In this week’s Illustrated PEN, Guest Editor Whit Taylor presents an excerpt from artist Karl Stevens’s newest book, The Winner.

Taylor writes: Karl Stevens paints an irreverent and unflinchingly honest portrait of the life of an artist in his new graphic novel, The Winner (Retrofit/Big Planet, 2018). Centering the story (and gaze) around his witty and perceptive wife and muse, Alex, Stevens addresses how his work as a cartoonist and painter affects his personal relationships, views on the art world, and sense of self. Books about the artistic struggle are nothing new, but Stevens easily subverts cliches due to his self-awareness, keen observations, and playful explorations of genre tropes, which infuse the story with a wacky dose of magical realism. The Winner is a reflection on the things that keep us anchored to the real world versus the thoughts and behaviors that can challenge our ability to thrive in it. Stevens’s precise, detailed illustrations infuse this at times melancholy story with great beauty, and his pacing helps deliver a laugh at just the right time.


Karl Stevens is an award-winning cartoonist and painter based in Boston. His latest book The Winner is available from Retrofit/Big Planet.