My quest to read more superhero comics continues. And the second verse was better than the first, considering I liked this at least a little bit moreMy quest to read more superhero comics continues. And the second verse was better than the first, considering I liked this at least a little bit more than The Court of Owls. This still wasn't quite my cup of over-priced cappuccino, and I don't think I got it any better than Batman, but overall the reading experience was better....more
I've read comic books as long as I've been able to read, but I'd never be allowed to call myself a "comic book geek", because the Anglo-American superI've read comic books as long as I've been able to read, but I'd never be allowed to call myself a "comic book geek", because the Anglo-American super hero thing remains terra incognita for me, at least for large parts. Whenever I think of changing this, the few decades worth of "canon" seems daunting. Where to even start getting to know these characters and their stories?
But last week in the library I decided to just do it: pick a Batman book and read it, previous canon and my familiarity with it be damned. I supposed it would be like jumping into watch a long-running soap. At first you're like WTF am I watching right now, but then you start realizing who's whose evil twin, who slept with their step-son and so on. And it all starts to make some kind of sense. Right?
Wrong. After finishing The Court of Owls I very much had that WTF did I just read feeling. It's not that I hated it, but I did not get it. The reading experience wasn't unpleasant, but what was the point? Maybe I would have reacted differently if I had some kind of emotional connection to Bruce Wayne and his super angsty angst. Probably, even. But I don't.
In any case, the art is atmospheric, and cool in that dark Gothic way. But I hate the way Batman's body is drawn. I get that the ridiculously muscular build is a genre convention, and you can as much do away with it as you can have a soap opera without an evil temptress. I don't care. I still hate it, because it looks stupid....more
Jacques Tardi’s World War I opus, Goddamn This War!, is a hard beast to categorize, at least when using English terminology. It’s not a comic book, anJacques Tardi’s World War I opus, Goddamn This War!, is a hard beast to categorize, at least when using English terminology. It’s not a comic book, and for a graphic novel it’s not very novelistic. But call it what you will, it’s hard to deny its power. This is a harrowing masterpiece of one unnamed soldier’s experiences in the Great War that so wholly failed to be the war to end all wars. Things the reader won’t find in Goddamn This War! include plot and dialogue. Does that sound less than appealing? Tardi pulls it off and then some. The book moves forward in chronological manner, one chapter covering one year of war. But it’s episodic, fractured, chaotic. The neat order of narrative cause and effect is absent. As for the dialogue, there is none. The events are told by the aforementioned unknown soldier, and besides his voice we don’t learn much of him. Before the war he worked in a factory in Paris. He’s leans left. He’s not old. He had a girlfriend. When he gets vacation, he doesn’t visit his mother. But that voice! It’s a living thing. Tired, resigned, angry, even raging at times. And sarcastic, ironic, darkly funny. The voice brings the incomprehensible horrors of war in front of the reader in full force. And he is bitter. He makes no bones of the fact that the war is senseless butchery. There are no heroes, no grand cause. I have a vague recollection of reading somewhere that parts of the narration are based on Tardi’s grandfather’s memoirs, but I might have imagined that, because writing this now, I have been unable to confirm that. A word on the artwork. Tardi uses a realistic and detailed touch. His squares are big, and color schemes varied. We begin with bright greens, reds and blues, and then move via faded yellows, browns and grays to black, with frequent splashed of blood red. Much of the iconography is familiar, from the gas masks to bodies tangled up in barbed wire, but no less arresting or harrowing for that. Pay attention to the poppies! Last but not least, the essay by historian Jean-Pierre Verney that concludes the book is excellent as well....more
Graphic memoirs are in a real danger of becoming an old hat. The genre seemed so groundbreaking in the early 90's when Art Spiegelman finished Maus, oGraphic memoirs are in a real danger of becoming an old hat. The genre seemed so groundbreaking in the early 90's when Art Spiegelman finished Maus, or even in 2000 with Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, and there are still some interesting work published under the umbrella "graphic memoir." And it's a good thing that the new comic book releases shelve in our local library calls to me like heroin calls to Iggy Pop, or I might have missed one of them, namely Ulli Lust's Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life.
Compared to Ulli, many of us were probably quite tame in our teen-age rebellion. In 1984 she's seventeen year old punk rocker, and living alone in Vienna. She has turned her family's apartment into a hangout for her punk friends, and stopped going to school. But the real kicker comes when her new friend Edi convinces her to sneak across the boarder to Italy without passports.
In Italy they stay in Rome for a while, living in the streets with a bunch of other self styled freaks from all over the world. But when the weather starts getting colder, they head south, to Sicily. Big mistake. In southern Italy Ulli encounters a culture that allows grown women only one of two roles: that of the saintly wife and mother, or a whore. As a foreigner, and a free-spirited punk at that, Ulli never stands much chance of getting the men to respect her self-hood, or her right for bodily autonomy. Her honor is an alien concept, and when she tries to assert herself, she goes from whore to "crazy whore."
In my opinion, best comics are the ones that express things in ways that other art-forms can't do. To take an example from another graphic memoir, Alison Bechdel Fun Home. It's a good, powerful book, but it's hard to avoid the niggling suspicion that it could also work as a traditional prose work without losing much. Lust, on the other hand, uses her chosen medium to the fullest. She draws her younger self's feelings in a series of very arresting images, instead of explaining them, and she uses visual tricks that would look hokey in a movie. Which is not to say that the art here is flawless. The DIY punk aesthetic is evident in raw, gritty style.
One interesting point of comparison that came to mind while reading Today... was Craig Thompson's tour de force, Habibi, because both works deal with sexual exploitation of women. But as marvelous as Thompson's work is, it can't avoid the trap of objectifying the character whose objectification it ostensibly condemns. The male gaze is all over Habibi in a way that's wonderfully absent from Today. Lust doesn't have to draw Ulli's naked body in series of titillating poses, whereas Thompson apparently has to do that to Dodola.
So after all this praise, why only four stars, and not five? Well, for one thing. it's tad on the long side, and while most of the length feels earned, a bit of tightening up of plot wouldn't have gone amiss. For another, the raw and gritty style works for the most part, but a scene where three figures look enormous, because the perspective is not quite right, bugged me something fierce.
Last but not least, a word of warning: if you want to read the book, but you're likely to be triggered by depictions of sexual harassment, abuse, and violence, proceed with caution....more