do something together that would be owned by us both,” Brooks says. “She gave me examples of the kinds of stories she likes, and I worked up a pitch that incorporated those elements into what I like. We developed it from there.”

“Alan really took the time and energy to take my preferences into account while also staying true to his own creative values,” says Trapl. “It was challenging to convey what the DNA of an appealing story is to me, but he did a beautiful job of interpreting the plethora of ideas I threw out. I really like magical realism and horror comics, in particular, and Grieving Mall contains aspects from both genres, as well as the relatable human-conflict elements that are Alan’s specialty.”
click to enlarge Grieving Mall launches at Mutiny on September 19. - R. ALAN BROOKS/SARAH MENZEL TRAPL
Grieving Mall launches at Mutiny on September 19.
R. Alan Brooks/Sarah Menzel Trapl
There’s a lot of romance in the idea of a dead mall — so much so that the idea has been the subject of a longstanding website, not to mention a myriad of YouTube urban exploration videos. “Sarah and I were both interested in the imagery of abandoned malls and how they represent a sense of loss — whether that's loss of purpose, or life, or memories, or hope or whatever," says Brooks. "Just these hulking monuments laying abandoned — there's something so compelling about them. We agreed that this would be a visually interesting place to tell a story.”

Another important aspect of the narrative is that the main character is a plus-sized woman, and that fact has almost nothing to do with the story itself. It just is. One might make the case that size issues are firmly in the zeitgeist these days, what with the well-deserved notoriety of Lindy West and the Aidy Bryant series Shrill based on West’s writing. But those projects are in large part about size and culture, whereas Grieving Mall is not.

“I was feeling pretty disconnected from my creativity at the beginning of this project,” says Trapl, “and part of taking it on was meant to challenge myself to create something I could be proud of. When I thought about the art that I was creating and my own personal experience, there was a huge disconnect there. I was always drawing more industry-standard bodies because I found them aspirational, but I think this limited range was contributing to my own internalized fatphobia. After Alan had written the script, I asked him what he thought of the idea of making Lorraine plus-sized. He was totally open to that idea.”
click to enlarge Page one, Grieving Mall. - R. ALAN BROOKS/SARAH MENZEL TRAPL
Page one, Grieving Mall.
R. Alan Brooks/Sarah Menzel Trapl

“I loved it,” Brooks says. “It's important for me to not write characters who are totally defined by the bodies that they happened to be born in, whether it's race, gender, height or whatever else. Although those things influence how other people treat us, they don't wholly determine how we see ourselves. Determining how our main character sees herself was the beginning of figuring out her journey in this story.”

“Throughout the process of designing and drawing her,” Trapl says, “I was thinking about myself and how I would have enjoyed seeing this kind of character in the comics and TV I consumed growing up. I personally love shows like Shrill that discuss fatphobic issues head on — and that voice is certainly important — but that wasn’t the type of story we set out to create. Representation can take on many forms.”

Important to the project, too, was that it was a pandemic project, envisioned and created during the worldwide downtime of COVID-19 precautions. So the themes of grief and loss — not to mention empty shopping malls — are uncommonly era-specific.

“There has been so much unexpected loss," Trapl says. “I think this book will resonate with a lot of folks. I lost my Grandmother to COVID early on in the pandemic, and working on this project has certainly helped me process that a bit more. Creating and consuming art has always been a self-soothing process for me. It would be great if people have a similar experience while reading Grieving Mall.”

Celebrate the launch of Grieving Mall at 4 p.m. on Sunday, September 19, at Mutiny Information Cafe, 2 South Broadway. For more information, see the Facebook event announcement.
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen