From June 5th to July 7th 2016, artist Glynnis Fawkes was in Greece, first working as an illustrator on an archeological excavation, then vacationing with her husband John and her two children, Sylvan and Helen, on the Greek islands of Rhodes, Santorini, and Paros. In Greek Diary she gets it all down in comics form, everything from the pleasure of "nerding out" with fellow academics after a good day's work, to the deep stresses of travel plans gone awry while looking after two strong-willed children. Throughout, Fawkes captures the beauty of the Grecian landscape: the bustle of busy ports, quiet villages baking under the summer sun, and days filled with sightseeing, swimming in the ocean, and lazy pleasure-seeking—interspersed with inevitable bouts of travel fatigue and ordinary family strife. The result is a work that’s more vivid, immersive, and entertaining than any vacation slide show could ever be.
Fawkes' first stop is Kenchreai, where she is tasked with drawing the pottery of the Kenchreai archeological project. Readers will pick up some interesting archeological facts in this section. “Some seasons are full-on excavations,” Fawkes tells us. “But the past few years have been dedicated to processing and publishing.” As to why it is necessary to have drawings of the pottery in addition to photographs, Fawkes informs us that she generally draws fragments, or sherds, and that through her precise drawings it is possible to reconstruct aspects (like stance and diameter) of an object's original shape—aspects that photographs cannot capture. These drawings help archeologists place objects properly in time and space. It is sections like this that underscore Fawkes's decision to keep a comic diary in the first place: it makes sense that someone with such a deep interest in the artifacts of everyday life would feel compelled to preserve her own experiences for posterity.
Eventually Fawkes completes her work on the excavation, and prepares to meet up with John and the children. But an unforeseen passport problem makes the process fraught with tension and worry that the family won't be able to reunite after all. Anyone who has experienced problems with seemingly simple travel logistics in a foreign land will sympathize with Fawkes' predicament here. There's a palpable sense of relief when things ultimately work out and proceed as normal. The rest of the book chronicles the family visit to islands, mostly having fun, but with some conflicts along the way. Helen and Sylvan, true to the fickle nature of pre-adolescents, are largely unimpressed with all the wonders that Greece has to offer and often just want to play games on their iPad. An understanding mom, Fawkes is able to patiently put up with their moods and intractability—though she does have an (understandable) outburst at one point.
Just past the middle section of the book there is a chapter that Fawkes drew back in 2003, in which she recalls meeting her now-husband John on Santorini, and dealing with their growing mutual attraction (John was in a troubled marriage at the time). These pages were drawn on rice paper, with generous use of ink wash. They not only add a new visual element into the mix, but underscore Fawkes’ intensely strong ties to Greece: not only has she traveled and worked there extensively (annually for nineteen years and counting), the land now holds her family memories as well.
Fawkes’ daily comics are sketched quickly in loose line drawings without shading or crosshatching, capturing movement and detail with confidence. The busy daily pages are interspersed with single-page drawings of café visits, and other in-the-moment scenes, along with more carefully depicted studies of ancient pottery, and landscapes. These highlight Fawkes’ skilled draftsmanship, but her line never loses its energy. The book is long and immersive, best read in multiple sittings. There isn’t any real narrative throughline beyond the trip itinerary, but Fawkes' visual and storytelling skills keep it interesting.
Fawkes’ passion for the country and its history is infectious. I had the opportunity to visit the Greek island of Crete for the first time last September and really enjoyed my few days there, but Fawkes’ comics remind me I’ve only scratched the surface. In lieu of a visit, read Greek Diary and experience the country vicariously; these are travel comics with heart and soul.