The Reason She Left

The Reason She Left & Other Stories 

by Kristen Baumgardner Caven 
ISBN: 978-1-4515-8781-4

At last, the “Graphic Novelties” readers were teased with in Perfectly Revolting are all collected in one volume!
Includes the princess dream story, the Atomic Comic, martial arts advice, and of course the rare philosophical comic, The Reason She Left!
(Little Pig Productions, 2011)   Bookshop | Indiebound | Amazon | Scribd

Comic books and philosophy don’t usually mix, but during her “drawn out” college career, wannabe philosopher Kristen Baumgardner Caven often used cartooning to medicate “the pain in her brain.” In her new collection of full-page works, she has danced around the edge of the autobiographical comic genre, and may have just opened up new territories in sequential art.

Seven short graphic stories exploring themes like the scientific process, eastern/western world views, humanism, existential crises, lit-crit, post-modernism, dualism, feminism, alcoholism, pop culture, dreams, and cosmic consciousness unfold in a journey of discovery around the centerpiece, a 30-page graphic novel called The Reason She Left. This quirky but powerful narrative of ideas follows a college student on a quest to find her own beliefs and identity as a woman with a brain and a heart that desperately want to unite. Each graphic story is introduced by a short personal essays in which the author shares her adventures with the craft, her life, and building a personal philosophy by understanding the ideas of others. The Reason She Left and Other Stories is the follow-up to Caven’s memoir, Perfectly Revolting: My Glamorous Cartooning Career.

The Reason She Left was made possible by Dr. Richard Gray at Mills College, with inspiration from and conversation with Barbara Roseman, the patience of Eric Sanford, and a lost dream of St. John’s College. The Olsens have nothing in common with my real family. A jam on Barthes, Borges, DeBeauvoir, Eco, Levi- Strauss, Joyce, Kafka, Kazantzakis, and of course, Christa Wolfe. Yes, that’s Shaquille O’Neal referenced in the intro. 

Summary of The Reason She Left:

Nettie Olsen feels like a stranger in the Citadel of Reason, a place where logic rules over impulse, light over darkness, and all positive dualities dominate the negatives. Which would be all right. except Nettie’s upbringing has led her to believe that being born female means being born on the wrong side of the equation. She leaves home and school in confusion, and is lost until she meets a new friend. Bear gives her a make-over on the outside with a haircut, and the inside by helping her think through her discouraging ideas, untangling the language of perception.
When Nettie’s brother Ricky arrives to visit on his way to join the Army, Nettie and her friends bring him into their intellectual world and challenge his beliefs about patriotism and war. Reid, a kung fu scholar and master chef, helps both siblings balance their attitudes, and with him, Nettie feels her own importance and opens up to the possibility of equality-based love.
Nettie’s story symbolizes and illuminates the journey of thought taken by feminism and creation spirituality, reclaiming the human spirit from damaging burden of dualism. The conversation-driven plot leaves plenty of room for humor in this crash course in pop-culture and post-modernism.
The stories that surround The Reason She Left—The Atomic ComicKiDo Comix, Lit-Crit Love in Po-Mo Times, My Life as a Cat, Not Another Fairy Tale, and Ego-Sum — and the essays that provide the eye a break between them — support and surround the larger opus, creating a fascinating path through a certain life of the mind.

Reader Reviews

“Kristen’s struggle to find the meaning of life is palpable and her commitment is clear. She should have a syndicated cartoon that explores the continuing saga of our Age of Change. Her insights on the holes in duality and the wholeness of unity are valuable.” — Sylvia Clute, author of Beyond Vengeance, Beyond Duality: A Call for a Compassionate Revolution

“Every bit as entertaining, funny, and challenging to the brain as Larry Gonnick.” —Damian Nash, award-winning high school teacher and Creative/Gifted specialist

“You know that thing? That special quality that literature brings to making a point? The thing that distinguishes good narrative from essay? Sometimes it makes sense just to come out and say it, make the point; but it’s so much more delicious when a writer can take you for the ride and you can see it coming and absorb it in context. That’s when sincerity meets reason and defines poignant. Now stir in some self-deprecating humor, leave out the purple prose, and illustrate with love. This special greatness that Kristen Baumgardner Caven brings to her work makes it precious, quirky, and cute – but without ever sacrificing meaning.Would Plato have used graphics if he’d had some decent software? I kinda think so.” —Ransom Stephens, author of The God Patent
The Reason She Left is a funny, intelligent, wise and wholly original book. You’ll never see anything quite like it. The author is equal parts author, artist and humorist, all combined with marvelous effect. She tackles some serious subject matter – for example, the limits of analytical reason in the pursuit of knowledge (this is the double meaning of the “Reason” she left behind) – but does it with such a light touch that it is great fun to read. How better to approach life journeys and philosophy than with cartooning and laugh-out-loud wit? Current or former students of St. John’s College – the “Great Books School” – will especially enjoy this book, with it’s knowing references to the school and it’s curriculum. But it goes beyond the school – well beyond. It’s a true pleasure watching the main character wind her way through the world, learning, growing, always playful and a little wacky. The author has a open-minded, alternative way of seeing the world that is so refreshing. She avoids the cynicism of so many cartoonists, and instead embraces the best kind of humor – the kind that is hilarious but hurts nobody. The book is a suprise and a delight. Highly recommended! —Jennifer Flynn, artist

“The Reason She Left: and other stories” by Kristen Baumgardner Caven is unlike anything else you have ever read. Part graphic novel, part autobiography, part philosophical musing, the comics in this collection read much like a visual illustration of the reader’s thought processes at one time or another. From the quest for self-discovery that fuels the title comic, to relatable illustrations of otherwise complicated philosophical theory and even fairytale princesses reimagined into fencing feminists, readers are both prompted to think about and able to easily relate to each illustration and speech bubble. A quick overview of the stories contained within:

  • A Brief History of the Atomic Theory begins with a cute caveman/dinosaur comic that evolves over a several pages into man wondering and musing about particles and the stuff that makes up the world around us in a manner that actually won’t put you to sleep the way a research paper might.
  • Ki-Do Comics cover the basics of T’ai Chi and posture in the span of a few pages that would be helpful literature for anyone considering martial arts classes.
  • Six True Stories (or, my life as a cat) explores the human connection to furry friends with humor and stories that any animal lover will appreciate and likely relate to (how many of us as little girls spent entire days reading horse stories, after all?)
  • In God’s Country explores the urge to (sometimes literally) write one’s name on the world.
  • The Reason She Left is worth flipping to the middle of the book to read before anything else. The longest of the comics in this book, this story will pull you into one young woman’s adventure of self-discovery with characters you want to become friends with and an illustration of why it’s important to carve one’s own path in the world.
  • Not Exactly a Fairy Tale is a re-imagined Cinderella story that this reader wants to see stretched across the entire genre of fairytale princess stories: princesses who practice kung fu and fencing and “went their own way.”
  • Ego Sum is an interactive comic which does a surprisingly thorough job of explaining a big concept on one page and entirely without words.

The Reason she Left and Other Stories is an entertaining, informative, and thought provoking read that anyone will enjoy. Not only for feminists, philosophers, or animal lovers, this graphic novel provides a breathe of fresh air from the linear narrative usually found in the genre and will prompt your own thoughts and creative process in new ways.” —Katrina Gaines, poet and blogger

Picture 27
book launch at Isotope in San Francisco

“It’s great! It’s very unusual. It was like reading a book and the funny papers at the same time.” —Dr. Richard Luibrand, Chemistry Professor Emeritus, CSUH

“It’s awesome, and so different from anything I’ve ever read! I participated in the second wave of feminism, and sometimes when I look around me now, it’s unclear whether the philosophical bases took hold. How refreshing to experience the growing-up story of another woman pondering similar questions from the perspective of a younger generation!”— Libby Comeaux, writer, former judge Program Coordinator Center for Earth Jurisprudence

“Kristen Caven brings the disciplined imagination of a thousand ballerinas and the incisive wit of a Gary Larson to her graphic essays on life, love, education, and the real meaning of everything. Hers is a decidedly woman’s vision and voice – a woman who has come of age, with full awareness of how she got there.”— Libby Comeaux, Earth Jurisprudence Activist

“Brava, brava, Kristen Caven! You have given us a lot to think about, look back upon – and peer into the future for!” — Libby Comeaux
“Remarkable how this author can use the medium of cartooning to address profound subjects and issues, beginning with the ingenious and tantalizing double-meaning of the title. Yet with the art that conceals Art, she deftly avoids the treacherous shoals of ponderous intellectual exposition. When I someday re-read this book, it is reasonable to suppose that it shall take me even longer to get through. I feel certain this shall be worth the time.” —Daniel Finnamore, classical pianist

12 thoughts on “The Reason She Left

  1. Pingback: Kristen Caven
  2. Your work sounds wonderful! What years did you study Creation Spirituality?
    I am also a Mills author and have a chapter about Matthew Fox in my memoir. I am looking for Beta readers.
    Interested? Please contact me. I’d love to chat with you and support your work how ever I can.

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