EVANSTON, Ill. --- When we first meet Northwestern University’s Ozge Samanci in her graphic novel “Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey,” she's an adorable six-year-old who sneaks into her older sister’s elementary school classroom and joyfully slides into the seat beside her.
It’s one of the last times readers see Samanci, now a multi-media artist and assistant professor in the School of Communication, jazzed about school. By the time she's in first grade, Samanci is learning harsh lessons about the Turkish educational system and her country, which was undergoing intense political and social upheaval during the 1980s and '90s.
“It’s the book I would have liked to have read in college,” Samanci said. “I was told I was going to end up in a cubicle with a math degree, but things unfolded in a very different way. Life keeps offering opportunities if you have the openness.”
Since its publication, “Dare to Disappoint” has become a bestseller on Amazon; the English version is selling well in Samanci’s home country of Turkey, where she “has become the year’s most inspiring figure among comic artists, and a subject of intrigue for Turkish magazines, newspapers and budding artists,” according to The New Republic.
Samanci’s work has been described as “whimsical,” “charming” and “full of unorthodox surprises.
Throughout the autobiographical book, she wrestles with relatable and universal conflicts, including fitting in, feelings of failure, family expectations and finding her own voice in a hardline conservative school. It’s also a pivotal time in Turkish history; the country is awkwardly transitioning from a nationalist dictatorship to a Western and Muslim nation obsessed with the television show “Dallas.”
“Dare to Disappoint” emerged from Samanci’s lifelong love for writing and drawing letters for her friends. In 2000, while still living in Turkey, she gave a friend a book of hand-drawn childhood anecdotes as a birthday present. The book was a hit; friends urged her to write an autobiographical graphic novel.
Instead, she launched the webcomic “Ordinary Things,” a daily sketch of everyday life where she developed her comic-collage aesthetic. When she finally started “Dare to Disappoint” in 2009, it took six long years and several revisions to suit American audiences before it was complete.
She primarily uses blues and grays in her work, adding subtle explosions of color for emphasis. Unlike most artists, Samanci avoids the convention of frames; instead the images blend into each other. “It’s a little like memory goes,” she said. “I create a path for the eye of the reader so they don’t get lost.”
For collage, Samanci seeks out unexpected but ordinary materials, which can sometimes create the meaning. The Marmara Sea depicted on the book’s cover was created using a sourdough bread stamp. (Impressions made from healthier breads just didn’t look right.) To make the background of a night sky, Samanci painted paper with mustard and digitally inverted the image. Some nasty characters were set against a background of coffee stains.
“She is a gifted cartoonist with an innate sense of pacing and a seemingly inexhaustible well of ideas for presenting information—the book bursts with maps, diagrams, pasted-in leaves, doodles, and ink stamps,” Dan Kois wrote in Slate.
Though familiar with digital media, Samanci also is skeptical of the way it can make things look mechanical and repetitive. The majority of the book was produced using traditional methods; drawing on paper, painting with watercolor and scanning. “I used the digital medium only for putting the layers together or drawing without the fear of making mistakes,” she said.
Samanci’s work also can be seen in Slate where she designed a rotating logo for the January 2016 Slate Book Review and created eight illustrations for various reviews.