SEXUAL POLITICS is probably the most brutal aspect of being human. the ability or inability to attract a mate or companion and navigate the EMOTIONS, EXPECTATIONS and CULTURAL BAGGAGE that comes with the territory. as awkward as the subject matter can be, cartoonist JOE MATT practically revels in it with unflinching gusto in his autobiographical graphic novel THE POOR BASTARD (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 1997), a repackaging of parts of his highly idiosyncratic PEEPSHOW series.
in essence this graphic novel proves the point that sometimes there really is such a thing as too much information.
MATT presents himself as a shallow, sex-crazed egotist who is constantly seeking his embodiment of "perfect" woman that is obviously a figment of imagination. for all of his SELF-OBSESSION, STUNTED ADOLESCENCE and rampant IMMATURITY, there is a real pathos to all the insecurity he projects on womankind. this expectation of his of their physical perfection doesnt mirror in his own appearance or SELF-IMAGE, even in a comic that he controls. it is as if he wants us to know how pathetic his life is.
reading his comics is highly uncomfortable yet instructive in that it makes the reader question his/her own motivations in the relationships her/he pursues. is MATT really that bad or are well all like him, seeking in others what is not in ourselves. is ROMANTIC LOVE inherently selfish? maybe.
i cant say id recommend THE POOR BASTARD but if anything it is highly interesting. makes me want to red the comic from the perspective of his attempted conquests. itd be interesting to see these women see him. itd be interesting to see what EMOTIONS, EXPECTATIONS and CULTURAL BAGGAGE they project onto other potential love interests and what that says about them.
maybe we are all similar? or maybe MATT is a true degenerate.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
i am sad to admit that my introduction, like many AMERICANS, to the world of legendary underground BRITISH comic imprint 2000 AD, was that dreadful SYLVESTER STALLONE JUDGE DREDD (HOLLYWOOD, 1995) film. needless to say i didnt pursue the comic at the time. i dont think i was alone in that.
a few years ago when i rediscovered comics, and by that i mean mostly ALTERNATIVE COMICS, i finally came around to learning about the long-running BRITISH magazine which led me to the excellent recent documentary FUTURE SHOCK! THE STORY OF 2000AD (DEVIANT, 2014). this film definitely felt like a labor of love, with notable participating interviewees including past artists like CARLOS EZQUERRA, BRIAN BOLLAND, DAVE GIBBONS, GARY ERSKINE, HENRY FLINT, LEE GARBETT and STEVE YOEWELL, writers such as JOHN WAGNER, ALAN GRANT, NEIL GAIMAN, IAN EDGINTON and GRANT MORRISON, EMMA BEEBY and editors including PAT MILLS, DAVID BISHOP and ANDY DIGGLE. and that is the truncated list of interviewees. it really is quite overwhelming.
what i found most interesting were the roots of the magazine, which grew out of a milieu of genre specific cartoon magazines written for young boys. founding editor PAT MILLS found his original ACTION comic censored for its violence so he ingeniously reimagined and rebranded such as a SCIENCE FICTION magazine, and importantly kept the violence, and thus 2000 AD was born. its pretty funny that such worked, given that it was somehow palatable and morally passable for the censors to see MUTANTS and ROBOTS being mangled, trampled, dismembered, tortured, drowned, and blown to bits. so long as it wasnt humans.
i also found it interesting the convergence between the magazine and the BRITISH PUNK ROCK movement of the late 1970s, with the JUDGE DREDD character both a reaction and a commentary on such at the time. in essence he was the ultimate authoritarian figure crushing the perceived opposition, of which the PUNKS were an implicit target. it was ultra-violent and tone perfect for an era and generation questioning authority figures and the relationship between the governed and the government.
and in essence that sense of questioning boundary lines in society and culture is what makes the magazine still relevant, and arguably very BRITISH. that subtext is also what differentiates it from its AMERICAN brethren and readership, who often expect clearly righteous figures and dont appreciate moral ambiguity. an interesting point made is how the 2000 AD model has over time found its way into AMERICAN popular culture with former fans writing, directing and acting in films more aligned with the later's outlook rather than the former. even musicians such as GEOFF BARROW of PORTISHEAD and SCOTT IAN of ANTHRAX are interviewed about how this active questioning of the status quo was what he got out of their fandom as kids. thats pretty cool that their readership included a legion of active, and not passive, creatives.
so yeah, this was definitely a worthwhile film and will serve as the basis for my further investigation into the world of comics, even those i'd hitherto not considered, like JUDGE DREDD. pretty cool. most definitely worth investigating if you are interested in the intersection of ART, WRITING and even MUSIC in modern BRITISH culture.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
legendary FRENCH illustrator JEAN GIRAUD, a.k.a MOEBIUS, is universally renowned for his singular mind-bending, often metaphysical visual work that has resulted in iconic work in BLUEBERRY, HEAVY METAL, ARZACH and THE INCAL as well as set/production design for HOLLYWOOD films such as ALIEN (BRANDYWINE, 1979), TRON (DISNEY, 1982) and THE FIFTH ELEMENT (GAUMONT, 1997). MOEBIUS REDUX: A LIFE IN PICTURES (ARTE, 2007) was filmed a few years before his passing and includes interviews with notable past collaborators such as ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY, DAN O'BANNON, STAN LEE, H.R. GIGER and PHILIPPE DRUILLET as well as acolytes such as MIKE MIGNOLA and JIM LEE.
i feel a bit under-equipped using only words in an absolutely vain attempt to describe the sublime work of MOEBIUS, which often depicts figures dominated by their landscape, whether impossibly dense or oppressively empty. his visuals have a metaphysical element that seamlessly invites the viewer to imagine themselves as being an active participant in the narrative. the scale and scope as well as the attention-to-detail is unlike anything ive witnessed reading GRAPHIC NOVELS in the past. its a singular experience.
i think what made this documentary interesting was how it presented this industry giant as a soft-spoken recluse, even amidst the recollections of his celebrated, and arguably more famous, past collaborators. this is said to be rooted in his youth, where he drew feverishly alone as his mother was often away working as a single parent. this solitary work he pursued was a behavior that MOEBIUS fully admits resulted in the hurt feelings among friends and family over a lifetime. it makes you think of the time spent away by past WRITERS, ARTISTS and POETS alike.
obviously this documentary is well worth investigating if you have any interest in GRAPHIC NOVELS or TRANSGRESSIVE ART in general. i think it is also worth your time if you are interested in the nature of genius and the art of collaboration. it is an interesting dynamic that MOEBIUS' most celebrated work are those projects for which he collaborated so effectively at, given his solitary nature.
should also mention that the evocative score for this film was composed by KARL BARTOS of KRAFTWERK.
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.
the standalone graphic novel JUST SO HAPPENS (ABRAMS COMICARTS, 2015) authored and illustrated by FUMIO OBATA is an interesting examination of how one's sense of identity and rootedness is transformed when navigating two cultures. in this case the main protagonist is a young JAPANESE woman named YUMIKO who works for a LONDON design firm and is engage to a ENGLISHMAN when she returns to JAPAN for the funerary rights of her recently deceased father. being the daughter of divorced parents and a stridently independent mother who left to pursue her educational goals and a career as an literary intellectual, YUMIKO is caught between traditional JAPANESE cultural prescriptions of passive femininity and the empowered WESTERN model of the self-sufficient woman.
in a sense she sees the benefits of both. this appreciation is seen through the visual metaphor of classical NOH THEATER, which finds a masked actor following her in her dreams. this deeply traditional style of drama, much like other JAPANESE pursuits, is intensely formal to the point that all GESTURES, POSTURES and MOVEMENTS have been passed down for generations upon generations. in fact, the formal elements of these performances are so entrenched that they subsume any sense of ego or expression on behalf of the actor.
going through the motions of participating in the traditional JAPANESE BUDDHIST funerary rites regarding her father, there is an implied connection to this sense of extinguishing the ego. these rituals are not about satiating the needs of the living. they are about continuing a pattern, fulfilling an expectation. FUMIKO seems to learn that there is comfort in the formal procedures and rituals not only associated with death, but with life as well.
having worked in YOKOHAMA myself for a year teaching LITERATURE at a private secondary school, i think it is quite impressive how OBATA is able to identify and explore this point of tension between EASTERN and WESTERN culture. i remember how seemingly difficult it was to navigate a culture where everyone was so impeccably polite. they werent being INAUTHENTIC, but there always seemed to be this distance. that is until there wasnt. i got the sense that once my JAPANESE peers realized that i was respectful of their culture and embraced the formal elements of their behavior (which is an adjustment for a WESTERNER), it was only then that i found myself joking with people. it was an interesting experience and something i often think about.
growing up as a THIRD CULTURE KID, you are perennially stuck between multiple worlds, multiple modes of being and understanding life. i'm still navigating it even when on "home" soil. its still an adjustment much like it is for YUMIKO when bridging ENGLISH and JAPANESE culture.
i thoroughly enjoyed this graphic novel and recommend it immensely.
photo by nacrowe
LOVE IN VAIN: ROBERT JOHNSON 1911-1938 (FABER & FABER, 2016) is lovingly constructed graphic novel depicting the basic narrative of doomed legendary DELTA BLUES artist ROBERT JOHNSON from the perspective of the DEVIL.
in terms of narrative there seems to be a heavy focus on the sheer physicality of the era, especially with evocative visual depictions of the thankless task of laboring in the cotton fields and carousing in the juke joints. you get a sense of how far outside of society JOHNSON was for pursuing a career in music that was unsanctioned by the BLACK BAPTIST CHURCH. you also get a feel for how all modes of escapism, whether they were musical, sexual or chemical in nature, where all just diversions from the harsh draconian reality that was being an AFRICAN AMERICAN in the JIM CROW, post-reconstruction deep south.
as with all types of narrative telling, choices are made regarding the subject that reflect more on the author/artist than the subject perhaps. this is true in the case of LOVE IN VAIN which was created by R. CRUMB acolyte MEZZO and finds interest in the extremity of the subject matter. in my mind, what i find more interesting about JOHNSON and his art are the ways that his upbringing and background informed his art. how they contextualized his lyrics. how those lyrics and that sound connected with generations of artists.
the devil at the crossroads gimmick is overblown in my opinion. it also is highly misrepresented as conversing with god in order to gain insight or wisdom is a hallmark of the WEST AFRICAN storytelling and oral history tradition than anything else. what gets perpetuated in well-meaning texts like this is the idea of a man who deserved to die for his talent, which is bullshit. the man was poisoned by a jilted husband of woman he was pursuing. shit happens. he messed with the wrong guy and due to his status as a societal outside, JOHNSON was left for dead without a doctor. his death was inevitable or a sign of anything.
i was a little let down that the narrator was the devil, even if he questioned the motives of several characters in the process (which is a bit of a head-scratcher when the lord of darkness finds you a bit duplicitous). seemed exploring WEST AFRICAN culture of HOODOO beliefs would have been more interesting, but hey the pictures are amazing.
there is an interiority to SABRINA (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2018) by NICK DRNASO that i really appreciated. the idea that in an increasingly digital world where all of human experience is reduced down to IMAGES, SOUNDS, WORDS and VIDEOS emanating from a screen, that all of reality is really what we choose it to be. in essence our senses have been hijacked and our ability to trust our perceptions has been compromised.
SABRINA presents narrative surrounding the abduction and murder of a CHICAGO woman and how such gets played out online when the video of such goes viral. illustrated efficiently yet plainly with muted colors and faces with seemingly no emotion, this graphic novel ingeniously utilizes LANGUAGE as the locus of tension and action. language here serves to deliver these plainly depicted figures into a surreal psychodrama. in essence digital media has the transformative ability to make us all question our sense of IDENTITY and our relationship to each other. with relatives, friends and significant others thrown in the mix in the public square that is the internet, disinformation and false narratives are proposed and take hold in the collective consciousness, some forwarded by unsympathetic actors with personal agendas and others by professional journalists. it is all the same racket an loved ones of the deceased are merely products to be analyzed, investigated and questioned with contempt.
their humanity is compromised at the behest of public intrigue.
this book is less about a murder victim and more about the collateral damage that has befallen the families of tragedies such as SANDY HOOK who have been the target of disinformation campaigns by the likes of ALEX JONES and other nefarious conmen leeching off the body politic with their conspiracy theories under a false flag of patriotic fervor and the limits of free speech and personal freedom. funny how concepts such as CIVIC DUTY, PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY or even HUMAN DECENCY enters the picture with these bloodsuckers. but they are just a symptom of our collective appetite for tragedy from which we all vicariously experience at a distance. we are all vampires feeding off each other.
SABRINA even depicts the extended circle of the victim engaging in this sort of behavior, checking out conspiratorial blogs and websites, listening to right wing news in an effort to make sense or draw order from the nihilistic notion that there is no meaning or lesson to draw from such a senseless act of VIOLENCE. and for me that tension is the crux of this narrative and where DRNASO succeeds wildly in this subdued yet immensely affecting graphic novel. that very need to define what is undefinable rather than look truth in the face and realize that there is no greater intent or purpose for human suffering. anything else is a fabrication conceived out of existential pain. conspiracy theories, hope, religion are all symptoms of this nihilistic worldview. maybe the proliferation of information via the internet has only gotten us closer to that realization or distracted us from it with a renewed sense of creative abandon.
interesting book worth checking out.