How well do we know our loved ones? That questions burns with many, especially those children of parents reticent to share their most personal, life-changing experiences. Such was the case with Carol Tyler, an artist who wanted to know more about what her father experienced in World War II. Like many of his generation, Chuck Tyler kept his experiences overseas shrouded in the past, something rarely discussed, even with his fellow servicemen. That all changed one day when, unexpectedly, he contacted Carol and said he was ready to talk.
Carol was undergoing her own personal war at the time. In the process of a painful separation, Carol was emotionally raw. Her book, You’ll Never Know, delves deep into the recesses of human memory and what we choose to share with each other, laying bare the connections and experiences that define who we are—whether we choose to make them known or not.
Those of us who are children of World War II vets are often unaware of what our fathers went through in the war—and perhaps we’ll never know just how much we’ll never know about them. How great is the sense of history that you think is missing from not knowing the full story of the war?
I think it is a huge, huge loss to us and to humanity, not knowing the full extent of that war through their experiences. How different our lives would be had we had that information. In terms of the historical record, have you been to a library? Considering their numbers, there are so few books about the grunts, dogfaces, soldiers—in other words, our dads. Thank goodness for the Library of Congress and Senator Lugar’s Veteran’s History Project.
At the same time, it makes perfect sense for that generation to be reticent. How much can we truly understand about what they went through?
There are many levels of knowing. The factual events attached to service, the tour of duty, etc. But it’s the emotion that comes through in small, tender moments that lead to understanding. It’s been hard for them to allow that since they have been so all walled up inside. And you’re right, it is a generational thing. They were taught to be that way.
What surprised you the most about the time and the way in which your father decided to open up to you about his experiences?
It surprised me that it was so out of the blue and that it didn’t appear to be connected to any event or milestone in particular. It came from his internal need. And also, I had been the official family pipsqueak for so long that of course I was shocked that he chose to call and tell me. I wondered, was it my love of history, perhaps? Or maybe my being so darned sensitive. I guess he figured I’d get it.
Have you thought about how your relationship with and understanding of your father changed before and after the events of this book?
Absolutely I have. Right now he’s so happy to have the attention, which is what I wanted for him. And he looks to me like his army buddy, which involves even more cussing than usual. Being able to talk to someone about it, someone he knows—that’s a relief, to be sure! So he sees me as his conduit to things that bring him happiness. But he can still be a cranky old fart pissing everyone off. That’s the guy I’m familiar with.
This is the first book in a planned trilogy. How do you see subsequent volumes unfolding?
Part of my brain can clearly see the plot unfolding, but I cannot adequately explain due to the intuitive components attached to the emotion involved. And it’s getting harder and harder to sit down and draw because of those emotional factors. But basically, the five main characters will go through some pretty rough stuff in terms of facing and dealing with their issues on the way to finding their better selves. All I can say is stay tuned and I hope nobody is disappointed.
Tell us about how you colored this book and gave it its remarkable look.
I chose to use colored inks completely for every mark, instead of the black line trap method with colored pencils or watercolor for fill. And I also chose not to use arty computer programs. I’m not saying I didn’t use Photoshop. I had to during post-production to fix flaws. But for the most part, every mark was made with a pen point or sable brush, dipped into a bottle of colored ink thousands of times over. My idea of fun! I get those watercolor effects by diluting the inks gently.
What brought this book to life for you now, at this time?
I felt like I had to tell it now with Dad being his age and how I feel so sad about that generation passing. I really always felt safe and worry-free as long as those old hard-boiled eggs were in place, making decisions and not leaning on me emotionally as a burden.
What got you interested in comics at first?
I was painting these huge canvases in the ’70s and ’80s that contained recognizable imagery. This was during the time when using images on a canvas was a complete no-no. And then with each painting, there would be the accompanying title card where I would add this elaborate narrative. Then the narrative cards got bigger than the pictures themselves! So then I decided what the hell, just tell the story flat-out. I was never much of a comics fan growing up. My motives came more from needing to say something specific with my art.
What makes it a viable medium now for you to tell nonfiction in?
Comics seemed like the right format and right medium to tell these stories. You’ll Never Know is a trilogy, and when that’s done, maybe then I’ll get back to being a painter again, which I think means making single panel pictures with color. Wait, that’s what I do now, but with more panels and words added. This wordsmith has a list of stories yet to tell. There’s my journal from 1964 about seeing The Beatles called 37 Minutes of Madness, and then I’ve got my sister’s book to illustrate (about her daughter’s autism). And then there are all my thoughts about this diverse neighborhood where I live. That story’s called Tomatoes. And then there’s…