When she was in college, Kristen Radtke’s uncle died suddenly, from what she describes as an “inscrutable heart defect that threaded though [her] family.”
Her relatives moved on, reminiscing about her Uncle Dan at holidays. But Radtke found herself fixating on her own health, on the particularities of the gene mutation that ran in her family, on the heart palpitations she sometimes got, and on death more generally ― the way it’s acknowledged, celebrated or ignored in different societies.
The resulting story ― part travelogue, part memoir ― is told in Radtke’s book Imagine Wanting Only This, out this month. In turns personal and expansive, it’s a visual and written exploration of loss, and how it resonates through our public and private lives.
“The first pieces of Imagine Wanting Only This began as a handful of disparate prose essays,” Radtke told The Huffington Post. “It took me a long time to realize that they were a part of the same project, and longer still to realize that the project would be graphic.”
But she’s long been a fan of the medium; she says her book wouldn’t have been written if it weren’t for Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and cites a slew of other recent favorites in the genre, including Tom Hart’s Rosalie Lightning, Amy Kurzweil’s Flying Couch, Ellen Forney’s Marbles, and Mira Jacob’s forthcoming Good Talk: Conversations I’m Still Confused About.
The author also loves superhero comics, which introduced her to certain graphic storytelling conventions.
“There is a different set of rules for a graphic memoir or literary graphic novel,” Radtke said. “Visual literature offers an immediate grounding that can be helpful for a narrative that may jump around in time and space. We can convey certain things to the reader very quickly — the age of a character, the way she may change through time, the particular and specific elements of place.”
“Plotting and structure is the hardest part of any project for me,” she continued. “In the end it all feels like magic that it comes together at all.”
Magic or not, Radtke’s book is enchanting. Read a chapter-long excerpt below: