Martin Lemelman on Brooklyn and His Graphic Memoir Two Cents Plain

​Martin Lemelman lived every child's dream. He grew up in the back of a candy store. His experience wasn't all egg creams and lollipops though. The rough neighborhood of Brownsville in Brooklyn, NY, where he was raised, was in decline. Luckily, his life was populated with colorful neighbors and family who provided endless situations to entertain. Those moments are spread throughout his newest graphic memoir Two Cents Plain: My Brooklyn Boyhood

Lemelman captures the challenges, tastes, and smells of a particularly nostalgic time and place for many immigrants through his compelling illustrations. Two Cents Plain offers a firsthand account of the first generation American's experience as the structure of the 1950s evolved into the freeform 1960s. We spoke with Lemelman in advance of his Books & Books event this Wednesday.

Two Cents Plain is a followup to the author's first graphic novel, Mendel's Daughterwhich paints the portrait of his mother's life growing up in Poland and surviving the Holocaust. A successful illustrator, Lemelman has created images for over 30 children's books and other publications, such as Sesame Street Magazine. The author will present his at Books and Books in Bal Harbour on December 29 at 7:30 p.m. Catch our conversation with Lemelman after the jump.

New Times: Growing up, were you a fan of or inspired by comic books? 

Martin Lemelman: In the candy store there was a wall of comics, and I was allowed to read them, but I was never allowed to keep them, because they were for sale. I read them and then I'd have to put them back. Too bad I didn't keep them, because I'd be a millionaire now! 

It was inconceivable, in my parent's life, that their child would be an artist, I became interested in becoming an artist by accident, not so much because of comics, although I loved comics. I couldn't really keep the comics or anything in the store as my own. There were, however, drawers with broken toys and broken things that were of no use, and I would look through them, and I found art materials that were a little bit dried out or broken, like a paint by numbers set and I started drawing and painting and it was just by accident.  
You weren't allowed to keep the comics, but were you allowed to eat the candy?

Since my mother was a Holocaust survivor, one of the major fights I had with her was eating. She would want me to eat anything. It was almost like saying, "No, I don't want anymore." 

Is the book is geared toward an adult audience?

It's both an adult and a teen book, I've had people email me and say they're reading it with their pre-teen, which is ok, but it's more of an adult or teen book.

Do you think that you'll be able to expose a different audience to your story, having written a graphic novel as opposed to a regular novel?

Yeah, well, I think because I'm visually oriented, it wasn't even a question of me doing it as a traditional memoir. I wasn't thinking about it in terms of my audience. Right before I started doing the graphic memoirs, I was doing things for little kids and I did want to expand. It wasn't so much like I was trying to get an audience, I wanted to have a different voice, to expand my voice. 

Who are some graphic novelists you really admire? 

I like Craig Thompson, he did this book Blankets. I love Art Speigelman, the Maus series; I really admire Harvey Pekar and his American Splendor series, and Will Eisner. 

Martin Lemelman will present Two Cents Plain: My Brooklyn Boyhood with visuals and a conversation with the audience at Books and Books in Bal Harbour (9700 Collins Ave. Bal Harbour) on December 29 at 7:30 p.m. Visit

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Liz Tracy has written for publications such as the New York Times, the Atlantic, Refinery29, W, Glamour, and, of course, Miami New Times. She was New Times Broward-Palm Beach's music editor for three years. Now she plays one mean monster with her 2-year-old son and obsessively watches British mysteries.
Contact: Liz Tracy