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.
MYCELIUM WASONII (ANTHOLOGY EDITIONS, 2021) by BRIAN BLOMERTH is one of the more UNIQUE graphic novels i have come across in recent years. its narrative centers around VALENTINA WASSON, the pediatrician wife of R GORDON WASSON, and her influence on her husband's PIONEERING investigative work related to PSYCHEDELIC MUSHROOMS. being RUSSIAN, she was raised with knowledge related to which FUNGI was edible and which was not and turned her husband on to the topic. this led them both to research the history of, including corresponding with ENGLISH writer ROBERT GRAVES, and popularize the traditional applications of MUSHROOMS in world cultures, including INTENSE PSYCHOACTIVE experiences. such revolutionary research during the first half of the 20th century even landed VALENTINA on the cover of LIFE magazine before her death in 1958 from CANCER. the WASSON name was proposed as the name of a new species, but such was overruled.
in a sense, MYCELIUM WASONII is a cultural correction to the historical record that seeks to give credit to the influence of VALENTINA in the field of scientific research related to PSYCHEDELIC FUNGI, which is still very much a MODERN concern given advancements in the PALLIATIVE application of such. as is the case with other NATURAL PSYCHOACTIVE SUBSTANCES, much MISINFORMATION and CULTURAL FABRICATION is rampant. in terms of the actual narrative at hand in MYCELIUM WASONII, the message transmitted is a SOBER and ANALYTICAL as a couple that connected over the topic sought to present investigative data for the public to utilize and scrutinize.
in artistic terms, BLOMERTH presents ANTHROPOMORPHIC hound-like creatures in a plainly drawn but vividly colored FANTASY world. the panels are very much IMPRESSIVE in how BIZARRE and PHANTASMAGORICAL the visions of the couple were under the influence of MAGIC MUSHROOMS. some panels are WARPED, DISSOLVED or turned over and the use of color is both STRIKING and BEAUTIFUL. BLOMERTH does such an bold job of showcasing multiple HALLUCINOGENIC VISIONS that it almost overshadows the narrative. what grounds everything is the sense that such trips are done under the guise of a local guide and that they showcase the INTENSE INTERCONNECTEDNESS of us to each other and the NATURAL ORDER. rather than aiding us to escape reality, MYCELIUM WASONII seems to espouse that said visions are a portal to a deeper understanding of the one we are all already bounded by. its an INTRIGUING story of historical value that is expertly executed and quite the visual / literary achievement. definitely worth checking out, even if you are a square like me relative to the topic of PSYCHOACTIVE SUBSTANCES write large.
PEPLUM (NEW YORK REVIEW COMICS, 2016) by FRENCH comic book author BLUTCH (CHRISTIAN HINCKER) is an INTIMATE tour-de-force that showcases the contextual and NARRATIVE potential of EMOTIVE illustrations within GRAPHIC NOVELS. BLUTCH also makes use of INTERTEXTUAL ALLEGORY ELEMENTS from ANCIENT GRECO-ROMAN MYTHOLOGY, the new testament and the works of much later prominent english authors. these LITERARY ALLUSIONS are usually just brief asides in a meandering JOURNEY (a la ODYSSEYS) that doubles as a FIGURATIVE trip through the heart and soul of the ROMAN EMPIRE. the NAMELESS protagonist is a COMMON PLEBIEAN who comes across the fallen relative of a senator and steals his name and cargo, a BEAUTIFUL likewise ANONYMOUS woman encapsulated in ice.
the journey this imposter takes on throughout the EMPIRE, through good fortune and bad, seems to be set up as a POIGNANT ALLEGORY for the vacillating INDECISIVENESS and eternal mysteries of FATE. at times his IMPETUOUS nature is rewarded and at other times used against him by POWER STRUCTURES that seemingly may or may not have a used for him, and that context is ever shifting. even resolved in POWER as a SENATOR at the NARRATIVE'S CONCLUSION, he is still rendered ISOLATED (the woman trapped in ice is DEAD) and STERILE by a PAMPERED community of overly-PRIVILEGED PATRICIANS who are DISCONNECTED from the realities of the REALM they control, of which he knows intimately from his travels and experiences.
the narrative is OBSCURE, CHALLENGING and ultimately REWARDING but the central power of this GRAPHIC NOVEL are BLUTCH's STARK ILLUSTRATIONS, often rendered in BLEAK CHIAROSCURO as if to emphasize the FALLEN and FRAUDULENT nature of the NAMELESS PROTAGONIST. the nearest artistic analogue i can think of are PAINTERS like CARAVAGGIO or GOYA, who both utilized LIGHT as an imprimatur of their subjects' extreme DEBASED and DEBAUCHED personalities. in PEPLUM, seemingly everyone is rendered in this manner, which seemingly provides a DAMNING JUDGEMENT on the state of humanity during the ROMAN EMPIRE, both on a macro and micro level. just being involved in the enterprise of the massive POLITICAL and ECONOMIC system itself has rendered everyone as MORALLY CULPABLE in the process. its hard not to read that as a critique of today, given how much of modern society is based not only on the POLITICAL and ECONOMIC systems innovated by the ancient ROMANS, but the unique ARTISTIC and AESTHETIC preoccupations of that ancient civilization as well.
PEPLUM is an OPAQUE and COMPLEX NARRATIVE that is exquisitely rendered and THOUGHT-PROVOKING long after consumption. i still debate myself on what BLUTCH was attempting to accomplish, which is the sign of any great ART. most definitely worth checking out.
SPOTLIGHT | AUBREY BEARDSLEY
photo manipulation by nacrowe
the baroque, JAPANESE-print inspired pen and ink drawings that famed 19th century ENGLISH illustrator AUBREY BEARDSLEY made to accompany the published plays and assorted writings of OSCAR WILDE are legendary. expertly conceived and meticulously drafted with flowing lines so deft that even SANDRO BOTTICELLI or ALBRECHT DURER would be envious.
what always drew me to the work of BEARDSLEY was its immense emotion. they seemed to evoke a world that was stark, impossibly elegant and sophisticated yet uncannily debauched. it is the art of power through the prism of sex.
much like the work of WILDE showcases human folly through the extreme hubris and egoism of the aristocracy, the work of BEARDSLEY similarly evokes a coded world were subterranean powers struggles are hinted at yet paradoxically on full display. this was very much transgressive against the societal mores of proper VICTORIAN society, where it was unbecoming to touch on such subjects.
my personal favorite of his drawings is the revered illustration of the biblical execution of JOHN THE BAPTIST by KING HEROD as a gift for his wife upon being asked for it. to me it crystallized most of the themes of his other work and his greatest parody of VICTORIAN values. where power and debauchery trump moral purity (as represented by JOHN THE BAPTIST).
for me this is a very modern illustration and worked seamlessly with WILDE's play SALOME which covers similar themes. hard to believe such a work was completed at age 12. could only imagine what his career would have been like if he had survived longer, having succumbed to TUBERCULOSIS at 25.
again for me his work is on a short list of my favorite artists, including FRANCIS BACON, GOYA and CARAVAGGIO. its too bad the originals are mostly owned by HARVARD UNIVERSITY and virtually never on display. i don't blame them.