YOU ARE THERE (FANTAGRAPHICS, 2009) is a KIM THOMPSON english translation of the deeply SATIRICAL FRENCH serial ICI MEME, which was a legendary 1978 collaboration between notable FRENCH illustrators JACQUES TARDI (IT WAS THE WAR OF THE TRENCHES) and JEAN-CLAUDE FOREST (BARBARELLA). it is often credited with spearheading the modern EUROPEAN graphic novel movement in the 1980s.
the narrative deals with the PECULIAR protagonist ARTHUR THERE, who ODDLY lives on the INTECONNECTED walls that divide the land of his ancestors. generations before they have had it stolen by the antecedents of the current landowners and the unusual arrangement is that THERE opens the gates that give these families access to their properties. in return he charges a small toll for the effort. a consistent theme throughout includes the INTERACTION that borders on PLAY in HUMAN CONNECTION and ISOLATION. THERE by definition provides access and CONNECTION for the inhabitants of the region but he himself is situated ALONE OUTSIDE SOCIETY. he is paradoxically an inert gas as well as an enzyme at the same time, figuratively. THERE is in the middle of a lawsuit over his stolen lands which ABSURDLY finds the region caught up in a national PSYCHODRAMA/POWER STRUGGLE by a leader with low poll numbers before an ELECTION. since technically the land THERE controls is its own self-determined state, this POLITICIAN seeks to reinstate him as a ploy to rally voters to support him.
its an ABSURD plot with ABSURD characters, many of whom i am glancing over, but at the heart is a FATALISTIC, almost EXISTENTIAL, view of the FRAILTY and IMPOTENCY of humans to AFFECT CHANGE in the world. ABSTRACT concepts like DEATH, LOVE, JUSTICE, MONEY, COMMUNITY and even HEALTH are seen as distractions that dont provide meaning in a cosmos that has no rhyme or reason to it, even for a CONFUSED, HALF-MAD protagonist. the whims of HISTORY is seen as a wave that carries us all with it and we have no capacity to alter or fundamentally affect change in any meaningful manner beyond the fringes. this DIRE perspective feels incredibly OF-THE-MOMENT given the FRAIL STATE of global democracy (ala JANUARY 6TH INSURRECTION), threatened nuclear war (with RUSSIA) and the collapse of trust in the AMERICAN JUDICIAL SYSTEM given the recent DOBBS V. JACKSON WOMEN'S HEALTH ORGANIZATION decision.
i feel like THERE. i escape to my own REALITY. that is probably why i read books at the rate i do. i think its hard not read this graphic novel and think about the gatekeepers to our own INTERACTIONS with each other (SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS, POLITICIANS, INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDERS) and their own AGENDA in that exchange.
the informative graphic novel HYPER-CAPITALISM (THE NEW PRESS, 2018) by cartoonist LARRY GONICK and PSYCHOLOGY professor TIM KASSER is essentially an exhaustive breakdown of the extent to which INTRINSIC VALUES (such as appeals to SOCIAL JUSTICE, CREATIVITY, connection to NATURE / COMMUNITY) are INCOMPATIBLE with the prevailing ethos of the modern corporate system we all inhabit. this graphic novel very much gets at the heart of what makes MODERN CAPITALISM such a PERNICIOUS threat to GLOBAL SUSTAINABILITY efforts as well as the stability of communities and the general well-being of its inhabitants. corporations in particular are terrible neighbors who, by design, have an insatiable need to seek and ultimately leverage various COMPARATIVE ADVANTAGES (regarding RESOURCES, LABOR, TECHNOLOGY, etc.) in order to appease shareholders and exploit stakeholders in the process. the drawings are targeted and delineate numerous complicated strategies, postures and procedures (with regards to the culpability of the CONSUMER, GOVERNMENT, LEGAL SYSTEM and BUSINESS OWNERS) in a succinct and efficient manner. the effectiveness of these panels is pretty staggering and is really a testament to how talented and knowledgable both GONICK and KASSER are as a team.
but its all so DEPRESSING and just OVERWHELMING.
such is why the pair decided to have write a second section of the book that outlined how various practices (at both the consumer and business level) can ward off the DESTRUCTIVE elements of CAPITALISM and reinvigorate communities and social congruity. making purchases (and long-term investments) based on HUMANISTIC VALUES and participating in local communal efforts (FARMER'S MARKETS, TIME BANKS, LIBRARIES, etc.) keeps the immense influence and power of capital at the local level. and that is basically they key to transforming what the author refers to as "HYPER-CAPITALISM", you have to alter it from the inside out. by changing how you interact with the system you are in essence transforming it to something that is more HUMANISTIC and in line with INTRINSIC VALUES that better everyone.
or so that is the central thesis. i feel that MATERIALISM will not change and that people will forever be mindlessly subject to the GREEDY, PERNICIOUS whims of coordinated corporate ADVERTISING, LOBBYING and LEGAL efforts. i dont see a communal change in our CONSCIOUSNESS as AMERICANS, which is essentially built on RACIST, MATERIALISTIC and unapologetically NARCISSISTIC framework devoted to the idea of the INDIVIDUAL.
the antidote to this DEVASTATING situation is a seemingly QUIXOTIC dream that i share but dont see coming true. we are doomed. our individual and collective desires are doing us in.
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.
there is something about the SUBTLE interplay between TEXT and ILLUSTRATIONS in a WELL-CRAFTED graphic novel. especially when both are done with a sparing MINIMALISM that allows for much PROJECTION and INTERPRETATION on the part of the reader, much like when deciphering cues when watching an early silent film.
such is the case with ITALIAN cartoonist MANUELE FIOR's highly EXPRESSIONISTIC revisiting of WESTERN MYTHOLOGY in RED ULTRAMARINE (FANTAGRAPHICS, 2006) which combines both the ANCIENT GREEK DAEDALUS/ICARUS narrative with that of the GERMAN FAUST myth. at the heart of this intertwining HYBRID NARRATIVE are the DIRE consequences associated with OBSESSION. this search for PERFECTION may be the result of a WELL-INTENTIONED objective in order to save or assist a loved one, but it seems that challenging one's fate (and the gods' wrath) is another thing altogether.
FIOR effectively showcases with an adroit IMPRESSIONISTIC touch the deep well of AFFECTATION and EMOTION at heart with multiple character's pursuits. this is done with a sparing use of text, letting the ARTWORK push the NARRATIVE. the space in these PANELS gives voice to the INTERNAL DIALOGUE in all of us as we go about our daily pursuits and pedestrian desires. the UNADORNED IMAGERY is not EMPTY, but rather rich in anticipation for meaning. this is a PSYCHIC, MENTAL and EMOTIONAL space we all live within throughout our existence. at the close of RED ULTRAMARINE there is no victory, solace or knowledge gained. we are just mired in our own INTERNAL DIALOGUE and personal NARRATIVES that have no bearing on REALITY.
i believe FIOR illustrates in this graphic novel the extent to which FAUST and the MINOTAUR are aspects of ourselves. our OBSESSIONS and SELF-DELUSIONS are not real but projections of ourselves upon an UNCARING, seemingly NEUTRAL physical world. life is less about dealing with actual REALITY, but that which we create ourselves. RED ULTRAMARINE is a THOUGHTFUL graphic novel well worth investigating.
BOOK REVIEW | "LOGICOMIX: AN EPIC SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH" BY APOSTOLOS DOXIADIS & CHRISTOS PAPADIMITRIOU
the ambitious graphic novel LOGICOMIX: AN EPIC SEARCH FOR TRUTH (BLOOMSBURY, 2009) by APOSTOLOS DOXIADIS and CHRISTOS PAPADIMITRIOU attempts to do nothing less than present the evolution of LOGIC from the perspective of towering 20th century BRITISH philosopher/logician BERTRAND RUSSELL and his many cohorts and forebearers from the likes of ALFRED WHITEHEAD, GEORG CANTOR, DAVID HILBERT, LUDWIG WITTGENSTEIN, KURT GODEL, GEORGE BOOLE and GOTTLOB FREGE among others. in essence, since the time of EUCLID, generations of mathematicians have been search for the essence of LOGIC, otherwise known as FOUNDATIONS OF MATHEMATICS, in which no proof is assumed and everything is proven. from this base all else is proven.
ultimately such a objective turn out to be a bit of a white whale that drove many a logician to madness, divorce, infidelity and ruinous despair. in a sense the whole enterprise was a failure since no final proof was ever determined. even the inexact, impressionistic filter of LANGUAGE was called into question. ultimately this important work laid the bedrock for all that has followed, especially with regard to the advent of computing under ALAN TURING, which was based on said principles.
the graphic novel itself takes acknowledged liberties with the life of RUSSELL, which serves as the central narrative, which includes invented meetings, conversations and events that never happened. such is fine by me since the complex concepts are what take center stage here. what i do appreciate are the stakes at play with logic, which is presented at a lecture RUSSELL "gave" at an AMERICAN university with a crowd looking for intellectual justification for their reasons for sitting out the second world war in EUROPE (assumably pre-PEARL HARBOR). RUSSELL recounts his life story but ultimately puts the locus of control over LOGIC to each person since ultimately there is no empirically derived correct opinion.
that responsibility is within each of use to deduce as we see fit in accordance with our values, concerns and obligations. in this sense LOGICOMIX is an intellectual call to arms for its readers to consider the MORAL POWER they hold as individuals and not farm such out to leaders and experts. even there are lots of charlatans out there, such comes with the territory of INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM.
cant say the same for internet culture. god id love to know what some of these thinkers would have made of TWITTER.
LOGICOMIX is an ambitious and compelling graphic novel well worth repeat revisiting. the format seems ideal for transmitting such complex and seemingly obtuse concepts to a general audience. it is quite the achievement.
MARKET DAY (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2010) tells the poignant story of a JEWISH rug weaver from a turn-of-the-20th century, presumably EASTERN EUROPEAN country who travels from his small village to a town market in the hopes of selling his wares in order to provide for his pregnant wife and unborn child.
you really get the sense of the OPPORTUNITY and SOCIAL CONNECTION that the market represents to an artisan, but also the sheer IMPOTENCE and VULNERABILITY from being unable to discern environmental economic shifts. such is what happens to our protagonist MENDLEMAN, who despite having a connections and a good reputation for his superior rugs, finds himself unable to secure a buyer. disgruntled and deeply frustrated for putting so much time, effort and creativity into his work, he sells not only his remaining stock of rugs but ultimately his loom as well at a steep discount.
for me this narrative is an evocation of the SUBSISTENT EXISTENCE that much of the world's COMMUNITY deals with day to day whereby steep BARRIERS regarding EDUCATION, CORRUPTION and PREJUDICE keep them down. CAPITALISM is a BRUTAL system and does not universally reward those who put in their TIME, EFFORT and CREATIVITY into their trade or craft. instead it usually rewards those that are able to leverage marketshare at scale and undercut the competition. MARKET DAY showcases how the influx of cheap goods through INDUSTRIALIZATION decimates the individual artisan who simply cant compete. it likewise showcases in striking terms the PSYCHIC DAMAGE dealt to an affected individual's lost sense of IDENTITY. i saw this unfortunate dynamic play out during my time in NIGERIA, VENEZUELA and ALBANIA where local labor was denied a dignified existence and left to serve the corporate interests of foreign companies (with no regards to their country) in order to make a decent living.
it is an INTOLERABLE yet far from unique situation and is the untold seedy underbelly of global CAPITALISM. i can image when MARKET DAY was released not long after the 2008 financial crisis that this sort of dynamic of the potential damage wrought by soulless corporate interests who care not for the DIGNITY of the COMMUNITY beyond its shareholders may have been top of mind.
it was when i read this graphic novel which is a touching PARABLE of our current predicament. MARKET DAY should be read by everyone.
EXIT WOUNDS (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2007) by ISRAELI cartoonist RUTU MODAN is a narrative concerned with the crippling PSYCHIC CONSEQUENCES that come with being SEPARATED from family. much of the narrative follows a cab driver named KOBY who learns that his estranged father may have been killed in a terrorist attack. given his distance from his father, the story unfolds as a series of echos and readjustments of this strained relationship as he meets more and more people that have varying degrees of remembering him, including a young wealthy girlfriend named NUMI. as the two seek out KOBY's father, the two find themselves likewise testing out their own feels of connection for one another.
its a very interesting dynamic that MODAN is adroitly manipulating throughout the graphic novel; that idea of CONNECTION and DISTANCE in a volatile geopolitical space. more than a decade ago i was able to visit ISRAEL and witnessed firsthand the extent to which public safety and calculated risk play a daily part of one's existence in major cities like TEL AVIV, JERUSALEM and HAIFA where i was visiting friends. there is a very real sense that anything can happen at anytime and that one's personal relationships are of paramount importance because there is the palpable concept of each day being your last. and that isnt hyperbole. within EXIT WOUNDS, you have characters that feel varying gradations of CONNECTION to one another, irrespective of this background noise of DANGER and wonton public VIOLENCE.
i think its an interesting choice that (SPOILER ALERT) KOBY never explicitly verifies his father's existence but is calmed and soothed that his new wife is such a pleasant person. it is almost as if the reverberations of his father's past actions and the BITTERNESS and PAIN they extolled are being replaced, effectively in abstentia, by a new set of reassuring echos of GRACE and UNDESTANDING. seeing this wonderful, selfless person who is nourished by her new relationship with his father is enough for him to move on as well and initiate a new sense of aspirational connection with NUMI.
its an interesting dynamic and very much reminded me of people ive met in places like VENEZUELA, MYANMAR and ALBANIA who make the most of life in volatile surroundings. life being experienced as ever more PRECIOUS. its something that i dont feel on AMERICAN soil, especially in recent years with the pandemic and political strife effectively bifurcating my country. maybe as some point we will all come to the same realization. definitely not.
in TRINITY: A GRAPHIC HISTORY OF THE FIRST ATOMIC BOMB (HILL AND WANG, 2012) author JONATHAN FETTER-VORM gets at the MORAL QUANDARY that was the MANHATTAN PROJECT and the creation of the ATOMIC BOMB during WORLD WAR II. initially viewed as a purely SPECULATIVE and PREVENTATIVE MEASURE that would help end the war with GERMANY, its creation instead sparked a new age of global PARANOIA and the threat of global MUTUALLY ASSURED DESTRUCTION.
at the center of the narrative is theoretical physicist and BERKELEY professor J. ROBERT OPPENHEIMER who, along with GENERAL LESLIE GROVES (who previously oversaw the construction of THE PENTAGON) gathers a team and spearheads this national project. part of what FETTER-VORM does exceedingly well in this graphic novel is literally illustrate the SCIENTIFIC THEORY and TECHNICAL WIZARDRY that came with solving COMPLEX PROBLEMS with regard to controlling this incredible NUCLEAR ENERGY. it really cannot be understated how much INNOVATION and INGENUITY was involved in the conception and construction of the ATOMIC BOMB.
whats hard to stomach is how little it seemed that these scientists considered the MORAL IMPLICATIONS of their work, so caught up in the PATRIOTIC FERVOR and EXISTENTIAL state of affairs that WORLD WAR II presented. even after its completion on a panel meant to analyze the POLITICAL RAMIFICATIONS of their work, these scientists obfuscated and essentially passed the buck to their enablers in the political sphere.
i understand that science, much like the nature of reality, is inherently neutral and that all DISCOVERIES, INNOVATIONS and APPLICATIONS of APPLIED TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE are susceptible to the whims of people. people who are innately FALLIBLE and prone to OUTSIDE PRESSURES and INTERNAL NEUROTICISM. but when you are messing with NUCLEAR FISSION and the ELEMENTAL DESTRUCTIVE FORCES OF THE UNIVERSE, how could they be so NAIVE?
its an interesting dilemma that is expertly outlined by FETTER-VORM. and is beyond timely given the COMPLICATED GLOBAL POLITICS at play currently between THE WEST, RUSSIA and CHINA. that said, TRINITY: A GRAPHIC HISTORY OF THE FIRST ATOMIC BOMB is an incredible MEDITATION on the line between TECHNOLOGY, SECURITY and RESPONSIBILITY and is most definitely worth checking out.
ever since i first saw the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy (AMBLIN, 1985-1990) back in my early childhood there was always that PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT EXPERIMENT about what, if anything, you would want to revisit in the past if given the opportunity. would i spend more time talking with grandmother before she passed or maybe rewatch significant childhood moments from my past from a distance with the perspective of an adult? despite the EMOTIONAL CHARGE and immense temptation of the idea, i always come back to "no." the space-time continuum moves in one direction (i assume) and we are not PSYCHOLOGICALLY or EMOTIONALLY equipped to hand that sort of STRESS. moving forward in time is difficult enough.
but cartoonist DANIEL CLOWES' in his vividly colored and insularly CEREBRAL graphic novel PATIENCE (FANTAGRAPHICS, 2016) provides a character so utterly consumed by GRIEF by the death of his pregnant girlfriend that he is willing to risk all to alter that moment she was murdered. part CRIME MYSTERY, part SCIENCE FICTION, at its core PATIENCE is all about the transcendent power of LOVE and how such a powerful connective force transforms our very sense of MEMORY and IDENTITY. for JACK, the protagonist, this LOVE and its attendant emotions from is so strong that he is set off on an all-consuming course of SELF-VIOLENCE and SELF-DESTRUCTION to the point of SELF-ANNIHILATION that it very much makes you question the MORALITY of such a choice, even if the ends are somewhat redeemable. i know i just described the tired motivation of virtually every STEVEN SEGAL or JEAN-CLAUDE DAMME plot ever devised, but in the capable hands of CLOWES this narrative is more of a MORALITY PLAY than a revenge thriller. the focus is on the INTERIORITY of that MOTIVATION, rather than the SCI-FI or "whodunnit" aspects of the plot.
my thought is that there is more than a bit of an unhealthy sense of HUBRIS, EGO and even ENTITLEMENT in attempting to change the past. out of all the possible past wrongs that could be rewritten, obviously it is to JACK's benefit for this wrong to be corrected so that he can enjoy the family that was taken from him. i understand that, but for SOCIETY as a whole there are plenty of other actions that could be taken to provide a far greater UTILITY for mankind related to preventable WARFARE, DISEASE, POVERTY and the like. possibilities are virtually endless, but the thing that gets me is that even these choices would have REVERBERATIONS and resulting OUTCOMES whose wake would inevitably result in more unintended CONSEQUENCES and unavoidable avenues and opportunities for HUMAN SUFFERING.
i just dont see the cycle ever ending. as much as we find connection with one another, we equally bring pain and SUFFERING to world. it is unavoidable and i dont see any "fixing" of the past solving such a DILEMMA. i really enjoyed PATIENCE for thoughtfully thinking its way through such a proposition. definitely a compelling read worthy of investigation for anyone interested in compelling thought experiments. definitely recommended.
it is difficult to read BOB FINGERMAN's graphic novel BEG THE QUESTION (FANTAGRAPHICS, 2002), itself a collection of his entire MINIMUM WAGE series, and not feel just the tiniest bit nostalgic for the less complicated, pre-internet existence of the 1990s. if only. FINGERMAN's narrative follows a BROOKLYN couple in their 20s as they navigate their way through ADULTHOOD PROBLEMS like moving in together, CAREER, SEX, DEATH, BODY IMAGE, FERTILITY, MONEY, FAMILY, CHILDHOOD TRAUMAS and ultimately MARRIAGE. to my understand the piece is basically an extended meditation on relationships and the evolving motivations for maintaining such as individuals inevitably shift through different phases. is it lust? is it emotional security?
BEG THE QUESTION employs an extended network of FAMILY and FRIENDS of the couple who offer various examples of the NEEDS, DESIRES and OBLIGATIONS that bind us to one another. for some it is all about ETHNIC and RELIGIOUS TIES, while for others maintaining a CONNECTIONS is done out of a sense of duty. again for others there is common PERSPECTIVE and TEMPERMENT that gravitates some to each while for others sheer SEXUAL ATTRACTION does so (which is pretty creepy given that such AFFECTION is intra-familial during parts of this graphic novel). for all of its questioning FINGERMAN does not give us a clear answer. the ties that bind are ultimately a MYSTERY and a core facet of the collective HUMAN EXPERIENCE.
speaking for myself, i find that i often cannot get out of my own head on these sorts of matters. i have always questioned what my MOTIVATIONS are for the people i maintain an emotional connection with. is not even possible to not be SELFISH and be around people that make you feel good about yourself? is that a bad thing? being around people that offer you a different PERSPECTIVE and look on life? do i have an ULTERIOR MOTIVE? and what about the people that are EMOTIONAL VULTURES and provide nothing but take. no NOURISHMENT or PERSPECTIVE, just baggage. are they not worthy? and what if they are family? how does that play into it, do i have an OBLIGATION to them because we are kin?
i dont know the answer to that. which is why i thoroughly enjoyed reading BEG THE QUESTION and wish to further seek other publications by FINGERMAN moving forward. i found this graphic novel to be quite THOUGHTFUL, despite its at times RAUNCHY and TRANSGRESSIVE subject matter, and highly recommend it for anyone interested in piercingly HONEST meditations on modern life.
and one last thing: in a post-ROE world it is hard to not think about how much AGENCY has been shifted away from women to make the types of decisions regarding FAMILY PLANNING and BODILY AUTONOMY examined in BEG THE QUESTION. its hard to stomach the fact that we have regressed that much as a society in terms of HUMAN RIGHTS and basic EMPATHY and COMPASSION. makes this graphic novel feel like a political and cultural ANACHRONISM id like to get back to.
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.
thing that struck me about HOUSE OF WOMEN (FANTAGRAPHICS, 2017) by SOPHIE GOLDSTEIN was how beautifully illustrated it was. if i had to pinpoint a style, it would be informed by the likes of AUBREY BEARDSLEY, traditional JAPANESE UKIYO-E woodblock prints, GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM and a hint of HINDU ICONOGRAPHY and MUGHAL ARCHITECTURE thrown in the mix. i found myself looking repeatedly at the panels and just basking in the potency of the visuals which were just stunning throughout.
the narrative itself follows four women that on a fact-finding mission from an intergalactic empire that seeks to learn about the far limits of its reach and the inhabitants therein. the more involved these four women become with the local inhabitants and the CULTURE therein, the more they become drawn into a PSYCHODRAMA that they have little control over. plot-wise it reminds me of a short story (whose author i forget) i read in college about a man that starts dating a woman out of pity, only to get sucked into the relationship and ultimately become discarded in the process. the short story and this graphic novel both play with notions of POWER, CONTROL and ROMANTIC DOMINANCE. its always interesting when those who feel they are in control of a situation learn that it is them that are being manipulated.
i feel like the pure artistry of the panels themselves leaves the reader in a similar position whereby we are being sucked into a narrative that we have little control over as well, but very much enjoy the seduction nonetheless. i highly recommend HOUSE OF WOMEN to anyone interested in theory surrounding ORIENTALISM, POST-COLONIALISM or FEMINIST theory. it is a graphic novel most definitely worth seeking out and exploring and coming to your own conclusions about.
relationships are complicated. ive always felt that there is something intrinsically narcissistic about ROMANTIC LOVE in general given that you pursue someone because of how they make you feel. when i started reading about BUDDHISM years ago before i moved to JAPAN this point was brought up again and again in different texts and it has long stayed with me.
the graphic novel SHORTCOMINGS (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2007) by ADRIAN TOMINE is an extended meditation on the nature of a crumbling relationship and the undergirding reasons / desires / projections / obsessions that make breaking up so difficult. in essence there is that shared IDENTITY and sublimated EGO in that of another that is shattered and discarded. to some extent reading about the protagonist BEN TANAKA and his self-obsession felt like the dialogue in a WOODY ALLEN or INGMAR BERGMAN film where you know this clinging nature is only pushing the object of his desire away. he is so self-concerned and incapable of addressing the needs of his partner MIKO that he is basically manufacturing a self-fulfilling prophecy for his own alienation.
i think one particularly interesting aspect of SHORTCOMINGS is how it examines inter-racial relationships from a CONSERVATIVE ASIAN perspective. specifically the ingrained CHAUVINIST notion that how somehow dating an ASIAN woman is seen as less exciting or revered than that of a CAUCASIAN woman for an ASIAN man. this idea of a "white prize." that somehow if a CAUCASIAN male dates an ASIAN female that something is amiss but not the other way around. the graphic novel definitely dives deep into notions of TOKENISM, ORIENTALISM and POST-COLONIALIST thought in a very organic manner.
TOMINE is a deft writer who has a profound ability to subtly expose uncomfortable truths in an organic, unforced manner. i am looking forward to become more acquainted with his writings moving forward and highly suggest SHORTCOMINGS to anyone interested in thought-provoking writing, irrespective of an interest in comics or graphic novels. it is that good.
oh my god, I WANT YOU (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2020) by LISA HANAWALT is absolutely insane.
this graphic novel is very much in touch with a level of DADA-esque absurdity that i was not prepared for. it ranges from lovingly-detailed drawings (that would make ALBRECHT DURER proud) of HIPSTER ANTHROPOMORPHIC animals hanging out at clubs, parties and the like, to crudely drawn sexual and FECAL-OBSESSED observations. and then there are random drawings of animals with ever more outlandish hats.
what i take from it all is that I WANT YOU is essentially a 20-something taking in her lived experiences and manifesting them through an absolutely feverish sense of unbounded creativity to the point of ABSTRACTION and SURREALISM. utilizing ANIMAL HEADS with HUMAN BODIES (complete with fashionable HIPSTER attire) seems as apt a vehicle as any for describing the SURREAL experience of experiencing real AUTONOMY for the first time as a young adult. those SOCIAL NEGOTIATIONS of learning what your boundaries are and how odd and difficult it is when you make mistakes regarding such. it is at that stage when you learn what your limits are and what your actual preferences are with regards to friends and romantic partners. so why not have a HUMANOID CAT date a HUMANOID DEER and witness the chaos ensue. doesnt feel that much difference than my experience in my early 20s.
if you are a fan of TRANSGRESSIVE art and a DADA-esque comedic sensibility than definitely check out I WANT YOU and the work of HANAWALT in general. but then you probably already knew that given her day job as the production designer and producer of BOJACK HORESMAN on NETFLIX. this graphic novel is definitely something i will revisit in the future and attempt to grasp in better detail, because i am so lost i dont know where to begin.
or maybe that was the point all along.
it feels like during the pandemic a fair amount of us garnered a new hard-earned appreciation for the daily rituals of public life. those mundane daily events like going to a grocery store or talking with your neighbors or even going to a movie or concert. the loss of that sense of INTERACTION with society since the pandemic began has been on my mind throughout, leading me to realize how ISOLATED i felt.
reading SEEK YOU: A JOURNEY THROUGH LONELINESS (PANTHEON, 2021) BY KRISTEN RADTKE was quite an affecting experience. the graphic novel is an extended meditation on the PHYSIOLOGICAL, SOCIOLOGICAL, TECHNOLOGICAL and CULTURAL phenomena that make AMERICAN life such a uniquely isolating experience. it really is a deep dive into how LONELINESS works and the myriad ways it affects our MENTAL HEALTH and PHYSICAL WELL-BEING. i could go down the list of all the studies cited and heart-wrenching anecdotes shared throughout the book, but instead i will just make a general statement: everything comes down to EMPATHY. the idea of sharing and having reciprocated our values, aspirations, disappointments, obstacles and successes in the eyes of others is essentially to our sense of identity with a communal context. corrosive POLITICAL DEBATES, SOCIAL MEDIA ALGORITHMS, MORTGAGE PAYMENTS, FAMILIAL RESPONSIBILITIES, NORMATIVE GENDER PRESCRIPTIONS, etc. all rope is into an intense INTERIORITY that is difficult to break free from. in essence our personal SUFFERING gets in the way of our ability to see through the bullshit and EMPATHIZE with one another.
i have had the pleasure of working abroad in the developing world and i have long been struck by the strong communal ties therein. specifically in NIGERIA and MYANMAR there was a sense of being a valued member of a community (usually tribal) that went beyond one's INTELLECT, WEALTH or POLITICAL POWER. i often wonder being back stateside how much one's ECONOMIC STANDING plays into our sense of identity and ability to EMPATHIZE with one another. my instinct is that such is paramount. reading SEEK YOU: A JOURNEY THROUGH LONELINESS i was interested in hearing about that aspect but it never came up.
i feel this graphic novel is a transformative achievement and something i will be revisiting and referencing from here on out. this review most definitely did not do justice to the length and breadth of the ideas presented therein, but it showcases where my head is at relative to it at this moment in time. i cannot advocate for this book strongly enough. it is PROVOCATIVE and deeply AFFECTING as it touches a subject nobody wants to acknowledge in AMERICAN society: the fact that we celebrate our ALIENATION and ISOLATION from each other and pay the price on the other end with devastating consequences.
in my opinion SEEK YOU: A JOURNEY THROUGH LONELINESS is required reading. definitely wort checking out.
the graphic novel HERE (PANTHEON, 2014) by RICHARD MCGUIRE presents the narrative of a living room. it sis a unique narrative in that it is told visually from a fixed viewpoint over TIME. overlapping panels from varying points in TIME, from the prehistoric and precambrian through the future rising tides brought on by CLIMATE CHANGE to a future technologically advanced society.
what is created is an experiential PALIMPSEST. a PALIMPSEST is a painting in which an artist creates on top of an existing object or previous incarnation of the painting itself. what results are layers of meaning and interesting juxtapositions that require the viewer to make sense of these new connections. in HERE, MCGUIRE is essentially playing with concepts of IDENTITY and MEMORY as told through TIME. dinosaurs, sharks, native americans, modern families and the like have all LIVED, FOUGHT, LOVED, DIED and experienced full lives in this PHYSICAL SPACE.
what shines through in this graphic novel is the concept of IMPERMANENCE and how our MORTALITY repeatedly inculcates in us a sense of stewardship over our surroundings. or at least it should. in BUDDHISM there is a mindset that everything and anything is in a constant state of TRANSFORMATION, of BECOMING. as humans we are only temporarily utilizing the molecules and atoms that make up our physical being and long after we pass on, much like the stars that created this matter, there will be further physical objects and manifestations utilizing said atoms ad infinitum. its a humbling concept and put the blip that is your lifespan and lived experience in proper PERSPECTIVE, against what your mind and body tell you otherwise.
it also makes you consider the true implications of your individual CHOICES and how such will impact future generations. HERE is a deeply affecting graphic novel that has a MINIMALIST AESTHETIC with a deep impact. it effectively translates how our collective experiences over TIME unite us all and bind us. i found this book to be a deep meditation on the physical world and our place within it. HERE is definitely worth seeking out.
its interesting, the life narrative of legendary COMIC BOOK artist JACK KIRBY is not all that dissimilar from early BLUES and ROCK N ROLL musicians: that being the story of EXPLOITATION. in KIRBY you have an artists who basically created the vocabulary of modern COMICS and was shafted every step of the way by those (i.e. DC and especially MARVEL) who profited mightily from his talent and labor. it is almost tragic in a sense that he wasn't worthy of respect by his employers, before you stop to consider that he is probably the most beloved figure in the history of COMICS. more so than even his former collaborator STAN LEE.
the documentary JACK KIRBY: STORY TELLER (SPARKHILL, 2007) really gets at the man behind the pencil, as lovingly recounted by his family, assistants, close friends and admirers. what emerges is a touching portrait of a scrappy son of ORTHODOX JEWISH immigrants from AUSTRIA who used his untrained talent to claw himself out of both the GREAT DEPRESSION and a life barely above subsistence in LOWER EAST SIDE tenement housing that he was hellishly raised in. the man had drive and a work ethic bar none. during his peak in the 1960s he would often work 14 hours a day. every day. weekends. holidays. the man did not quit and was determined not to have his growing family have to suffer the difficulties he did in his youth. it was also the ethic that made him susceptible to taking on bad contracts and being paid below his worth.
and just so we are clear, his worth was immeasurable not only to MARVEL but to COMICS as an industry.
its not a happy story outside of the fact that he was able to meek out a living and had a close, loving family. and the respect of not only writer and artists who came after him, but interestingly as the film points out, those also who came before. the film recounts how he was generous to a fault, giving away quick drawings to fans and admirers alike. MARVEL was not the same way. KIRBY worked until his passing in 1994 and was never allowed access to his original drawings from MARVEL, who have gone on to franchise his creations into movies as well as license such in countless merchandising efforts.
but that is CAPITALISM i suppose. all's fair in LOVE, WAR and COMICS. the dude deserved better and at least there is some hope in the fact that in the 1990s through IMAGE COMICS the industry was permanently shifted. much like those players that played before collective bargaining was established in BASEBALL, KIRBY was not able to benefit from such progress, but at least he lived to witness such change.
THE MINDSCAPE OF ALAN MOORE (SHADOWSNAKE, 2005) is an unconventional documentary in that it is essentially an extended monologue by which the legendary BRITISH COMIC BOOK writer (of V FOR VENDETTA, THE WATCHMEN and FROM HELL fame) recounts his beliefs and philosophies regarding the sacred and transformative power of the written word.
raised in the dreary MIDLANDS factory town of NORTHAMPTON, MOORE presents a bleak picture of a dreary landscape where his childhood ambitions and imagination went decidedly internal and eventually provided the key to his physical, external escape from an arduous life of hard labor like those of his parents and neighbors. in his worldview, external structures and organizations like schools, governments and religions are tools of mental and emotional indoctrination with their own aims and agendas, often ECONOMIC, leading the way.
interestingly, MOORE brings up this notion that SPIRITUALITY through western PAGANISM promotes an outlook that takes into account the complexity of the NATURAL WORLD and our interconnected and interdependent position within it. this is in direct confrontation with that of stewardship model often promoted through CHRISTIANITY, which entails a sense of hierarchy and ultimately disconnect from our surroundings and our effects upon it. its an interesting take and very reminiscent of traditional HINDU belief systems ive come across over the years.
i think this documentary serves as a decent primer into the world of his writings, which often feature dystopian landscapes and oppressive, autocratic political systems that serve to squash human CREATIVITY and VITALITY. you get the sense from listening to MOORE that the written word is something sacred and eternal that cannot be dismantled unless we consent to it. for language and communication is an internal process and it is only when we consent to altering our self-image through manipulations in language that we give away our personal and collective sense of IDENTITY and INDIVIDUALITY.
it makes even more sense when you consider the current stateside political climate and the lengths to which the right will attempt to attack SYMBOLS, WORDS and CULTURAL MARKERS. they arent dumb. they well know that these vehicles each communicate ideas and ideas are dangerous to an authoritarian.
would be so interested in listening to him talk about TRUMP and the modern radio/podcast/television echo chambers and their assault on language and how such corrupts our very sense of self-perception.