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.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
as a white dude i'm careful not to overstep my bounds and pass judgement on another culture. buts thats not to say i can't appreciate someone from that community doing so, which is basically what THE BOONDOCKS (CARTOON NETWORK, 2005-2014) animated series on ADULT SWIM was for the AFRICAN-AMERICAN community during its initial run of four seasons. in my estimation, this series (which is based on show creator AARON MCGRUDER's syndicated comic strip of the same name) is one of the most intelligent extended examinations of society in the animated genre, only rivaled by SOUTH PARK.
first off, its more than obvious the amount of love MCGRUDER has for his community. just the sheer scope of the animated world he created, with several characters designed to showcase the fault-lines in his community, whether they be along traditional economic and generational divides or rival gangs/rap cliques that resemble each other more than they don't, each episode is a vignette of sorts into some aspect of examined daily life through the eyes of a black child.
and that childlike perspective is the real genius of the show. where other shows (THE SIMPSONS, FAMILY GUY) use children as props ineffective in affecting change in their communities, THE BOONDOCKS instead utilizes young brothers HUEY and RILEY FREEMAN as two young black boys attempting to figure out how to assimilate into AMERICAN culture after moving in with their grandfather into a white suburban neighborhood. their trials in making sense of black culture and establishing their own identity mirror that of the broader community as well.
could not recommend this show any stronger. just don't be an idiot and think that the language they used gives you permission to do so as well. sorry, doesnt work like that STATEN ISLAND, no matter what contrived justification you attempt to make. its called white privilege.