REVIEW: Maira Kalman and Daniel Handler in the Penny W. Stamps Lecture Series

I say it was confidence: the hidden gem of this university is the Penny W. Stamps Lecture Series.

Every Thursday at 5:10 pm at the Michigan Theater, the School of Art and Design hosts one of the most stimulating, well curated lecture series I’ve ever been to. Not that I am a wide connoisseur of lectures,  but this particular series is, in my opinion, free entertainment– one hundred percent. I may be preaching to the choir since it is a requisite for students of A&D. Even if you do not have a strong proclivity for the arts, the series also runs talks on all kinds of innovation: think cities, sustainability, film, fashion; anything and everything progressive, bright, and mindful.

Last week, Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman, a writer and illustrator respectively, spoke about their newest collaborated work, a nearly-graphic novel called Why We Broke Up. Before I continue, let me just say that you probably know at least one of these artists quite well. Well, your childhood book shelf does. If you were born of the nineties, you surely read A Series of Unfortunate Events, no? Well Daniel Handler is the man behind the madness, the renowned and yet oh so discrete Lemony Snicket.

With a name like Lemony Snicket, I imagined he would be haggled as Count Olaf, his villainous character. But not remotely. Tall and dressed in a suit, he stood beside his artistic counterpart Maira Kalman, an endearing-looking Californian, and worked the crowd from the start to finish. Professional comedy. The dynamic of the two mirrored that of an adorable old married couple (though they are not). They bickered, interrupted, and mocked each other’s habits, but ultimately, their humor exhibited a true sense of camaraderie in the presentation of the work.

Why We Broke Up is about first love. And, as the title reveals, first heart break. The story is told through the illustration of objects. Kalman paints figures that are simultaneously whimsical and stunning with realism. Min, the heart breakee, gives Ed, the heartbreaker, a box of keepsakes that represent their relationship. Each belonging turns a page and gives voice to the tale of their romance. The captions that correlate with each image are written by Handler (the two artists live on opposite coasts and created this work by mailing each other corresponding images and snippets until the book was complete).

This review I am writing makes the lecture sound as though it were morose and heart wrenching when, in fact, the crowd was in hysterics the entire time. At the end of the presentation, audience members filled out a quiz that scored their level of romanticism, responding to questions read aloud such as “Unicorns are special,” and “I like the hair you leave on your hair brush.”

You know, I’m just not getting the humor across in the same way that Handler and Kalman did. They are professionals. Read it from them at the Penny W. Stamps website. And click here to read about upcoming lectures, including this Thursday’s High Line: New York City’s Park in the Sky by Robert Hammond. It’s a talk about the future of urban infrastructure coming to life–should be interesting! My dad, an avid environmentalist, is driving into Ann Arbor to hear the lecture. Afterward, we are getting Earthen Jar. A great father-daughter date. I suggest you do the same with some body; Penny Stamps is a great way to start the weekend!