Not long before The West Wing started it television run I had left a job in a small policy unit advising a Cabinet Minister. I was alarmed at the extNot long before The West Wing started it television run I had left a job in a small policy unit advising a Cabinet Minister. I was alarmed at the extent to which I recognised conversations in that show – not their detail, but their tone, of trading ideas and pragmatic balancing of often contradictory interests of sectors of government ostensively all working to the same goal: I had forgotten that sense, that feeling of recognition until this marvellous ‘graphic novel’ (I just like to feel secure in my middle age, reading comic books).
Lanzac, aka French diplomat Antonin Baudry, takes us inside the world of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the build up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq is developing internationally; Blain drew, Lanzac/Baudry wrote. Here we find the minister, Alexandre Taillard de Vorms as a tour de force whose appearance in the room is marked by a Darth Vader-esque Dööm, and as a barely disguised Dominque de Villepin, negotiating the world of international relations, managing French interests and warding off the self-aggrandising aspirations of other ministries and trying to stymie the neo-cons rush to war. Using the arrival of a new speech writer, Arthur Vlaminck, as the way to tell the story, Lanzac and Blain let the events play out through Vlaminck’s more than slightly perturbed and perplexed vision.
We see Vlaminck writing to meet the Minister’s intentions only to find that as he was doing so, said Minister had another meeting resulting a profound change of tone; we see other advisors working hard to make sure Vlaminck gets their pet issue/spin on an issue into the speech; we see fundamental differences dressed up as matters of emphasis, and minor perspective changes as profound shifts and schisms. All in all, this is a scathing expose and critique of the realpolitik of diplomacy and government advisors' self-protection and self-interest advancement. In the end, we know what happens globally – what is presented here (in a refreshing counterpoint to the dominant Anglo-American narrative) as principle loses out to naked aggression – but more important is the seeming cost that Vlaminck pays in terms of his independence, social life and romance although not, it seems, principle (he does not seem to have many). In places, it reads like Borgen in a comic book, in others like a primer in government service.
All of which it seem very earnest and worthy, and in part it is – but it is peppered with Star Wars gags, Metallica lyrics and visually rich inter-textual moments all of which make it incisive and entertaining (and a little less earnest). Having worked in the world of ministerial advisors, I suspect I have read is slightly less cynically than others might. This is satire as it should be, and all the more powerful a critique of government (and close to the bone) for it....more
The title draws on one of Martin Luther King’s more pointed but widely quoted comments: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies butThe title draws on one of Martin Luther King’s more pointed but widely quoted comments: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” But it is a barbed comment – the silence of not using and perpetuating the language of oppression or the silence in the face of that language being used. In this wonderful (and fabulously drawn) tale of the civil rights movement in Houston, we get both kinds of silence, in a story where a local but new to town television reporter befriends an African-American college professor, community leader and significant player in the local SNCC. This is a very real and human friendship run through with tension and contradiction, on both side.
Wrapped up in the tale of protest in Houston’s Third Ward and police assault on a dormitory at the (historically Black) Texas Southern University the book explores the growing friendship between Long’s family (the journalist in question was his father) and Larry Thompson’s, the TSU professor. In both cases they need to confront the personal aspects of the ‘racial divide’ that have developed in their families, the costs within their local residential circles of the friendship and in Long’s case the potential professional costs and ethical issues when he is summonsed to testify and have his news film used as evidence in the trial related to the shooting of a police officer during the attack on the dormitory. The killing, it turned out, was one of ‘friendly fire’ – a police ricochet.
It is not, however, the major tale of the TSU events that makes this book so compelling and powerful (although this little told tale of civil rights struggle needs telling) but the small and mundane moments of the family and wider events that gives depth to the need for the civil rights struggle; the random acts of drivers who run down black kids on bike, of redneck customers who queue jumps and abuse blacks in ‘white’ stores, of kids who when they first meet touch each other’s hair because this is the first time they have played with white/black kids. To their credit, the authors also have the families doing things that are the mundane things of life – crabbing, watching the Saturn Five launch…. these are characters with depth (and I suspect there is a great and equally mundane set of tales of this kind that could be told; I’d like to know more about Long’s blind sister Julie in all of this – she seems to problematize/disrupt simplistic readings of many of the issues throughout the story).
The story is great, the art (all power to Nate Powell there) is superb; it is these kinds of things that remind me that comic books….. sorry, graphic novels, can be a powerful and important form and open up our past in ways that many ‘professional’ historians (mea culpa) struggle to do....more
A mid ‘80s outing of three strips collected into a single volume for Britain’s favourite action woman. They are all fairly simple yarns of pulp fictioA mid ‘80s outing of three strips collected into a single volume for Britain’s favourite action woman. They are all fairly simple yarns of pulp fiction adventure and skulduggery as Modesty and Willie, her trusted side-kick, confront post-imperial British-led thugees as a cover for post-colonial embitterment, Corsican organised crime and Iron Curtain revenge. All the tropes of pulp fiction are here along with intense post-imperial orientalist outlooks along with a goodly collection of corpses. Modesty Blaise, often imitated (think Lara Croft without the high tech) but seldom bettered in the genre....more
Los Bros Hernandez are among the best of the contemporary comic book artists, and along with The Watchmen and Art Speigelman did wonders in the mid 19Los Bros Hernandez are among the best of the contemporary comic book artists, and along with The Watchmen and Art Speigelman did wonders in the mid 1980s to revive the art form as a serious form of literature. Gilbert’s Palomar story-line in Love and Rockets is superb; in Venus he has a character worthy of Palomar, but with much greater appeal to younger readers (whereas the Palomar series is much more obviously directed to adult or at least more mature audiences). This collection, pulled together from several of The Adventures of Venus comic books retains the playful sense of many of the Palomar stories, a little of the magic (although without some of the threats of the older series) and is packed full of great, strong, inventive women characters. This is a fabulous little book....more
Dasheill Brody, her sister and mother move to Arizona and the sisters for the first time find themselves at co-ed school – which for Dasheill means thDasheill Brody, her sister and mother move to Arizona and the sisters for the first time find themselves at co-ed school – which for Dasheill means the chance to try out for baseball, and not the softball she has been ‘relegated’ to because it is the women’s version of American’s national game. The school is reluctant, many of the team hostile but with the help of a teacher she gets the chance to try out for the team. This is an interesting attempt to engage with gender divisions in sport in a graphic novel, but it is difficult to identify the intended audience. As an introduction to some of the issues in a girls-can-do-anything kind of liberal feminism it works fairly well, although it sidelines many of the structural issues and its Sunday TV movie kind of feel good-ness undermines its critical potential – but then I suspect I am a long way form the intended audience....more
Written in the early 1990s when comics had not yet become 'graphic novels' this does well to take comics seriously, and manages to effectively incorpoWritten in the early 1990s when comics had not yet become 'graphic novels' this does well to take comics seriously, and manages to effectively incorporate some of the best from both Britain and the USA into and analysis that draws on both fan and academic literature to ground the emerging adult comic/graphic novel genre in a rich historical context....more
Excellent, sardonic, beautiful tale of a growing up in Iran under the Shah in a left-liberal intellectual family. Great story, sparse black and whiteExcellent, sardonic, beautiful tale of a growing up in Iran under the Shah in a left-liberal intellectual family. Great story, sparse black and white line drawings. The kind of thing that lets the term 'graphic novel' actually mean something. ...more
Just as good, just as sharp, and just as damning as the first part of Satrapi's tale of child and young woman-hood in Iran around the revolution. ThisJust as good, just as sharp, and just as damning as the first part of Satrapi's tale of child and young woman-hood in Iran around the revolution. This continues to make the term 'graphic novel' mean something....more