Longtime Sedgwick summer resident Warren Lehrer’s 2013 book, “A Life in Books: The Rise and Fall of Bleu Mobley,” is not a graphic novel, though you’d be forgiven if you looked at the cover and thought it was.
Rather, it’s an illuminated novel. Subtle but important difference.
Lehrer, a graphic artist, journalist and writer who teaches at State University of New York at Purchase and has written a number of other non-fiction books, has created hundreds of original images to enhance the story of Bleu Mobley. And who is Bleu Mobley? Well, he’s not real — he’s Lehrer’s fictional creation — but the story about him that’s contained within the colorful pages of his new novel is engrossing and set amid real historical events.
Lehrer has lived part-time in Maine with his wife, actress Judith Sloan, for more than 20 years. He’s giving a reading that’s equal parts performance and lecture at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 29 in the lecture room at George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill, as part of the GSA Summer Speaker Series.
Lehrer recently spoke with The Bangor Daily News about his character and the story.
So who is Bleu Mobley?
He grew up in Queens, New York, in a housing project. He was on track to be a working-class kid, but he fell in love with the letterpress shop he worked in, and all things to do with letters and books and eventually storytelling. He becomes a reporter for the school newspaper, and then eventually becomes a journalist. He quits his job before he’s fired for non-objective reporting, and then he finds a home in novels. Eventually, he accidentally writes a bestseller. One thing leads to another, he becomes a pop culture pundit and eventually gets arrested for refusing to reveal a confidential source and is thrown in prison. He’s written this book from prison.
Where did this character come from, and why did you choose to tell his story in this manner?
I’ve been working on this book for eight years. It came out of my own experience working in primarily non-fiction. As a journalist, you have a lot of responsibility to get the facts right. I felt this need to have room for invention and experimentation and to get inside of the people I write about. Out of that emerged this character. I had this epiphany that he was in prison, looking back on his life and career, whispering this narrative about the past 40 or 50 years of his life into a cassette recorder. It became this fantastic vehicle for me.
What is the difference between a graphic novel and an “illuminated” novel?
I love some graphic novels, but what I don’t do is draw pictures of the characters to push the story forward. Rather, the images illuminate what’s in the narrative. You can see the letters he’s written as they appeared. You can see the covers of all the books he’s written. It’s visual literature.
How long have you lived in Maine? What brought you here?
It’s been 23 summers, though I did spend one full year here a few years back when I was finishing the book. We came to the Blue Hill area originally because my wife Judith was performing at the Left Bank Cafe in Blue Hill, which is sadly gone now. We fell in love with the area and the people … When I’m here, I spend my time getting work done. I’m inspired by the people here, and some of the book even takes place in Maine. I do manage to play softball with the Holy Mackerels team every Friday. I get work done, but I can be a human being.