I loved Hannah Berry’s first graphic novel, Britten and Brulightly, so I was looking forward to the release of Adamtine. I don’t think it’s quite as good, mainly because I felt it was too short. Great atmospheric artwork (late night trains are a great setting for a horror story!), interesting characters, but by the end I felt I still didn’t really get what was going on. Might be worth a second read though as I did read it in one go.
One of my favourite graphic novels EVER. And I’m not even a Beatles fan. It’s just a really lovely and tragic love story, and I love the charcoal swirly art style (ripped it off a few times already).
Despite the beautiful artwork and design, I put down this book about a quarter of the way through as I was sure I was going to hate it. It seemed set up as a ‘sensible boy meets wildchild girl with issues, falls in love and leaves his boring goody-two-shoes girlfriend’. I hate that kind of female character, maybe because I’m a boring goody two shoes myself. However my boyfriend convinced me to have a go and that isn’t really the plot at all, and although I didn’t end up loving the story, it was definitely worth persevering with.
Billy, Me and You is another book that is inseparable from it’s author, but in a very different way. This is a comic memoir of Nicola Streeten’s experiences in the months following the death of her child. A depressing subject, of course, but it’s a surprisingly easy read, and humorous at times, too. Considering the rise of the ‘alternative’ graphic novel, I think Billy, Me and You is significant for a couple of reasons. Firstly emotion and storytelling takes precedence over artistic ‘skill’ and perfection, and secondly because from the cover, this does not necessarily look like a ‘comic’. It will be interesting to hear how this book is received by people who would never dream of picking up a comic book, I have a feeling it could be changing a few perceptions out there.
Like so many others, I was delighted to hear Kate Beaton was releasing a book after a few years of enjoying her webcomics. I think what makes her work so appealing is that it just seem so natural, her comics are clearly full of her own personality. Hark! A Vagrant is a nice collection of short strips, mainly consisting of Beaton’s speciality: history humour. More comics need to combine fun with facts! So I guess this is a good time to plug my wildlife comics.
Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Fredrick Peeters was a book group read a few months ago. I don’t want to give too much away about this strange story because it wasn’t at all what I was expecting judging by the front cover and first few pages, and that was one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. Sancastle is, in a sense, science fiction, but with no attempt to explain the science. It’s also a murder mystery with no attempt to solve the murder. Instead the book has taken very real human issues such as relationships, adolescence, and ageing, and thrown them into an alarming- and often disturbing- surreal situation.
London’s all-female anthology Whores of Mensa has relaunched with much excitement as The Strumpet, ‘A transatlantic flight of comix fancy!’ Edited by Ellen Lindner and Jeremy Day, The Strumpet features artists from the UK and the US, in a move that will hopefully help create vital links between the two indie comix scenes.
The theme for issue 1 is ‘dress-up’ and stand-out strips for me come from Mardou (‘Mint Condition’), Patrice Aggs (‘Photoshoot’) and Ellen Lindner (‘Me and My Sari’). Emily Ryan Lerner has a very cute style and as always Kripa Joshi’s artwork is just lovely.
The Strumpet also features some reviews and interviews- enough to make the book varied and professional without compromising on comix content.
I read ‘Shortcomings’ by Adrian Tomine in completely the wrong order. Tomine is one of the last well-known alternative cartoonists to still publish his work as ‘floppy’ comic books (under the name ‘Optic Nerve’), and I was a bit late tapping in to the Shortcomings storyline. I bought the third part a few years ago, read some of the first part in a compilation and only just got the middle part at Thought Bubble this year.
It’s really just a simple relationship story that makes some attempts to deal with race and trust issues. What I like so much about Shortcomings is that by the end, both parties have revealed their flaws and their weaknesses- there isn’t a polar victim and ‘bad guy’. Tomine in my opinion is a great storyteller and a master at capturing human expression, even if those expressions are almost exclusively placed on the young and the beautiful.
I asked for Jim Woodring’s ‘Congress of the Animals’ for my birthday. It’s a wordless graphic novel that follows Woodring’s main character Frank on a fantastical journey that eventually finds him some sort of love and affection, but for the most part is full of disaster, hard labour and general grotesqueness.
I really want to like Jim Woodring’s work and in a way I do- I admire both his imagination and technical skill as an artist. However I’m just a really, really sensitive person when it comes to disturbing imagery and general grossness- I can’t handle it. Reading Congress of the Animals reminded me of being given the 'Twisted Tales of Felix' video as a child and being completely sickened by it’s weirdness. Unfortunately for me my little sister loved it, and toddlers can happily watch the same thing over and over and over again! It’s pathetic I know, but I had to read this book in small doses, and I especially had to take a break after the ‘faceless men with intestines’ incident.
At the same time, however, I can see that this book is not just about grossing people out- there’s a number of ‘deeper’ themes running through the storyline. Though to appreciate these in full I’d prefer to read Woodring’s (surprisingly comprehensive) summary on the dustjacket than pour over the imagery for too long- but that’s just me!
I feel bad I haven’t updated in so long! It’s not that I haven’t been reading comics- I’ve a huge backlog now- but I’ve been mega busy the past few weeks. First of all there was the Thought Bubble festival in Leeds, and then I was away to Japan for a conference. While in Kyoto I got the chance to visit the International Manga Museum and I’m really glad that I did.
As I’ve said before I know very little about Japanese comics, but this didn’t really matter in the Manga Museum. It was just so great to be in a building dedicated to comic art and to see comics being respected and discussed as a serious art form and contribution to culture. As well as the copious amount of manga available for visitors to read, there was also children’s events, historical information, technical information on manga creation and a special study area for academics of manga. The Cartoon Museum in London is a lovely place, but if there was somewhere like this in the UK I’d be in there every weekend!
The Art of Pho is a graphic novel by the 2008 winner of the Observer/ Jonathan Cape Graphic Short Story prize: Julian Hanshaw. This year was the first year I didn’t enter the competition after three failed attempts, partly due to time but also because this book made me feel like I’d never stand a chance in a million years!
It’s a strange tale about a sort of pig-like ceature called Little Blue, who finds himself stranded in Ho Chi Minh City and sets up a small business selling Pho (recipe included) in the streets. He befriends a group of gap-year travellers, being particularly drawn to the kind-hearted yet unattainable Sandy. Whilst fending for himself and dealing with the pains of innocence and naivety and unrequited love, Little Blue is on a personal journey to discover his original identity.
What really made The Art of Pho a good read was the art- it’s as much a work of graphic design as it is illustration and storytelling. Every page is beautifully and thoughtfully designed and I found myself just staring at this book in wonder, with a sickening feeling that I still have a long way to go in my own comic work!
The Clique by Lisi Harrison and Yishan Li is a manga adaptation of a popular teen fiction series. I only read this because it was a comic, and it took me about an hour or so, but I’m glad I did. Not so much for the story (Mean Girls-esque bullying and snobbery), which I’m probably about 14 years too old for, but because it made a really interesting read considering my interest in comics aimed at young women and girls. As manga is generally considered more successful with this demographic, I’d like to compare The Clique with the unsuccessful graphic novel imprint MINX, which ended in 2007.
Unlike MINX titles such as ‘The P.L.A.I.N Janes’ and ‘Emiko Superstar’, the characters in this book are extremely wealthy and display a lifestyle that almost all girls can only dream of. This doesn’t make the characters admirable, but the appeal of this fantasy lifestlye is something that was discussed a lot during my workshop at the Alternative Press Festival. Also, there is a lot of attention to detail regarding fashion, which could be significant.
Most significantly I think, is that although the characters are supposed to be entering 7th grade and mention their first bras and starting periods, they look and act much older. This could be more a successful approach for girls of that agegroup, who prefer to read ‘older’, meaning they may come across material that is unsuitable for them.
In conclusion, I’m not saying The Clique is better than MINX (I personally prefer the latter), but it’s interesting to make some observations about the differences between teen girl manga and western comics aimed at the same group. I think MINX’s real problems lay with marketing and distribution, but it’s quite possible that style, character and story also need addressing if a similar imprint is to be launched in the future.
At first glance, ‘Scenes from an Impending Marriage’ by Adrian Tomine could be dismissed as a nauseating, self-indulgent project that only someone as successful as he is could convince others to buy. But although much of this teenie book comes straight from Tomine’s wedding favours, it isn’t like that at all. It does exactly what it says on the tin- it’s a series of short comic scenes of Tomine and his fiancée planning their wedding, but it’s been done in a way that is very funny and cute. Aw.
I know very very little about manga. I’m not completely opposed to it, I just don’t know where to start and a lot of the commercial stuff I see has a very off-putting style (in my opinion). When my partner spotted the first two volumes of ‘Saturn Apartments’ by Hisae Iwaoka in a local charity shop, the cover art was just so gorgeous they seemed worth a try.
I LOVE these! In an attempt to save it, entire planet has been declared a nature reserve and all humans live in a floating space-ring high in the atmosphere. Sounds like the setting for a sci-fi extravaganza but no, Saturn Apartments is about the guys who clean the windows for the ring’s wealthiest inhabitants. It’s a dangerous job, but one in which new recruit Mitsu gets to meet a whole range of interesting characters and hopefully collect more details of his father’s fatal accident.
The story is slow paced and largely uneventful making it an incredibly pleasant and relaxing read, and Iwaoka’s art is intricately beautiful. I’m also in total awe of her innovative panel compositions, reading Saturn Apartments is like taking a lesson on how you should be making comics.
Luchadoras by Peggy Adam has recently been translated from French for Blank Slate Books. It tells the story of Alma, a woman struggling to survive in the infamous Mexican town of Juarez where extreme violence against women has become part of everyday life. I love the art style and the story is certainly thought-provoking, although I don’t think Adam has achieved her aim of raising awareness of the overall situation in Juarez. Much of what goes on in Luchadoras could have been set in Glasgow; the author’s lens is too narrow to give the reader a real feel for the strange and shocking situation in this particular town. However, the thing I admired most about Luchadoras is that there are no pure ‘victims’- every adult character in the book has a dark or selfish side, making this a mature piece of writing. It’s a real shame that there was a printing error with the English version of the book making the cover sleeve look pixelated- it took me a while to work out whether this was a weird artistic choice or not.