life comes at you fast sometimes with MAJOR CHANGES that arent necessarily desired or planned for in advance. such is the case in THE FALL OF HOMUNCULUS (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 1998) comic by FINNISH graphic novelist PENTTI OTSAMO with a NARRATIVE that centers around the PSYCHIC and INTER-RELATIONAL REPERCUSSIONS that come with an UNEXPECTED PREGNANCY for a YOUNG couple.
not that id know firsthand since ive never had a CHILD. the very idea of it, especially of the UNPLANNED variety is the stuff of PERSONAL NIGHTMARES. just the UNBRIDLED RESPONSIBILITY of it all and the gravity of bringing another HUMAN into the world. i figure that if circumstances dictated at some future point that i participated in that entire enterprise, id at the very least like to be PREPARED in advance as much as possible. or is that NAIVE?
in THE FALL OF HOMUNCULUS you have a YOUNG woman who is intuitively in touch with her NATURAL SURROUNDINGS as she loves to garden and explores THEMES surrounding such in her figurative artwork. even after her MISCARRIAGE she maintains a GENERAL FAITH in the JUSTICE of a GREATER COSMIC ORDER. in her way of thinking, that PAINFUL EXPERIENCE was not a complication of her life's trajectory, but rather a TEACHER providing INSIGHT into how NATURE operates and earning her some HARD-WON SELF-KNOWLEDGE. this is complete contrast to her male partner who views the pregnancy as an OBSTACLE to maintaining a CAREFREE lifestyle in which he can get blackout drunk at parties and have ANONYMOUS sex while in said stupor. just the height of IMMATURITY and RECKLESSNESS in the face of ADULT RESPONSIBILITY. its an INTRIGUING inter-personal dynamic that doesnt seem particularly NOVEL or UNBELIEVABLE. you really wonder how many couples maintain a SIMILAR TOXIC DYNAMIC. you also realize quickly the SOCIETAL WEIGHT put on women during this period and the cultural expectations that dont always pressure men to account in a similar manner.
in ALCHEMY there is a notion of creating a HOMUNCULUS of oneself, that is, manufacturing a fully formed DIMINUITIVE version which often reveals some UNKNOWN ASPECT OF ONESELF. often a SHADOW VERSION or one with EXAGGERATED features and behaviors that lend to the creator learning more about their own human frailties. this feels like an apt METAPHOR for the unborn child at the center of OTSAMO's NARRATIVE. up until its MISCARRIAGE, this fetus provided VALUABLE INSIGHT into the TRUE NATURES and personalities of the couple and their STRAINED relationship to one another. its fall and demise reveals their MISGIVINGS and INABILITIES to function as a COHERENT UNIT.
THE FALL OF HOMUNCULUS is a bit OBLIQUE and NARRATIVELY CUMBERSOME in places, but i felt it was a highly AFFECTING PARRABLE about the DUAL NATURE of human SELFISHNESS and ALTRUISM. definitely worth checking out.
the POIGNANT graphic novel OIL AND WATER (FANTAGRAPHICS, 2011) which examines the CUMULATIVE DESTRUCTION of both HURRICANE KATRINA in 2005 and the DEEPWATER HORIZON oil spill in 2010 on the ECONOMY, ECOSYSTEM and WAY-OF-LIFE of NEW ORLEANS and the surrounding marshes and wetlands of the bayou is a COLLABORATIVE effort between JOURNALIST STEVE DUIN of THE OREGONIAN and ILLUSTRATOR SHANNON WHEELER of THE NEW YORKER. its narrative centers around a group of WELL-MEANING ACADEMICS, OFFICIALS and REPORTERS from OREGON who visited the LOUISIANA COAST in august 2010 in the immediate aftermath of the DEEPWATER HORIZON CALAMITY (which ended in september 2010) to bear witness to the DEVASTATION as well as document the response.
what becomes all-too OBVIOUS in the midst of this cataloguing is the MONUMENTAL scale of the PROBLEM and the ABJECT FUTILITY in both attempting to repair the DAMAGE and addressing the GREED that spurred it into being in the first place, not just by BRITISH PETROLEUM, but by the greater POLITICAL and BUSINESS INTERESTS of the REGION over GENERATIONS. the FRUSTRATING INTRACTABILITY of the PROBLEM is just STUPEFYING and our COLLECTIVE CULPABILITY in incentivizing such CAVALIER risk-taking is clear as day. this will prove to be a continuing ENVIRONMENTAL SCOURGE for GENERATIONS to come as the unleashed oil continues to silently adversely affect FRAGILE WILDLIFE ECOSYSTEMS.
i believe DUIN and WHEELER made an ADROIT decision in presenting this material through the first-hand accounts of not only the visiting OREGONIANS, but also the local RESIDENTS and FISHERMAN who lived through both DISASTERS. in this manner you get an outside and inside perspective on the depths of how these NATURAL and MAN-MADE CALAMITIES profoundly alter WAYS-OF-LIFE and LOCAL CULTURE that previously spanned GENERATIONS. you also get the sense that we are all SUSCEPTIBLE to such given the changing state of the climate that is rooted in our collective INSATIABLE ADDICTION to fossil fuels. in LOUISIANA, that MASSIVE REVENUE generated by the PETROLEUM INDUSTRY is the root of the PROBLEM and there are no easy solutions.
walking away from this graphic novel, it just feels like and INDICTMENT on humanity's INABILITY to find balance with the NATURAL WORLD. we extract RESOURCES and create value for our SHAREHOLDERS, but at who's expense? our own and the VOICELESS future generations that have to wade through this SHIT. and oil if you live near the DELTA. OIL AND WATER is a MISERABLE but POIGNANT graphic novel well worth checking out.
a 17th-century SAILOR is abandoned at SEA on an EFFECTIVE DEATH SENTENCE when he comes in contact with a MERMAID, an ALLURING harbinger of his own impending DEMISE. JULIA GFRÖRER's AFFECTING graphic novel BLACK IS THE COLOR (FANTAGRAPHICS, 2013) explores the SEDUCTIVE possibilities equated with DEATH and one's own MORTALITY.
for the ship's captain, faced with dwindling supplies, the CRUEL solution of abandoning two of his crew to their DOOM at SEA is an easy decision made on purely UTILITARIAN LOGIC. their SACRIFICE will effectively allow others to live. such are the HARSH REALITIES of life on the water. lost alone at SEA on a dinghy (his partner died shortly thereafter to the elements), the SAILOR is confronted by a MERMAID who visits him at nighttime and eventually seduces him shortly before his DEATH. somewhere else the ship he left catches fire from lightning killing all on board. what is INTRIGUING is not the narrative of all this DESTRUCTION itself, but the BLASE, JADED manner in which a gaggle of MERMAIDS discuss the victims and their IMPENDING DOOM. they treat the victims at a distance and talk of them almost as if they were part of a police lineup, discussing their physical features and their relative value to them based on such. this is an INVERSION of how SAILORS are portrayed in literature speaking of SIRENS and their SEDUCTIVE PROWESS. here the victimized SAILORS are just potential trysts to be used and discarded. rinse and repeat.
this dynamic seems to be a METAPHOR of both the UNFORGIVING NATURE of the PHYSICAL WORLD and its ABSOLUTE INDIFFERENCE to the collective efforts, trials and tribulations of humanity. the MERMAIDS in this narrative represent that sense of DETACHMENT, both PHYSICAL and EMOTIONAL, of the NATURAL ORDER from the needs of mankind. by the example of the lost SAILOR at SEA making love to MERMAID, we see that such distance is truly only traversed in the throngs of passing along into another plane of existence, of departing the NATURAL REALM in DEATH. the REAL INTIMACY is the reclaiming of one's physical remains back into the grip of NATURE and utilized to her own ends in the NEVER-ENDING chain system of atoms being REPURPOSED, REORGANIZED and RE-CONTEXTUALIZED in PERPETUITY. the idea that we are not separate from NATURE, but a manifestation of it. too often mankind identifies itself in contrast to the ENVIRONMENT and its processes, but such is SHORT-SIDED and WRONG. NATURE is always in control and back to her embrace we will inevitably return, on her terms not ours, much like the RUINOUS and DESTRUCTIVE AMOROUS advances of a MERMAID.
BLACK IS THE COLOR is quite the achievement. even in this translated version (original is in FRENCH), the narrative implications of the theme surrounding DEATH is PROFOUND and deeply THOUGHT-PROVOKING. definitely worth checking out.
loving stylized to evoke the MODERNIST ARCHITECTURE, GRAPHIC and INDUSTRIAL DESIGN of the first half of the 20th century, the POIGNANT graphic novel WHITE RAPIDS (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2007) by FRENCH-CANADIAN illustrator/graphic novelist PASCAL BLANCHET depicts the REAL-LIFE rise and fall of a company town created to oversee the maintenance and day-to-day operations of a nearby private HYDRO-ELECTRIC POWER STATION well north of MONTREAL on the SAINT-MAURICE RIVER. conceived and built in the 1920s when the area was largely wilderness, the town of RAPIDE BLANCHE by the late 1960s due to INFRASTRUCTURE efforts was integrated into MODERN society to the point that its existence was deemed OUTMODED, closing its doors by the early 1970s after CANADA nationalized its electric grid and consolidated the parent company into its fold.
the romance of the period is evocatively portrayed with lyrical references to BIG BAND JAZZ and streamlined illustrations of BUILDINGS, ROADS and CARS that evoke the work of ED RUSCHA and his REVERED ADVERTISING-influenced depictions of GAS STATIONS. with BLANCHET's illustrations you get a VIVID sense of the PALPABLE OPTIMISM of this halcyon era when new TECHNOLOGY, of both the INDUSTRIAL and CONSUMER VARIETY, provided improvements in lifestyle that allowed for an appreciation of life and nature that ironically dovetailed with the latter being rained in by such. over time what was once NOVEL became ROUTINE and then rendered IRRELEVANT. this self-contained village was made an ANACHRONISM by the forward march of TECHNOLOGICAL PROCESS that allowed the operations of the dam to be conducted by REMOTE AUTOMATION and maintenance through day trips to the site. RAPIDE BLANCHE was a victim of its own SUCCESS. that OPTIMISM in essence fed on itself in an act of SELF-CANNIBALIZATION.
its difficult to take in the example of the COMMUNITY of RAPIDE BLANCHE and not expand such out to our present day when new TRANSFORMATIVE TECHNOLOGIES ranging from MRNA VACCINES, ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, CRISPR GENE EDITING, ELECTRIC VEHICLES and even PRESCRIPTION WEIGHT LOSS REMEDIES like OZEMPIC and WEGOVY are set to radically affect not only the future trajectory of our economy, but also our COLLECTIVE RELATIONSHIP to one another and our basic individual sense of IDENTITY. when emerging new technological capacities are inevitably rendered PEDESTRIAN and UNREMARKABLE, something about ourselves quietly dies along with that PROCESS and WHITE RAPIDS strikingly details such. OPPORTUNITY and INNOVATION leads inescapably to expectation and ultimately AUTOMATION. i am not convinced that BLANCHET is necessarily NOSTALGIC for the cultural trappings of the period so eloquently evoked in WHITE RAPIDS, but maybe he is slightly for that sense of buoyant CONFIDENCE and CAMARADERIE that came with exploring and leveraging COMMUNITY and big ideas to affect change (in this case, taming a river and its HAZARDOUS rapids for the public good). by comparison today the scale of our TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATIONS seem more PAROCHIAL and MARKET-DRIVEN, which allows for more excuses concerning value creation on the behalf of the interests of SHAREHOLDERS and an INVESTMENT CLASS rather than the betterment of a COMMUNITY at large. progress moves forward but with the advent of the INTERNET and SOCIAL MEDIA our sense of AGENCY in the mix seems DIMINUTIVE and ever more PRECARIOUS. paradoxically we seem to live in a smaller world as TECHNOLOGY expands ever outward.
WHITE RAPIDS is most definitely a COMPELLING graphic novel that deals with deep issues in an EFFICIENT manner that parallels its STREAM-LINED illustrative style. definitely worth checking out.
published on a faux notepad complete with graph paper, ADRIAN TOMINE's graphic novel THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE CARTOONIST (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2020) is a personal narrative about coming to grips with life's SLIGHTS and HUMILIATIONS and appreciating the greater picture of securing MEANING and DIRECTION in FAMILY.
TOMINE recounts how being an OBSESSIVE comic book fan from a very early age informed not only his IDENTITY but the manner in which he engaged with the OUTSIDE WORLD. in a sense, the WORLD of literature and graphic novels from the author's PERSPECTIVE is likened to that of an INTERNAL dialogue in a waking DREAM-LIKE WORLD of one's own creation. its comforting to spend time in such a place, even as a reader, that has recognizable rules of engagement, unlike the real WORLD. being HAZED and effectively OSTRACIZED as an ASIAN-descent kid in RURAL WHITE-BREAD FRESNO didnt help matters either. if anything it intensified the need to escape into the welcoming FANTASY realm of comics. what is INTERESTING about THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE CARTOONIST is how it collapses that childhood narrative arc related to survival with his TOMINE's career post-success and his CONFLICTED need for approval, ADMIRATION and ACCEPTANCE by the greater comic book COMMUNITY as an adult. at times it felt like an activity that was so PERSONAL for him was utilized as a cudgel to bat him over the head with by naysayers and the industry itself. much of this graphic novel is a catalogue of sorts related to these SLIGHTS and HUMILIATIONS, some private, others public, that TOMINE took the brunt of as a MATURING ADULT with MARRIAGE and CHILDREN to think about.
thinking that he is about to die, he learns that nothing related to the craft or OBSESSIVE goal projecting of his career as a comic book writer and illustrator mattered to him. at all. his thoughts were purely about his two DAUGHTERS and his WIFE.
ive had the pleasure of working overseas in ALBANIA, JAPAN, VENEZUELA and MYANMAR as an international school teacher instructing secondary language arts classes. being abroad for over a decade gave me time to think about my home country at a distance and how so much of our IDENTITY is tacked on to our economic success, i.e. our perceived ATTRACTIVENESS as a potential romantic partner, our VALUE as RESPECTED member of SOCIETY; all seems to be established by our economic status. much like how TOMINE allows himself to be personally defined by the FLUID and FICKLE (and largely INCORRECT) perceptions of others, such is also how ive experienced life as a former lowly paid secondary teacher. it was a war i fought by myself as it was a DEHUMANIZING VALUE SYSTEM that i did everything to not internalize even if it felt that the outside WORLD had. being an EMPATH and a NURTURER who EMPOWERED his students was what i VALUED in myself, even if such wasnt how i was being evaluated by superiors.
this book took me back to how we all have to find our own CORE sense of SELF and a VALUE SYSTEM that works for us and cannot be invaded by the OUTSIDE WORLD. i think TOMINE found such in THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE CARTOONIST with his love of FAMILY. in the same way that writer ALLAN SILLITOE a generation or two before found in the INCARCERATED character COLLIN SMITH in his screenplay for the film THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE RUNNER (BRITISH LION, 1962), who counteracts the BORSTAL SYSTEM of JUVENILE DETENTION wreaked on the WORKING CLASS in ENGLAND at the time. his rebellion is as much about one of asserting their personal autonomy as it is about countermining the equally PUNITIVE mental prison that is class consciousness in BRITISH SOCIETY. in both examples a PALPABLE sense of PERSONAL IDENTITY is rooted in an ALTERNATIVE VALUE SYSTEM that emboldens the INDIVIDUAL and deflects against SOCIETAL forces.
THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE CARTOONIST is an INCREDIBLE read and a THOUGHT-PROVOKING examination of what motivates as CREATIVE individuals tying to find LOVE and ACCEPTANCE in a seemingly COLD and INDIFFERENT environment, both PHYSICAL and MENTAL.
originally published as issue #22 in the EIGHTBALL series, the graphic novel ICE HAVEN (PANTHEON, 2005) by CELEBRATED ALTERNATIVE COMICS cartoonist DANIEL CLOWES is a compelling KALEIDOSCOPIC depiction of an AMERICAN small town's inhabitants with interweaving personal narratives that sometimes resolve and other times continue onward unabated such as is the case in real life. LOVE, DEATH, LOSS, MARRIAGE, SEX and DIVORCE find their way into one's life trajectory much as JEALOUSY, PRIDE, ART, PARANOIA, HISTORY and PREJUDICE do as well. CLOWES' makes CLEVER use of differing art styles in his panels to represent the UNIQUE worldview and perspective of different said inhabitants, whether they be INNOCENT children or SCHEMING adults.
in many ways, this narrative experiment at the heart of ICE HAVEN reminds me of the IDIOSYNCRATIC DAVID BYRNE film TRUE STORIES (WARNER BROS, 1986) and how said film juxtaposes various aspects of RURAL TEXAN life and CULTURE without editorializing or passing judgment on the subject. BYRNE throughout is just a PASSIVE observer providing brief glimpses on the then rapid industrial expansion of the microchip industry and its effects on the landscape and how such informed how inhabitants viewed and identified themselves. with ICE HAVEN, CLOWES has a comic critic embedded in the mix who acts as a GREEK chorus, providing UN-AUTHORITATIVE insight and commentary on the action at hand. this is a distracting device of sorts and CLOWES' actual opinion is never elucidated specifically to the reader. it is just another voice to add to the mix.
and that is ultimately how i see this graphic novel in general, as in INTERESTING composite shot of a community, warts and all. there are some people with AMBITION with good intentions and others set to EXPLOIT circumstances to their own benefit in completely BAD FAITH, just like in real life. i dont get the feeling that CLOWES is making any META-COMMENTARY on specific aspects of modern AMERICAN LIFE, more just attempting to showcase the mechanizations of it and for the reader to get a sense of how the pieces potentially fit together.
ICE HAVEN is an INTRIGUING achievement and well worth checking out.
CECIL AND JORDAN IN NEW YORK STORIES (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2009) is a collection of graphic short stories by BRITISH-AMERICAN ALTERNATIVE cartoonist GABRIELLE BELL. most of these narratives deal with the INTERIOR LIVES of young women as they navigate the ADULT WORLD and the pressures of maintaining friendships and the looming threat of INDEPENDENCE and RESPONSIBILITY. at times this is expressed through the realistically-depicted REBELLIOUS actions of characters while at others wild and FLABOYANT IMAGININGS and SPRAWLING IDEATIONS of fancy that fly far from any NATURAL depiction of REALITY. the through line that roots and connects the narratives together is a EMOTIONAL grounding in the characters' reactions. even if the plot is in essence quite a bit FANTASTICAL. it should also be noted that parts of CECIL AND JORDAN IN NEW YORK STORIES were the basis for the MICHEL GONDRY section in the anthology film TOKYO! (COMMES DE CINEMAS, 2008), himself no stranger to all CREATIVE things WONDROUS and ABSURD.
i think for anyone that survived adolescence it is nearly IMPOSSIBLE to not remember a time when one's IMAGINATION could serve as a distraction from the COLD, SOBER REALITIES that surrounded them. for me that vehicle of escape was film, travel, art and especially music. for others it is the wondrous capacity of literature that can allow for a temporary respite from reality while also helping one redefine such in an ALTERNATE UNIVERSE and HEADSPACE. it is that TRANSCENDENT power that individual EXPRESSION provides which helps us SELF-IDENTITY and modify our working BELIEF STRUCTURE. for me listening to SKINNY PUPPY, MASSIVE ATTACK or THE CARS allows me to channel different aspects of my IDENTITY and helps alleviate STRESS and provide CLARITY on a current situation. or perhaps distract me from such temporarily. reading through BELL's short stories gives me that same sense of individual adventure in enjoying the process of BECOMING. that sense when one is an adolescent of transitioning into a person you are not familiar with just yet as your introduction to your FUTURE SELF is just beginning.
i think BELL very much brings that feeling of emerging IDENTITY come to life throughout these short narratives. definitely recommended.
FRIENDSHIPS and ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS are prone to change and ultimately ATROPHY, much like the universe and its accelerated cosmic expansion that leaves us all ISOLATED and devoid of meaningful interaction. or such is the underlying guiding principle at play in the graphic novel OUR EXPANDING UNIVERSE (TOP SHELF PRODUCTIONS, 2015) by ALEX ROBINSON, which follows the changes that CHILDBIRTH brings to the FRIENDSHIP of three men in their late thirties as they navigate RESPONSIBILITY and the quickly changing demands put on them by their PARTNERS. what feels like a DRIFTING APART and reordering of priorities is actually just the natural evolution of a healthy functioning adult.
in this narrative there are two extremes presented.
one of the three male FRIENDS is a confirmed bachelor with no long term ROMANTIC PROSPECTS on the horizon. TALKATIVE with numerous pet theories and prone to OVER-INTELLECTUALIZE just about anything, this dude does not have to implement his concepts into actual practice through any kind of MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIP and is basically reliving a younger version of himself who smokes pot and seemingly plays XBOX all day. he never has to be truly VULNERABLE and thus make any meaningful GROWTH as a person.
another of the three males is married with two CHILDREN but has cheated on his wife at least twice. this is due to his perceived sexual needs that cannot be provided by a PARTNER who has physically CHANGED due to the EXTREME demands of childbirth. though economically stable as a teacher and nurturing and THOUGHTFUL as a supposed model of adult RESPONSIBILITY, his HYPOCRISY showcases the DOUBLE STANDARD of how men and women perceive their POWER in RELATIONSHIPS and how such alters over time and with the addition of CHILDREN in the mix.
its an interesting mix since the third male friend is basically navigating the impending birth of his DAUGHTER with his PARTNER with these two DYSFUNCTIONAL models of TROUBLED MASCULINITY. seemingly the glue in this close-knit group of friends, he is EMOTIONALLY AVAILABLE and somewhat NONJUDGMENTAL about their SHORTCOMINGS. he is EMPATHETIC to a point and makes his own life decisions related to his FAMILY informed but INDEPENDENT of their opinion. and i think such a dynamic is HEALTHY. its not indicative of a loss of supposed INTIMACY over time or the atrophying of the cosmic order as our collective FATE, it is a man growing into his own decision-making process as his PERSPECTIVE and RESPONSIBILITIES expand.
i personally have never had a CHILD but have been around people my age who have going back twenty years. i can only begin to imagine and appreciate the significance of such a TRANSFORMATIVE experience as CHILDBIRTH and the manner in which such an UNCONDITIONAL RESPONSIBILITY responsibility must have for one's sense of IDENTITY and relationship to the outside world. i have witnessed FRIENDS and FAMILY transition gracefully into such a role and others struggle. but at its core i never felt that such a transition was indicative of my stature being minimized. if anything it just meant more LOVE, more COMPASSION, more LIFE in the mix. if at all this expanding community was MOVING FOWARD together, albeit slightly REDEFINED.
i really enjoyed how much this graphic novel thoughtfully illustrated how navigating these tense waters of ADULT RESPONSIBILITY was a manifestation of owning one's own SHORTCOMINGS and addressing them head on. if anything we are all on that same trajectory whether we choose to accept such or not. OUR EXPANDING UNIVERSE is a THOUGHTFUL comic book well worth checking out.
its hard to describe culture shock to people that have not experienced such. its a level of DEPENDENCE and outright VULNERABILITY that is difficult to verbalize for those that have never ventured out of the confines of their native country. ive been lucky enough to have experienced such a few times during my years spent in AFRICA, THE MIDDLE EAST, EASTERN EUROPE, SOUTH AMERICA and ASIA and thing about it is that it never gets any easier. you are basically HUMBLED by the fact that processes and procedures you took for granted dont exist and you are forced to confront your own HELPLESSNESS in a foreign land. in essence you need to adapt to them, not the other way around. it very much is a situation that makes you value the immense cultural and personal hardships that make up the IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCE.
SHENZEN: A TRAVELOGUE FROM CHINA (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2000) is a graphic novel memoir that FRENCH cartoonist GUY DELISLE wrote about his three-month stay in SHENZEN as part of a temporary position overseeing an animation studio. much like his other illustrated memoirs, this graphic novel is less about his work and more about the CULTURAL DIFFERENCES one comes across as a foreign national in a new country, even for a short stay. SHENZEN is just due north of HONG KONG, but culturally and political is more indicative of mainland CHINA than THE WEST. it is a major business city which means that much of its population is TRANSITORY in nature, with heavy traffic and dense daily geographic population shifts. DELISLE is often confronted with a culture that yields for nobody and has SPECIALIZED RITUALS that dont make run for niceties such as privacy or the celebration of the individual. making friends or acquaintances is difficult due to the LANGUAGE BARRIER, as even ENGLISH-speaking natives are GUARDED and PERIPHERAL with their opinions. there is an unspoken sense of hesitation at saying the wrong thing to the wrong person by his new colleagues, both in and out of work. this never subsides. even DELISLE' learning of a colleague's deep artistic appreciation for the celebrated DUTCH painter REMBRANDT, which he utilizes in finding a book for said acquaintance in HONG KONG as a gift, results in no acknowledged, feedback or verbalized appreciation.
the joy of SHENZEN: A TRAVELOGUE FROM CHINA is experiencing that dilemma anew through the eyes of DELISLE. its impossible to not put yourself in that same space and wonder how you would react to all of these scenarios, in and out of a professional setting. i can say from experience that it is absolutely EXHAUSTING and EXHILARATING at the same time, something you dont fully appreciate until you are back home in more familiar confines. or at least you think such. after a two year PEACE CORPS stint in ALBANIA it took me at least three months to fully be back mentally stateside after a serious bought of REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK. that totally took me by SURPRISE.
i always wonder when reading and pondering over any of DELISLE's illustrated travel memoirs what he took back with him to FRANCE and if REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK ever reared its ugly head on him. its interesting to consider and explore what aspects of foreign cultures manage to grab hold of one's PYSCHE and SELF-IDENTITY and dont let easily go. i know after living in JAPAN for a year, it took me 6-8 months to stop bowing. just became second nature.
with MUDBITE (FANTAGRAPHICS, 2018) and its two stories "MUD RIVER" and "BUG BITE" find DAVE COOPER's EDDY TABLE character at the center of ABSURD PLOT-LINES and phantasmagorically SEXUALLY-CHARGED imagery that feels like the id run WILD. making sense of both PLOTS seems besides the point as if COOPER is more interested in a sort of anything goes, FREE-ASSOCIATIVE approach to STORYTELLING, where his CHARACTERS are pulled into their deepest urges and oddly unconcerned with the consequences of such ADVENTURISM and SELF-DISCOVERY.
that being said the ILLUSTRATIONS are astonishingly LURID and deliciously DEBASED with a muted palette that RUBANESQUE, PILLOWY FLESHY figures with wide EXPRESSIVE eyes in DREAMY LANDSCAPES that meld into one another. im hesitant to refer to the IMAGERY as DRUG-LIKE but that is more than an apt description of such. in fact the whole EXPERIENCE of consuming MUDBITE feels akin to an ILLOGICAL and HALLUCINATORY MISADVENTURE with NO MEANING embedded or lessons learned. it just starts and ends in a seemingly endless loop of MISCHIEVOUS and consciously PERPLEXING GOBBLEDYGOOK.
do i recommend MUDBITE? not really. even for me this publication was a prime example of someone being WEIRD solely for the sake of being WEIRD. its OPAQUE NARRATIVE and LUSCIOUS ILLUSTRATIONS seemed to be a distraction from the fact that NOTHING MEANINGFUL was being communicated.
at least i didnt get it. but then maybe i am not the right audience for this. thats probably it.
FRENCH cartoonist DAVID B through his HALLUCINATORY and vividly PHANTASMAGORIC drawing style depicts a series of impenetrably PSEUDO-RELIGIOUS, MYTHOLOGICAL ALLEGORIES within the graphic novel THE ARMED GARDEN AND OTHER STORIES (FANTAGRAPHICS, 2011). based loosely on PERSIAN and CENTRAL EUROPEAN TRADITIONS, the narratives within convey man's inability to discern and appreciate matters related to the DIVINE.
all three narratives depict the search for DIVINE PROVIDENCE and esteem as a potent cudgel to be utilized for POWER and INFLUENCE in the physical realm. its hard not to read into such and deduce that with matters of the METAPHYSICAL REALM, our daily struggles and squabbles are beyond MEANINGLESS. DIVINITY and the concept of PARADISE is seen in these narratives to be beyond constraints of space and time, or even earthly bodily forms for that matter. it is a DEGRADATION of sorts to even involve such in our psychodramas related to POWER and INFLUENCE, but that is what the characters repeatedly do to their own peril.
the highlight of these graphic novels is not the plot or the subtext of the narrative, but just the INCREDIBLE artwork DAVID B provides that seems to split the difference between ESOTERIC MYSTICISM, ISLAMIC FOLKLORE and more than a little AUBREY BEARDSLEY. it is very much a visual treat, even if the narrative itself feels a bit CLUTTERED and UNFOCUSED in comparison.
as a former secondary english teacher i love wading in the pools of OBTUSE references and deliberate OPAQUENESS. but if you dont definitely check out DAVID B's more traditionally written and depicted graphic novel EPILEPTIC (review linked HERE) which is a memoir related to his family's experience living with his older brother's UNCONTROLLABLE and DANGEROUS bouts with epilepsy. that is probably a better starting point than this lovingly depicted yet largely INCOMPREHENSIBLE historical narrative.
the graphic novel EMBROIDERIES (PANTHEON, 2003) by celebrated FRENCH-IRANIAN cartoonist MARJANE SATRAPI sheds insight on the often TABOO and often UNDISCLOSED and UNDISCUSSED SEXUAL ATTITUDES and personal lives of IRANIAN WOMEN. the graphic novel revolves around the remembered gathering of SATRAPI's GRANDMOTHER with her DAUGHTER as well as close friends and relatives, all WOMEN, for an evening samovar tea and PRYING discussion.
and that talk centers around SEX. at times SALACIOUS, these cascading tales of the physical and emotional disappoints and cultural DOUBLE STANDARDS of being a WOMEN are both SOBERING and INSIGHTFUL. they depict a GENDER SOCIAL LANDSCAPE that doesnt seem much different from WESTERN CULTURE, where woman are still prized for their physical attributes and MEN still hold much INSTITUTIONAL POWER. the title even references the lengths WOMEN will go to reestablish their untouched VIRGINAL state through PAINFUL, INVASIVE surgeries aimed at pleasing their MALE PARTNER, as well as the INTERWOVEN tapestry and mutually SUPPORTIVE network of experience witnessed in this all-FEMALE gathering. though these PERSONAL narratives that the WOMEN share with one another often depict past selves in LESS EMPOWERED circumstances, what they all share in common is a SUBVERSION to GENDER EXPECTATIONS surrounding FIDELITY. often this is shown through a leveraging of their DOMESTIC duties or SEXUAL DOMINANCE over an OLDER, SLUGGISH and wholly INEPT MALE PARTNER. even the ending shows the PATRIARCH of the SATRAPI family pushed back to his room with no input or fight of his behalf in the matter. its an INTERESTING metaphor for the lives of WOMEN in IRANIAN culture that although their public lives are STRICT and PREDETERMINED, the inner dynamics on the home front are not up for discussion.
and none of this should be any surprise to anyone. GENDER DYNAMICS are a manifestation of a much larger conversation regarding one's ability to self identify and public express one's INDIVIDUALITY. generations of WOMEN in IRAN brought this state of affairs regarding CONSERVATIVE GENDER RELATIONS and SEXUAL MORES to fruition through either SUBMISSION, COLLABORATION or quiet acquiescence to AUTHORITY. i question whether these closed circles of INTERGENERATIONAL FEMALE networks have the potential to change the state of affairs. such is definitely currently in play in IRAN in the wake of the police custody death of 22 year-old student MAHSA AMINI and the PROTESTS that have followed. interestingly, MEN have joined their ranks. its a dynamic still being played out and the discussions elucidated in EMBROIDERIES definitely seem PRESCIENT to that movement.
i first became aware of artist JAY HOWELL via his CRUDE yet singularly EVOCATIVE CLASSIC TALES animations for VANS where prominent athletes and musicians recount extreme events from their lives. basically everyone from KEITH MORRIS (CIRCLE JERKS / OFF! / BLACK FLAG), ANDERSON .PAAK, DARRYL JENNIFER (BAD BRAINS) and ROBERT TRUJILLO (SUICIDAL TENDENCIES / OZZY OSBOURNE / METALLICA) to SCOTTY CRANMER, ELIJAH BERLE, JEFF GROSSO, TONY ALVA, GEOFF ROWLEY, CHRISTIAN HOSOI and so on. what i loved about these figures was how DISFIGURED and CREEPY they were, with flapping stick limbs and bulging facial expressions these GROTESQUE humanoids felt like the perfect avatars for athletes and musicians that live outside the normal guardrails of society, both physical and moral.
so of course i sought out his equally MAKESHIFT zine anthology PUNK'S GIT CUT (LAST GASP, 2015) just to get a sense of where this dude is coming from. and for that effort i am still quite lost because this publication defies definition. most of his graphic work is HASTILY-CONCEIVED SHARPIE notes of nonsensical scenarios meant to prod and titillate with references to UNUSUAL methods of SELF-HARM, SEX and BODILY FUNCTIONS. id say it was SOPHOMORIC in nature if the actual drawings werent so damn PRIMITIVE and RAW. if anything those drawings convey an ANARCHIC sense of PATHOS and PERSPECTIVE that far outruns the text that contextualizes them. in HOWELL's rudimentary work i see nods and echoes of work by another NOTORIOUS CALIFORNIA artist in RAYMOND PETTIBON, who similarly takes delight in the IMMEDIATE and RANDOM juxtapositions of image and text.
my favorite section of this anthology is "THE DARK WAVE" narrative about a BLACK METAL singer tripping balls during a concert and then running into a forest graveyard and ultimately surfing a coffin before aliens presumably accost him in the ocean. just the LAWLESS humor, ABSURDITY and the just plain RANDOMNESS of it all was thoroughly enjoying. i look forward to seeking out his other more recent publications.
definitely check out the work of JAY HOWELL. its hard to believe this dude has done work for NICKELODEON for children's programing. nothing more INSIDIOUS then that i guess, then again i was raised on PEE-WEE'S PLAYHOUSE so who knows.
BOOK REVIEW | "AMERICAN CULT: A GRAPHIC HISTORY OF RELIGIOUS CULTS IN AMERICA FROM THE COLONIAL ERA TO TODAY" EDITED BY ROBYN CHAPMAN
there is something distinctly AMERICAN about EXTREME RELIGIOSITY. maybe it comes from our collective unabated allegiance and piety towards MARKET CAPITALISM and the need for all of us as individuals to assume and attest our own INDIVIDUALITY and SUPERIORITY over the herd. i can remember as a PEACE CORPS volunteer in ALBANIA the lengths to which other volunteers consciously separated themselves from those they sought to "assist." they were often CONFUSED why they were not thanked for their SELFLESS efforts by their new neighbors. it is that need for status and lack of EMPATHY that i'd argue makes us SUSCEPTIBLE to FANATICAL CHARLATANS and POWER / MONEY-HUNGRRY HUCKSTERS, both in terms of RELIGIOUS and POLITICAL CULTS (cough, cough, DONALD TRUMP).
in the comprehensive graphic novel AMERICAN CULTS (SILVER SPROCKET, 2021), edited by ROBYN CHAPMAN, there is an EXHAUSTIVE array of testimonials and narratives from over 20 cartoonists surrounding various DOMESTIC RELIGIOUS CULTS ranging from the benign (SUFISM REORIENTED, ONEIDA, THE SOURCE FAMILY, THE SULLIVANIANS) to the infamous (THE MANSON FAMILY, HEAVEN'S GATE, CHILDREN OF GOD, SYNANON, THE BRANCH DAVIDIANS, ORTHODOX JUDAISM, THE PEOPLE'S TEMPLE AGRICULTURAL PROJECT aka "JONESTOWN", CHRISTIAN MOVEMENT FOR LIVE aka "MOVE", THE FUNDAMENTALIST CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS and NXIVM). seemingly what they all have in common is the need to supplant the individual's need for an independent identity with that of a community ethic modeled on a CHARISMATIC leader, whether that be DAVID KORESH, KEITH RANIERE, JIM JONES, CHARLES MANSON, WARREN JEFFS, DAVID BERG, JOHN NOYES or MARSHALL APPLEWHITE. sometimes this new group ethic espouses COMPATIBLE VALUES with that of AMERICAN society at large, so the group is largely BENIGN. but most of the examples explored in this collection showcase when a new set of RETROGRADE value systems are implemented and the untold DAMAGE such creates, not only on members and their children, but the larger communities they inhabit.
one interesting aspect of how these CULTS flourish is through a LAUNDERING of their reputation, especially initially, with regards to local political and business interests. its pretty interesting to know that HARVEY MILK and ROSALYNN CARTER endorsed JIM JONES at some point, likewise the DALAI LAMA with regards to KEITH RANIERE. the CULPABILITY of the broader community in allowing cultural loopholes whereby these insects burrow and later flourish into caustic colonies that threaten the larger body politic seems to be a narrative as old as the founding of our country, which itself was initiated by CALVINISTS and CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALISTS with BACKWARDS views on RACE, GENDER and the ENVIRONMENT.
especially in a post-TRUMP (or perhaps pre-TRUMP's return) world there is an understanding of the DANGERS that come with HUCKSTERISM that plays on our COLLECTIVE FEARS and BASE INSTINCTS. and yet it continues on unabated. having lived overseas for many years i questioned whether it was something about being AMERICAN that made us so VULNERABLE to such. now im convinced our ISOLATION, ARROGANCE and NAIVETE about world affairs leaves us distinctly susceptible to such outright FRAUD and CHARLATANISM.
and we seem to celebrate it.
its difficult reading about IRAQI, AFGHANI, SYRIAN and KURDISH refugees stranded in a HAPHAZARD, MAKESHIFT sites near CALAIS in 2016 as documented by KATE EVANS in her deeply affecting THREADS: FROM THE REFUGEE CRISIS (VERSO, 2017) graphic novel. its not just the INHUMANITY of EUROPEAN nations bickering amongst themselves regarding RESPONSIBILITY for this wave of immigrants (especially when they themselves are directly CULPABLE for the immense TURMOIL of these foreign conflicts) or the POLITICAL POSTURING and REGRESSIVE POPULAR RHETORIC that spew HATE and RACISM; what is most damaging is the manner in which people dont see the humanity in each other. reading this in 2022, its almost impossible to not see the current UKRAINIAN WAR and the ease with which EUROPEAN nations have taken such in refugees (albeit the UNITED KINGDOM being the exception again) as HYPOCRITICAL and baldly BIGOTED.
what i appreciate about THREADS is that it takes the perspective of EVANS and her experience volunteering at refugee camps in CALAIS, where she met with people, helped sort and distribute supplies, and drew portraits for inhabitants. this act of using art is such a powerful vehicle for giving evidence to the refugee's individual humanity. that they do exist and are accounted for and appreciated. EVANS also uses images of her phone to showcase anonymous messages (from what are presumed to be CONSERVATIVE BRITISH detractors back home) from those that see these refugees as an invading force with subhuman values bent on leeching from the welfare state. its appalling to read such but its that ingrained sense of PRIVILEGE and NARCISSISM that showcase the real values of the BRITISH commonwealth. the book ends with a note that the BRITISH are building bigger walls near the CHUNNEL outside CALAIS (i.e. the entrance to the UNITED KINGDOM).
i was in VENEZUELA for two years starting in 2013 when the economy collapsed in the aftermath of HUGO CHAVEZ' passing and the unrelated fall of oil prices not long thereafter. the whole country was collapsing in on itself and people were desperate to leave. some friends that i knew made it out to PANAMA, COLOMBIA and ARGENTINA, but most were attempting to go to FLORIDA to meet up with family. all left with the intention and hope of one day returning to their homeland. and that is the huge fallacy that people who dont appreciate the situation of refugees are caught up in; these people didnt want to leave their homeland. EUROPEANS and AMERICANS act like being in their countries is a reward, whereas for these people what they are looking for is SALVATION from dangerous and unlivable conditions for them and their families. fleeing was an act of EMPATHY and DESPERATION on behalf of their children.
to shit on them is such a SULLYING, DESPICABLE act. and the FRENCH and BRITISH authorities do so out of assumed MORAL SUPERIORITY and petty domestic politics. unless their UKRAINIAN and look like them. its all so DEPRESSING. just happy people like EVANS exist to bear witness and take these PATHETIC leaders to account through ART.
at its heart the graphic novel ASTERIOS POLYP (PANTHEON, 2009) by cartoonist DAVID MAZZUCCHELLI is a visually stunning examination of the METAPHYSICAL nature of IDENTITY, MEMORY and LOVE. the plot deals with a celebrated architecture professor named ASTERIOS POLYP who is renowned internationally for his REVOLUTIONARY designs which are highly CONCEPTUAL and THEORETICAL, as they have never been built. and it is that DUALITY regarding the space between the IMAGINED and PHYSICAL REALITY that underpins this graphic novel.
visually this concept of competing REALITIES is visually represented by self-constructed identities whereby characters are seen drawn in different manners. POLYP is often seen depicted as a DECONSTRUCTED line drawing (which relays his austere, cold, intellectual character) and his wife HANA is seen in full chiaroscuro shading (which exudes her WARM, COMPASSIONATE nature). when the two fall in love their visual depictions are blended. it is quite the VISUAL METAPHOR and wholly effective in translating how opposites compliment one another. or dont. in fact the whole narrative is full of characters that express variations on this theme of DUALITY.
and my understanding is that our sense of IDENTITY is tied to our own sense of individual and collective HISTORY. in a sense we are all solipsists walking through our own SOMNAMBULISTIC reality that only we inhabit, unable to truly pierce those of others. POLYP through his INTELLECT, HUBRIS and occupational standing allow him to interact with the world solely on his terms. HANA on the other hand is NURTURING, EMPATHETIC and COLLABORATIVE by nature, who ironically sees a more complex world based on MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES. she is in touch with the complexity of life through listening and not attempting to control situations, make them bend to her will as POLYP does.
this is fascinating graphic novel that has a coordinated visual aesthetic that thematically matches orbiting themes surrounding DUALITY in a very effective manner. it is the kind of book i will revisit and find new strands and interpretations, i am sure, upon successive readings. i could not celebrate or more enthusiastically recommend this book. a real achievement.
the graphic novel EPILEPTIC (PANTHEON, 2005) is a harrowing account of the psychological horror that comes with growing up and watching your family IMPOTENTLY confront the routine seizures of one of its own. celebrated FRENCH cartoonist DAVID B through this recollected memoir of his early development provides incredible insight into the DEBILITATING EMOTIONAL ABYSS of watching his older brother effectively lose his own sense of AGENCY and ability to live a normal life.
the effects of such a trauma on DAVID B are devastating, cartoons and invented realities become a shield of sorts from the harsh reality of the outside world. similar can be said about the efforts of his mother, who seeks out a revolving carousel of ESOTERIC and NONTRADITIONAL medical practices from various global traditions (SHAMANS, ALCHEMISTS, DIETICIANS, MAGNETIZERS, ACUPUNCTURISTS, MASSAGERS, etc.) out of love but all are ultimately in VAIN. nothing works. and what makes EPILEPTIC such a compelling read in my opinion is how effectively it showcases that projection and transference of stunted emotional development onto the family, who as a unit despite all possible efforts, finds themselves imprisoned by this unrelenting foe.
back when i took an introductory psychology course in college, i remember their being much discussion about the profound effects of one person's chronic condition (i.e. DEPRESSION, PTSD, EATING DISORDER, PERSONALITY DISORDER, etc.) on their family. that sense of helplessness that comes with being unable to ease a loved one's trauma, which over time wears one down. a version of this narrative can be seen in the doomed efforts of the late imperial ROMANOV family (TSAR NICHOLAS II and ALEXANDRA) when attempting to seek assistance for their son's HEMOPHILIA. this desperation led them to seek out nontraditional practitioners, and mercenaries, like GREGORIO RASPUTIN. i point you to ROBERT K MASSIE's NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA (review linked HERE) for further information. for me, this book is less about the often competing and complex emotions DAVID B felt towards his older brother, as well as the intense GUILT involved in that process, and more about the toll of said condition on the family. a family whose efforts were done out of UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.
the other work this graphic novel with all of its PHANTASMAGORICAL, MYTHOLOGICAL and stark FANTASY-inspired imagery recalled for me was SPIKE JONZE's film adaptation of the children's book WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (review linked HERE). the chaotic, seemingly unraveling imagery that DAVID B produces gives us a sense of a child's perspective who is unable to verbalize and process feelings of deep TRAUMA. much like how the temper tantrums of MAX in the film are his way of expressing that which is OVERWHELMING and inherently INEXPRESSIBLE, DAVID B has similarly provided a visual analogue to that same phenomena. the visuals in this manner do not clarify or elucidate meaning, more they are there as emotional markers of ANGER, CONFUSION, DESPAIR and REMORSE projected at a cruel adult world with no innate sense of fairness or moral center.
EPILEPTIC is a deeply fascinating graphic novel that asks more than it answers and leaves one contemplating their own TENUOUS relationship with REALITY and how we as individuals construct an internal MYTHOLOGY to deal with our own STRUGGLES and SHORTCOMINGS. highly recommended.
who wouldnt want to relive their high school years? maybe take chances you wish you had or perhaps avoid those you did?
that is the basic premise of TOO COOL TO BE FORGOTTEN (TOP SHELF, 2008) by ALEX ROBINSON which follows a middle-aged protagonist, ANDY WICKS, who is transported back to his awkward high school days while under hypnosis for a longstanding, seemingly unbreakable SMOKING HABIT. what makes this narrative interesting is not the premise, which is well-trodden at this point, but rather the idea that what our MEMORY isolates and presents to us as crucial, identity-forming events in our past is not always the case. yes, we are the end product of our past decisions (which makes the idea of being transported back as a youth with the experiences of an adult confusing and a bit cumbersome), but as individuals we are constantly evolving and our changing PERCEPTION of our own past is a reflection of such identity-shifting.
not sure about you, but i can look to my past actions and pick out a whole slew of events that either point to me being CHARITABLE, HONEST and EMPATHETIC or CRUEL, LETHARGIC and ENVIOUS. its more a reflection of my emotional state that anything objective, because in essence i am all those things and even others i havent considered. it is a part of being HUMAN.
following WICKS' journey through his past is interesting because it shows that even with EXPERIENCE, PERSPECTIVE and EMOTIONAL MATURITY, the limited agency of being an adolescent relegates one to a strict set of options. the adult community basically serves to disempower you of your ability to express yourself, as you are considered a work-in-progress of sorts. as a former teacher, that whole sub-narrative surrounding AGENCY is always fascinating to consider and explore.
ROBINSON's graphic novel is provocatively themed with beautiful, quirky illustrations that showcase the discomforting, often brutal SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS of youth. some of which we never grow out of. great read. highly recommended.
BURMA CHRONICLES (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2008) is an autobiographical memoir by FRENCH cartoonist GUY DELISLE that depicts his yearlong tenure in MYANMAR while his wife was stationed there as part of her work with the international NGO DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS. to state the obvious, this era in the history of MYANMAR predated the military junta's experimental flirtation with democracy and the release, political rise and swift downfall of AUNG SAN SUU KYI. it also predates the genocide currently taking place against the MUSLIM ROHINGYA population in the southwest of the country.
what makes this book interesting, much like his other works cataloguing similar stints in NORTH KOREA, CHINA and ISRAEL, is deft manner in which DELISLE presents a culture through his personal experiences as an expatriate with everyday people. given his status as his wife's "plus one," he essentially uses this unique opportunity to critical examine his daily mundane interactions. this manifests in a narrative that is made up of intimate vignettes about dealing with issues ranging from the systematic (MEDIA CENSORSHIP, GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION, FOOD INSECURITY, INTERMTTENT ELECTRICITY and UNRELIABLE INTERNET CONNECTIONS) to the personal (LOCAL CUSTOMS/FASHION/CUSINE, RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYS, GENDER ROLES and FILIAL PIETY). sure there are times when his observations come off a bit PATRONIZING and even PATERNALISTIC, but in my experience that is part of the process of acclimating to new surroundings and normative culture that differs from your own. so i dont fault him too much for that, in fact i think its a testament to his honesty to include such and gives this graphic novel a sense of authenticity.
as ive mentioned in this forum before, i formerly worked in MYANMAR in the northern city of MANDALAY, which is far from the metropolis that is YANGON where DELISLE resided more than a decade before. there were things i learned from BURMA CHRONICLES about my area, specifically KACHIN STATE which was to my north. i taught children of their military during my tenure and i really had no idea about the jade mines located there and the dismal, sub-human conditions endured there by local workers at the behest of foreign companies (mostly CHINESE). i did not know about the narcotics problem there and how it worked within a broader GEOPOLITICAL STRATEGY by the military junta. of cause looking back, who would have told me? i was literally surrounded by AMERICANS, some of the CHRISTIAN MISSIONARY persuasion so at the very least they were highly unreliable on most any subject.
having been a PEACE CORPS volunteer in ALBANIA i worked in concert with some foreign NGOs so i found it interesting learning about the politics regarding the mission of DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS and the decision matrix they utilize to deem a situation beyond salvageable. in BURMA CHRONICLES DELISLE and his family leave because the organization determined that they were rendering services that should be provided by the government. in essence they were aiding in the lack of development and progress by the military junta. i find that sort of thing incredibly interesting. too often in ALBANIA i felt that PEACE CORPS was more interested in what we got our counterparts to produce rather than having them self-determine and work towards mutual goals. that over time all we provided was a crutch for the locals to rely upon instead of becoming more self-sufficient. it is nice to know in this instance that responsible NGOs take their mission seriously and are willing to depart if the conditions do not present themselves. of course, i admit that an NGO is different than PEACE CORPS, which is an extension of the STATE DEPARTMENT, so maybe those missions and their ethos dont match exactly, but all the same it is not in the AMERICAN interest to have developing countries rely on us for expertise. or maybe it is?
i thought DELISLE did a stellar job of elucidating the experience of adjusting to living in a developing by a WESTERN expatriate, worts and all. i highly recommend this graphic novel to anyone interested in learning about that experience or even a pre-"democratic" MYANMAR for that matter. cant wait to seek out his other publications.
to quote former president GEORGE W. BUSH, "well that was some weird shit."
the graphic novel BLACK HOLE (PANTHEON, 2005) BY CHARLES BURNS, originally a limited twelve-issue series published by KITCHEN SINK PRESS and FANTAGRAPHICS, is a viscerally arresting experience unto itself, with stark, often disturbing imagery that perfectly showcases a harrowing narrative dealing with themes such as the nascent AGENCY, SEXUALITY and physical/emotional VIOLENCE that marks the teenage experience. forget graphic novels, this publication is a case study for the power of image and text as one of the most affecting portrayals of POST-ADOLESCENCE that i have ever come across.
the narrative itself follows a set of small town WASHINGTON STATE high school students in the 1970s who pass on a sexually transmitted disease to one another that grotesquely deforms them. this physical disfigurement also marks a transition for these students in how they relate to the community, their peers and their own bodies. the nudity in BLACK HOLE is far from titillating, moreover it graphically showcases the emotional and psychic distance that the characters have been removed from their physical being. in essence it does not feel that difference from the experience of going through adolescence with the hormonal surges and changes in bodily proportions, textures, smells and appearance.
i can speak from experience that going through that period was disorientating and emotional wrought, which is common. i felt alienated from myself and who i once was as i transformed into this other being. it really was a surreal experience. i really feel BURNS depicts and nails that sentiment with a sense of craft and tact. depictions of often grotesque physical deformities and distressing, surreal nightmares never feel excessive or out of place in BLACK HOLE. moreover they seem to promote the idea of POST-ADOLESCENCE as an experience that garners an immediate need for escape from a perceived claustrophobia brought on by the encroaching responsibilities of adulthood and parental/societal expectation. growing up is hard.
it really is quite the achievement. i recommend BLACK HOLE to anyone interested in GRAPHIC NOVELS, SOCIOLOGY or even TRANSGRESSIVE FICTION. despite its graphic nature and adult themes, in my opinion this is a book with moral center and extreme sensitivity that marks it as a real provocative statement about the lasting psychological trauma that outlives the emotional and physical maelstrom of living through one's POST-ADOLESCENCE. thank god you only have to go through that period once.