I love these subtle and not-so-subtle stories of women who don’t play by the rules, who rewrite the rules or who find in the models of ‘tradition’ thaI love these subtle and not-so-subtle stories of women who don’t play by the rules, who rewrite the rules or who find in the models of ‘tradition’ that are so often used to keep them down the weapons to resist the micro- and macro-aggressions of daily life. This is a great collection of visual narratives showing the need for and range of Indian feminist practice and action.
In the wake of the gang rape and murder of a young woman, Jyoti Singh (too often she was reduced to ‘Indian medical student’ in news coverage: objectified in her death as she was objectified and dehumanised in her killing), in Delhi in December 2012 it seemed as if international outrage might provide the boost of support to Indian activists pressing for changes to the law, to police practice and to a patriarchal cultural system that tolerates a particular set of violences against women (similar to but different from the violence we see elsewhere, in the UK including the under-reporting and derisory conviction rates for rape, the underfunding of women’s refuges and continuing tolerance of domestic violence). But as is so often the case, international outrage fades with the news cycle and the struggle is left to those on the ground and (hopefully) a slightly larger network of solidarity activists. This collection has emerged from this feminist politics that gained new profile as a result of these (continuing) struggles against sexual violence. In this project, the players are: on the ground in India Priya Kuriyan and Zubaan publishers; from Germany Larissa Bertonasco and Ludmilla Bartscht from the women’s publishing collective Spring, working here with the Goethe Institut Max Meuller Bahvan, and in Canada the publishers Ad Astra Comix – this is truly an internationalist project. At the heart of it, though, are 14 Indian women graphic artists who joined a week long workshop lead by Kuriyan, Bertonasco and Bartscht and supported by Zubaan and the Goethe Institut, and designed to bring about a collectivist approach to visual narrative, some of which is by artists for whom narrative drawing is new, to give voice to the struggles, the situation and lives of Indian women.
The 14 have very different stories, different styles, different tones, tropes and timbre telling stories of expectation, of alienation, of big and small moments of oppression and of quiet and of loud moments/days/weeks/years of resistance, of women who act to protect their children or who seek to overthrow unjust laws, of men and women who talk past each other and women who find solidarity in places they least expected. The stories evoke the modernity of Indian city and rural life and the traditions of myth and religion – Kali is an actual or sub-textual presence in some of the stories: the destroyer goddess is a powerful image and icon.
The politics of skin colour, the valorisation of lightness, is the theme for two of my favourites – Harini Kannan’s ‘That’s Not Fair’ and Bhavana Singh’s brilliant ‘Inner Beauty and Melanin’ – while I think the woman who watches and seems to save stories (and in my reading the town, its people and the world) in Deepani Seth’s sombre ‘The Walk’ (in a heavily shaded style I don’t usually like in narrative drawing) offers great hope despite its bleakness. The dominant themes, though, are first, sexual violence and personal space and second the expectations placed on women to be silent and subservient. Souyama Menon’s ‘An Ideal Girl’ is the most direct rebuttal of those expectations and Reshu Singh’s ‘The Photo’ the most complex. The standout piece on safety, for me, is Diti Mistry’s engaging ‘Mumbai Local’, about the cultures of support between women on commuter trains.
The point of this detail is that not only are the styles, forms and approaches distinct and different, but the stories themselves pose complex problems and even more solutions, or in some cases no solution – they just pose a problem. So, don’t expect in your face didacticism, but do expect to the enriched, entertained, edified and educated and to see modes of storytelling that given voice to the banal and quotidian as well as the conventionally political.
Ad Astra Comix from Toronto is responsible for the North American edition this is, and I presume to some degree the inclusion of the explanatory notes from the 14 illustrators as well as the four editors. These notes make accessible much of the collection either by providing a little background to each of the 14, or by providing background to the project and the workshop. As the blurb states: this is a feminism that is “inclusive, intersectional and … global”: may we have more of that in whatever medium works best....more
The graphic novel has now reached a state of widespread acceptance as a literary form, but graphic non-fiction, also known as ‘comics journalism’ hasThe graphic novel has now reached a state of widespread acceptance as a literary form, but graphic non-fiction, also known as ‘comics journalism’ has a long way to go before it is seen as a credible format. Even the label ‘comics journalism’ seems oxymoronic, and in many settings ‘graphic non-fiction’ is limited to little more than editorial cartoons and public service or politically (and occasional other) pedagogic forms of publication. If there is anyone who could alter this perception, it is Joe Sacco – a Maltese-born, US-based graphic journalist.
Palestine is his first full collection, originally published in 2003, is a compilation of 9 volumes published between 1993 and 2001. It explores Sacco’s time in Palestine, both the West Bank and Gaza, with short visits into Israel. It takes us into ordinary, everyday Palestinian life under occupation to explore and reveal the frustrations, the marginalisation, the fickleness of the occupiers and the grimness of day to day existence; alongside this he shows the banality of support and solidarity, of people who provide each other with the socially necessary conditions of humanity in an inhuman situation. What is more, he writes himself into the events: this is not some bird’s-eye view of the situation but grounded in journalistic presence on the ground, engaging, affecting, effecting and influencing the lives of the people he draws on to tell the story. Sacco is extremely good at maintaining a position as a slight ingénue – that is, unlike many he gets amongst things on the ground, shows where he is uncertain and what is happening, how or why and exposes his lack of expertise. In doing so, he provides his readers with ways into comprehension and provides to opportunity for his ‘sources’ to explain and reveal many of those things we take for granted and don’t necessarily realise that they are mysterious to outsiders.
Starting in Cairo, Sacco’s visits take us to Ramallah, Nablus, Jerusalem (both East & West), Gaza and elsewhere on both sides of the ‘green line’. He tells the stories of those who’ve been imprisoned and while there ‘encouraged’ to talk, of men detained in desert prison camps of tents and how those camps became education centres, of Palestinians threatened by Israeli’s in illegal settlements on the West Bank (leaving aside the dubious legality of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza anyway), of women managing the contradictions of covering their heads, of the problems of access to health care, to work and to the basic conditions of everyday life as might be recognised. This is a story of life in an occupied country. He also tells of time in Israel that reveals a series of narrative lines – those who deny the issues associated with the occupation, those who for their own sell-being refuse to see it and those who struggle with the problematic nature of Israel’s foundational myths.
This is a great way into the current situation in Palestine, with a great introduction by Edward Said. Although the series is now old – much of it predates the last two major Gaza wars – arguably the situation on the ground and the increasing polarisation of both Israeli and Palestinian politics has not resulted in any fundamental change, but it has exacerbated many of the tendencies towards the ‘security state’ Sacco points to implicitly in this. What is more, his drawing style is clear and his storytelling excellent, showing how the specific case stands in for the general. Over 20 years after the first instalments were published it remains one of the best introductions to the circumstances of Palestinian people’s lives (at least as I understand them from friends whose research takes them into Palestinian communities in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel itself. Well worth the read....more
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 exNot 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