The Scholarly Banana
The Scholarly Banana is a graphic novel series that summarizes, analyzes, and lovingly ridicules the most outrageous folk tales that have shaped our world. It celebrates the real stories—and the real facts associated with them—as accurately as possible, and in the most joyful way. Think folk tales meets Cliffs Notes meets The Muppets meets Mystery Science Theater 3000. And it’s handmade entirely with clay, moss, and sticks. Oh, and the star is a Banana. He’s a Scholarly Banana, though. You can tell by his glasses.
The book may be digital, but all of the artwork is all handmade. Karly designed each scene, sculpted the characters and props with polymer clay, then photographed and retouched the image to create each illustration. This old-school technique is similar to how classic stop motion animation is made. Except here, there’s no motion. Or animation. It’s all stops.
Karly West is a nerd who makes things for other nerds. She is a former language teacher turned multimedia artist turned author who specializes in sophisticated subjects like fairy tales and Bananas. Karly lives in the rural outskirts of Cleveland with her husband Ben, a lot of books and an ever-growing civilization of clay figurines.
The Scholarly Banana promo Trailer
Sculptures from Fitcher’s Bird
q&a with Karly
Is this series for kids?
Nope. The Scholarly Banana was created especially for teens, college students and adults. The book references crime and violence. I freely talk about serial killers and sexual symbolism. The content is very PG-13 (there’s no cursing and no nudity), but the subject matter is academic and uncensored. I think pre-teens will enjoy the artwork and the crazy story, but the average kid probably won’t understand my humor or the “Scholarly” portions of the book.
Is there a print version available?
Right now it’s ebook only. You can download a sample on Apple Books and Kobo.
Why did you create the scholarly banana?
My interest in folklore studies started in 2002 after reading “The Classic Fairy Tales” by Maria Tatar. After 15+ years of collecting all kinds of books on the subject, I noticed that traditional stories tend to be marketed towards two very different audiences. They’re either aimed at children or at serious academics. I’m neither of those things, and yet my bookshelf is filled with kid’s books and college texts. That doesn’t bother me (hey, I buy books in the kid’s section. I’m not ashamed) but after years of reading the same old book after book I began to wish I had other options.
Children’s fairy tale books are beautifully illustrated and obviously, they’re easy to read. On the flip side, the academic books are packed with fascinating information (these are my favorites) though sometimes they feel too dense and serious for casual reading. I wondered if we could have the best of both worlds?
I thought it would be awesome to combine the uncensored facts and interesting research from the academic texts alongside the art, humor and playfulness of a children’s book. I searched for a book like that, but I never found what I was looking for. At first, I was not planning on making this book myself (I was just a reader hoping to find something cool) but eventually I realized that I was the absolute right person to create it.
My B.A is in education, my professional experience is in the arts (mostly sculpture and photography) and even though I’m not formally schooled in Folklore Studies I’ve been a serious fan of subject for over a decade. As reader, I knew what I was craving, and I knew what the folklore genre was missing. So all this crazy stuff combined became the premise for The Scholarly Banana series. It would be an artistic, friendly, but factual series for the forgotten audience of folklore studies: nerdy adults who want legit information about folk and fairy tales, but they also want to have fun with it.
Is the Banana a boy or a girl?
The Banana is a banana and plays both male and female roles. So whatever you’d like to call “him” (or “her”) you’re absolutely correct.
Growing up, What was your favorite fairy tale?
I loved Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. I thought his Little Red Riding Hood poem was hilarious.
Also, I was a huge fan of The Stinky Cheeseman and Other Fairy Stupid Tales. To my 9 year old self, that book was modern art at its finest. It just felt so avant-garde and unique. I still have my original copy, and I still appreciate how much The Stinky Cheeseman steps outside the box in terms of its humor, book design and the crazy collage artwork.
Also-also, as a kid in the 80’s, I used to rent a video from my local library that featured a 15 minute cartoon called Teeny Tiny and the Witch Woman. Thinking about it now, Teeny Tiny is probably based on an eastern European “Baba Yaga” story. But as a kid, I knew only one thing: this cartoon scared the bejeezus out of me! Oddly enough, this made me even more interested in watching it, thus becoming a self-inflicted cycle of terror that lasted throughout my childhood (I had the same relationship with The Neverending Story, btw). FYI: Teeny Tiny and the Witch Woman is on YouTube! And I can report that 30 years later, everything about it is still terrifying as crap. Go check it out. I dare you.
What’s your favorite fairy tale today?
The Juniper Tree (the Grimm Brothers)
When is the next The Scholarly Banana book coming out?
I’m working on the second issue now. The plan is to release it before Christmas (2019).