Tagged: Foreigners Sure Are Foreign

Assholes by Bram Algoed & Micah Stahl
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Assholes by Bram Algoed & Micah Stahl

Does this count as a foreign comic? It’s written by an American (Micah Stahl) but drawn by a Belgian (Bram Algoed), and was originally published in Dutch – this edition is a translation, and comes from an outfit (Europe Comics) specifically devoted to bringing Eurocomics to Amerireaders.

That’s foreign enough for my purposes, but there’s an additional wrinkle: this is a satire, with two main characters who are, well, Assholes . One is American, one is British. So to restate the original issue: does this count as someone else picking on those people, or is it all within the family?

It’s familiar enough, and the satirical targets (rich, self-obsessed TV celebrities! golf!) are broad and obvious enough that I don’t think anyone will actually care. But it does make the is-the-call-coming-from-inside-the-house? question more interesting here than usual.

Anyway, this book takes place all during one morning, at a presumably exclusive golf club, the Royal Marabou, which seems to be somewhere in the LA area. Two popular game-show hosts, the American Chuck Atkins (of Spin Your Luck) and Simon Kennedy (of Enigma) are starting a round there. Chuck is a big bluff sort with a brushy moustache, on his fourth wife – you know the type. Simon is toothy and slick – you know that type as well.

They both are tremendous assholes, though in my personal scorecard Chuck pulls far ahead on points and the race is never in doubt. The book is structured around their golf round, with chapters for each hole after some brief scene-setting among the caddies and groundskeepers, early that morning. We see Chuck and Simon interact with their fans, insult and belittle each other, do a lot of hitting balls with highly-engineered sticks, drink, and generally act out.

It’s all amusing, and often quite funny – assuming you enjoy comedy about assholes. But, then, if you didn’t, the title would be enough to keep you away. There’s no higher goal, no frisson of discovery or breakthrough: assholes these two men began and assholes they will remain. If that’s enough for you, this book provides snappy dialogue and bright art that, to my eye, sits somewhere between ligne claire and a modern North American art-comics look.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Trese, Vol. 2: Unreported Murders by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldismo
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Trese, Vol. 2: Unreported Murders by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldismo

I feel like I did this already, but that was a decade ago, so maybe I need to do it again.

Also, and probably more importantly, the last time I talked about this book, it wasn’t actually available at my end of the Pacific at all, which made my praise slightly beside the point for most people. But, luckily, the Trese books are now coming out from Ablaze: the third volume hit in January and the fourth (which is beyond where I saw the first time around) is coming in May. 

But, here we are with Trese 2: Unreported Murders , collecting what were four issues of the floppy-comics series of the same name, originally published in the Philippines sometime in the mid-Aughts. (See also my post from last year on the first book in its Ablaze edition.) Trese is our main character: Alexandra Trese, who runs a bar in Manilla and also is called in by the police on “weird” cases.

This is an urban fantasy, of the common subset that assumes every folkloric or imagined creature is real – they’re all out there somewhere, and they interact with each other and mankind in complicated and often violent ways. Sometimes they need to be dealt with, or just figured out. That’s what Trese does, and what – as we get some hints in these stories – her father did before her.

On a base level, Trese is just good urban fantasy: taut, exciting, full of action and mystery and strangeness. For Filipinos, there’s the added frisson that the fantasy creatures are all part of their folklore – this isn’t yet another story full of the same old boring werewolves and vampires and tedious brain-eating zombies. For non-Filipinos, I think that’s an even better point: these are strange creatures. I don’t know what they are, what they might do, how they connect to the world, what their powers and concerns are. Fantasy all too often falls into the familiar; Trese has no truck with that.

And even more than that, Trese has the secret weapon of KaJo Baldismo’s art. Writer Budjette Tan gives him a lot to work with, true – all of those strange and frightening creatures, all of the odd corners of urban life where they lurk – but Baldismo’s pages, more often with black backgrounds than white, are gloriously detailed and atmospheric, moving from sketchy figures obscured by mist to tight close-ups on detailed faces quickly and confidently. And don’t get me started on the creatures he draws: Baldismo draws the details of horror as well as anyone since Swamp Thing-era Steve Bissette, and has a similar taste for both small things crawling and damp things flying.

As I said, this book collects four stories, four cases. They all have a similar structure: something bad is happening, Trese is called in, and it all gets worse before she fixes it, with the aid of her two bodyguards (not explained here, though they’re clearly something folklorically specific, like all of the other supernatural elements), her connections, and her knowledge. They’re good stories, creepy and specific and dark and ominous and startling. And, these days, they’re easy to find in the USA, so there’s no excuse not to read them.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

In Search of Peter Pan by Cosey
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In Search of Peter Pan by Cosey

Some titles are meant to be taken literally; this is not one of them. Peter Pan is not a character in this story, and no one is searching for Peter Pan the person. Or for any fantastic element, actually.

But Peter Pan is also a metaphor – though usually a metaphor for a certain kind of man-child who refuses to grow up, which is not the case here – and that is much more relevant.

Cosey’s graphic novel In Search of Peter Pan  is set in the remote Valais Alpine village of Ardolaz, in the late 1920s. The British writer Melvin Z. Woodworth – he’s of recent Serbian ancestry, which will be important to the plot – is vacationing there, hoping to find inspiration for his next work. He is of course late with that book, with letters from his agent and editor hounding him and threatening dire consequences if he fails to deliver. He is of course carrying a copy of J.M. Barrie’s works, and reading Peter and Wendy.

He is also chasing his dead older brother, Dragan, who left for the continent to become a famous composer, and apparently succeeded, since he sent home regular payment and stories about his triumphs in the continental capitals. He died, in a pointless accident, near Ardolaz a few years back.

Melvin mostly keeps to himself in this snowy valley: skiing and hiking around, reading and drinking quietly in the bar in the evening, wandering the town to look around and chat with a few of the more colorful locals. The reader realizes that he’s looking for inspiration for his next story pretty quickly, and that he’s also looking for traces of his brother, and perhaps the truth of Dragan’s life, somewhat more slowly.

But In Search of Peter Pan is mostly about what Melvin was not looking for, but finds anyway. There are rumors of a major counterfeiting ring, which ran for many years, shut down suddenly, and may have started again. There are ominous rumbles from the snowpack higher up the mountain, and talk in the village that they will all be evacuated ahead of an apocalyptic avalanche….sometime soon. There’s a gorgeous, mysterious young woman who he sees bathing naked in a high-mountain hot spring. Someone is playing the piano in the big old hotel, late at night, and slipping away before anyone else arrives.

All of that is related. All of that circles around the mysteries of Dragan, and of the local outlaw Baptistin, who Melvin aids on the spur of the moment at the beginning of the story and who is key to the counterfeiting ring.

There is an avalanche. There is an evacuation. Melvin does meet the mysterious naked woman – that’s what mysterious naked women are for in fictions by men, part of the rewards for figuring out mysteries and solving plots – and he does learn both what Baptistin has been doing and the true story of his brother’s life. There is a happy ending.

Melvin manages to square the circle of being both a very, very respectable man in a respectable classy occupation and also a master of derring-do criminality, getting all of the benefits and none of the detriments of both sides. I also could quibble that the ending may be slightly rushed, and a little too much of “and then Melvin got all of the good things in the world, all at once, because he’s the hero.”

In Search of Peter Pan is atmospheric and evocative: Cosey is good at both long stretches of dialogue and at entirely silent pages. This is a deeply enjoyable story with real depth to it, marred only slightly by some pretty blatant male wish-fulfillment.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

The Muse by Zidrou and Oriol
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The Muse by Zidrou and Oriol

If that cover image trips any warnings on whatever computing device you’re reading this on, I apologize – but it is the cover for this book.

The Muse  is an album-length graphic novel, written by Zidrou, drawn by Oriol, translated by Matt Madden, and published – only electronically; there’s no print version in English – by Europe Comics a few years back. It’s the story of a painter over a hundred years ago, as told by a painter about eighty years ago, doubly distanced.

In the very last days of the nineteenth century, Vidal Balaguer was one of the most talented of the painters of Barcelona – but also in the worst troubles. His father has recently disowned him, so his debts are mounting. The woman who was both his best model and his lover, Mar, has mysteriously disappeared and the police suspect he may have killed her. And the one painting he might be able to sell is his masterpiece of Mar – the one that is the cover of this book – which he can’t bear to part with.

One of his friends tells this story, to another model, forty years later, in a frame story that disappears for most of the book and is not important at the end: it’s a way in rather than a full frame, and I’m not completely convinced it actually adds anything to the core story of Balaguer. I even lost track of which one of the 1899 friends this old painter was supposed to be, since he doesn’t do anything important in the Old Days.

Balaguer is beleaguered – maybe the word is similar in Spanish? I don’t know if this is deliberate, on Zidrou’s part or Madden’s. Things are disappearing from his apartment. Creditors are circling, threatening to take everything he has. A police detective threatens even more.

There is an explanation, and this reader guessed it – and Balaguer’s way out of his situation – much sooner than the book revealed it. I can’t say if that is a common reaction; I’ve been that kind of reader for thirty years or more, always picking apart the stories I encounter and predicting where they will go next. I’m not always right; I was this time.

Oriol has suitably painterly art for this story; the spaces are deep and rich and evocative, the people subtly color-coded, the action mostly interior. Zidrou gives it a leisurely, talky script – these are mostly painters with time to waste in cafes or scraping paint onto a board – but reading it electronically (on a tablet screen, in my case) makes the balloons and lettering smaller than I would have preferred.

I did not find this a surprising story, or a profound one, though I did enjoy the telling. Zidrou may have aimed at surprise or profundity; I can’t say. In the end, there’s no real sense of why this happened to Balaguer rather than any of the other painters in his circle: was he better? was it his connection to Mar? was it just the luck and frisson of a moment?

Muses are fickle by nature, of course. Maybe that’s the answer.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Always Never by Jordi Lafebre
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Always Never by Jordi Lafebre

Stories don’t have to be told forwards. Sometimes a story can be told best in reverse.

The description of Jodi Lafebre’s graphic novel Always Never  makes it sound like a late-in-life love story: mayor Ana and Zeno, who has been for decades almost equally a doctoral student in physics, a commercial sailor, and a bookstore owner, finally are in the same place at the same time in their sixties, possibly ready to finally give their relationship a chance. And that is where the story starts…in chapter twenty.

The following chapters are also the preceeding chapters, as Lafebre traces the story of their lives backwards, jumping a few days here, a decade there, to wind all the way back to the moment when they met. We get previews of their history as we go: Ana and Zeno, like everyone else, talk about their shared past.

But, also like everyone else, they can’t talk about what hasn’t happened yet. So what we see later in the book will color what we’ve already read that happens later in time, but the narrative will continue moving forward. Which is to say: backward.

It’s not just a way of telling the story, though. Zeno has a theory about time, about the possibility of rewinding time, and his long-delayed doctoral dissertation is about exactly that. And that dissertation may have been accepted as the book opens, which means….he’s right?

That possibility stands behind the entire story, and crystallizes the final moments here. This may be exactly what he theorized – but, if it is, that’s outside of this story. If time rewinds and tells a different story, what happens then?

Ana and Zeno are mostly separate, those long years, trading letters – sometimes actually trading them, sometimes writing and discarding those letters, for themselves rather than for the other one – talking on the phone, thinking about each other, and mostly living their own lives. Ana married and had a daughter, who is grown with a child of her own by the beginning (or end) of the book. Zeno was engaged, in his telling, many, many times, but nothing more than that – how do you tie down a sailor?

There are other motifs besides the doctoral thesis, other pieces that recur. One of Ana’s longest projects as mayor was building a bridge for her town, connecting what seem to be the neighborhoods on top of two very steep hills – and that project takes much longer, and goes through more changes, than anyone expected. But, of course, because of the way Lafebre tells the story, we see it completed first – because of the way he tells this story, we see the end of everything first.

That, almost paradoxically, makes Always Never a more positive, happy story. We already know how it will end; we know things will be just fine. What we don’t know, or don’t know enough about, is how it begins.

Lafebre tells this story in a mostly-sunny palette and with character designs that seem to my eye to have a bit of animation influence in them: these are people made to move through space, to interact with their world, to be dynamic in their bodies and faces. And even as Ana and Zeno end up on opposite sides of the world, we’re on their side – on the side of each of them in their struggles, and on the side of wanting Ana-and-Zeno to be together. (Although Lafebre manages that in large part by keeping Ana’s husband Giuseppe mostly in the background; his version of this story would be very different.)

Always Never is assured, confident, lovely, and sweet. It’s also remarkably happy for a love story about two people who spend forty years about as far apart from each other as possible. I see it was the first book Lafebre wrote after drawing a number of bandes dessinées from other people’s scripts; he’s clearly been taking notes along the way.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

The Golden Age, Book 1 by Roxanne Moreil & Cyril Pedrosa
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The Golden Age, Book 1 by Roxanne Moreil & Cyril Pedrosa

The title is ironic. Or maybe more than ironic: this is not the story of a golden age, but there is a book in this fictional world called “The Golden Age.” So it is, perhaps, a story called “The Golden Age” that centers on another story called “The Golden Age.”

The back cover says The Golden Age, Book 1  takes place in the kingdom of Antrevers: the narrative never gets that specific. It is a medieval kingdom

, somewhere vaguely Western European. Given that the creators – co-writer Roxanne Moreil and writer/artist Cyril Pedrosa – are French – you could call it a fantasy version of France, and not be far wrong.

In the manner of fairy tales, there is no wider world: we don’t know what countries border Antrevers, and it doesn’t matter. This kingdom is the world of the story; everything will happen within it.

Antrevers has been getting poorer and life harder for a generation or so. Crops are not as fertile, life is not as easy. Again, trade and development are left unmentioned: this is a single kingdom in a static, medieval world. The nobles have been increasing taxes to maintain their position; the peasants have been complaining, and starting to rebel, in turn. Repression of those peasants has been ramping up, under Louys de Vaudemont, one of the most powerful nobles.

The old king has just died. If his name was thrown out, I didn’t catch it. He leaves an aged wife – also left unnamed, and her exact title after his death is vague, too – and two children. There’s a younger son, but his older sister, Tilda, is expected to inherent – this is not a world with a Salic Law, I suppose.

Tilda is our main viewpoint character: a bit headstrong, determined to use her authority and power to make life better for the entire kingdom, to reverse the downward slide of all of Antrevers. To that end, she has been talking about shaking up the power of the nobles – not eliminating that power, probably not even curtailing it that much, but putting some royal limits on what nobles had gotten used to doing unfettered. She is young and energetic and sure she is right. She will learn others are equally sure of their rightness, believing entirely different things.

We enter this world like diving into a pool: Pedrosa’s first few pages are full-bleed, with bright colors, single images in an illustrative, almost impressionist style filling our vision. He mostly settles down to bordered panels after that, but breaks out the full-page art for major moments: this is a visually stunning book. He brings all of the fairy-tale energy and life of his earlier Three Shadows, combining it with the mastery of color and space he showed in Portugal .

Similarly, Moreil and Pedrosa introduce us to a group of peasants first: our story may be mostly among the powerful, but it’s about all the people of this kingdom. From there, the narrative makes its way to court and Tilda, as she meets faithful retainer Lord Tankred and the young swordsman Bertil, who may also have been a childhood playmate of hers. The three of them are soon traveling together, for reasons I don’t want to spoil, but you can guess at how the old nobles are reacting to Tilda’s impending coronation.

Tilda looks to gather allies: we’ve heard a lot about “the Peninsula,” and she heads there, to rendezvous with Lord Albaret, who she knows is loyal to her. They will find other places along the way, particularly a hidden community of women – something like a secular nunnery, or sanctuary – as the story circles around the ideas of governance, power, and noblesse oblige. Tilda has good intentions, but do revolting peasants want any Queen, even a fairly benevolent, forward-thinking one? And can Tilda conceptualize a government without someone like her ruling it by decree?

On top of all that, this is a fantasy story. There is some power that Tilda will find, at the end. She also has visions throughout: visions that make her weak, shattering her normal life and making her collapse, visions of war and fire and danger, in which she is an imposing, commanding figure.

This is Book 1. It ends on a cliffhanger, after more than two hundred pages. But the story, I’m told, ends in the second book, which is out now. I can’t tell you about that book yet – I need to find it now, myself – but I can tell you the first one is compelling and gorgeous and all-enveloping and amazing.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrT-bkNCXTI&w=560&h=349]

As far as I know, this book hasn’t been banned. Rather the opposite, so far: it was nominated for a National Book Award, and has won some other, more specific awards. But the week I read it acclaimed graphic-novelist-for-kids Jerry Craft was banned from a Dallas-area school for “critical race theory” [1], so I’m calling it now: the Usual Suspects will be protesting this book

, too, since it makes their little Kaydens and Buddies either “get lib’rul ideas” or whine that their teachers are being mean to them, depending on how stupid and/or indoctrinated any individual Kayden or Buddy is.

That may seem to have nothing to do with the book, but it’s not. Culture wars have no boundaries: they range through all of culture. Culture is what we live in. And the white supremacists are waging a very clear cultural war, with loud “will not replace us” messaging on national TV, aimed at people exactly like the co-author of this book.

When Stars Are Scattered is a book every Kayden and Buddy should read. As young as possible: maybe when they’re about seven, like Omar is at the beginning of this book. They should think about how they would live if they were refugees in a foreign country, with one parent dead and the other possibly lost forever. They should think about other kids: in their classes, in other parts of America, around the world. They should wonder what those kids are going through.

(To quote a song I’ve been listening to a lot lately, “if you think you’re at your limit, just remember what some folks survive .”)

This is a true story, more or less. From the afterwords by Omar Mohamed (who lived it, and shaped it into a story) and Victoria Jamieson (who turned the story into a script and the script into drawn pages), I think some characters are composites or somewhat fictional. But Omar is real. His brother Hassan, who can only say the word “Hooyo,” is real. The refugee camp Dadaab in Kenya, where hundreds of thousands have lived for up to three decades now, is real. And the civil war in Somalia, which is still going on, is real.

Omar was about four and his brother just a baby when they left Somalia. What happened that day isn’t revealed until late in this graphic novel, but I will tell you it opens three years later, with the two boys taking every chance they can get to look at new arrivals, hoping they will see their mother.

Scattered is mostly about life in the camp, and how Omar grows up there. It’s a grinding life: not enough food, very little to do, no clear possible escape. The dream of every refugee is to get out – some, like Omar, dream of going back to their lives before the war, but we get the sense that’s mostly children. Adults know that can never happen. The other dream is to get out: to be allowed to settle in some faraway country, Canada or America or somewhere in Europe. Only a few can get one of those slots: it’s a long process, full of paperwork and interviews, and there’s an element of competition to it.

And is your family situation worse than the others around you? Have you suffered more than them? Are you more worthy of being resettled somewhere overseas because of what you’ve been through?

And what does it do to a person and a society to have to think like that, to tell your story through that lens to UN interviewers?

Omar makes it through that world. This is a book for children; it has a happy ending. Omar is telling us this story, because he did make it out to America, and made the life he wanted. More than that, his adult life is devoted to helping other refugees, both the ones who made it to America and the ones back in Dadaab. It’s a good life, a life worth celebrating and spotlighting. I’m glad he and Jamieson were able to tell his story so cleanly and clearly, to an audience that needs to hear it.

And so, again, I want to see When Stars Are Scattered in every elementary school across the country. Especially the ones without people named “Omar,” or people who look like Omar Mohamed. That’s the way compassion and honesty wins the cultural wars: through true stories of different people, presented to an audience young enough to learn lessons of compassion and honesty.

[1] In case you don’t know, actual CRT is a graduate-level discipline, originated in law schools and also taught at the graduate level, to graduate students, in graduate schools of other kinds. It aims to untangle racial biases in things like historical criminal sentences.

It is in no way identical to “teaching white kids that kids of other races are also real people who you need to respect.” The latter should be base-level standard, but it’s what “conservative” parents are actually protesting, as seen in a telling quote from Connecticut, also this week: “helping kids of color to feel they belong has a negative effect on white, Christian, or conservative kids .”

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Girl in Dior by Annie Goetzinger

Sometimes you read a book because it’s there and you’ve heard of it. Maybe you don’t remember exactly what you heard about it, or why, or in what context, but it’s been in your head and you’re pretty sure it was for positive reasons. The world is full of books: you need to stretch sometimes and that’s an easy way to do it.

That’s more or less how I came to Girl in Dior , a graphic novel by Annie Goetzinger originally published in France in 2013 and translated into English for this 2015 NBM publication by Joe Johnson. It’s available in Hoopla – is there a reason why every Internet-era business needs to have a stupid and infantilizing name? – an app my library system uses to provide various digital things (TV shows, movies, comics, audiobooks, even ‘real’ books) – and I started reading it after realizing How to Read Nancy was far too dense to dive into on a Saturday afternoon. (And don’t get me started on its aggressively hostile introduction, by some academic who was at pains to be clear he hated comics, modernity, 90% of all artists ever, the concept of sequential art, and anything else the reader might possibly love or respect.)

Girl in Dior, I learned after reading it, is a fictionalized account of the first ten years of Christian Dior’s high-fashion house, founded in 1947 in Paris. It centers on a young woman, Clara Nohant, who is the primary piece of fiction: she is a minor reporter for the launch, later becomes a model for Dior, and ends by marrying a rich client. (Thus encompassing most of the potential dream-jobs for the book’s audience.) I think she’s just there as an audience-insert character, and to have a gamine, Audrey Hepburn-esque face to provide a through-line, but it does make me wonder why the book couldn’t or didn’t focus on Dior himself (surely the more interesting figure) or, considering the audience is primarily women who care about dresses, instead digging into one or more of the large group of women who worked for and with Dior to do all of this – one of his major designers, or models, or seamstresses, or several of the above.

Instead, Girl in Dior is lighter, more of a travelogue – Clara thinks Dior’s work is wonderful, but she’s not deeply invested. Her story is light, her crises few and easily solved, her endings entirely happy. The book has a lot of detail and color: Goetzinger is particularly good at both drawing the dresses to be very particular and using color to make them pop off the page, in a comics version of the sensation they caused on runways in the late ’40s.

I think I wanted more about the real people and less of “look at this gorgeous dress,” which is on me. Girl in Dior is very much a “look at this gorgeous dress” book, and my sense is that it’s deeply researched and carefully assembled to show specific, distinct gorgeous dresses from those first few Dior collections. There’s extensive backmatter to detail chronology, the sources (year and season) of the dresses shown in the book, quick biographical sketches of the historical people who appear (from Dior to Lauren Bacall), lists of potential careers in fashion and types of fabric and accessories, and, finally, a bibliography. This book was clearly very heavily researched, and I have no doubt that everything in it (except Clara) is as close to true as it’s possible to be seventy years later.

And it is gorgeous, full of sumptuous expensive formalwear for rich, thin, young, connected women  [1] ready to be elegant and sophisticated (and maybe just a bit useless) after the war years. I always want more context and cultural criticism; I always want more why and less “remember this thing?” Again, that’s entirely on me: Girl in Dior is a lovely evocation of a time and place – I haven’t even gotten into Goetzinger’s faces, which are magnificent, deeply specific, and much less pretty-pretty than the dresses she draws. If any of that sounds appealing, check it out.

[1] Pick at least two.

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Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Portugal by Pedrosa

I don’t know if Cyril Pedrosa – who mostly goes by just his last name on his comics, in the European manner – really just does one big book every few years. That’s been my experience of his career: Three Shadows over a decade ago, Equinoxes  a few years back, and now Portugal (from 2017).

And it seems to be the life of his main character here, a Portuguese-French cartoonist named Simon Muchat: Simon had a reasonably successful career making “books,” as his agent and girlfriend call them, but is in a slump as Portugal opens. He’s teaching art in schools, doing some advertising freelance work, but feels completely unmotivated. About anything at all.

And that leads to the obligatory question of how much of Pedrosa is in Simon. The question is obligatory; the answer, though, is unknowable to any of us on this side of the paper. Pedrosa’s grandfather immigrated from Portugal to France in the 1930s and stayed; so did Simon’s. Portugal is largely the story of that family history – or, rather, how a chance trip to Portugal started Simon to re-engage with life, and led him to start trying to track back that family history. The focus is on Simon, and Pedrosa never drops into flashback to tell the stories of earlier generations: we see everyone and everything through Simon’s eyes in the present day.

Portugal is loosely organized into three large sections, after a short prologue with Simon in the mid-70s, a young boy on his only previous trip to Portugal. Each of the three is named after a man in the family: first  “According to Simon” himself, then his father, then his grandfather. But that’s not “according to” as in that’s who is telling us the story, it’s more of a sense of how far back in time Simon has gotten at that point.

That all makes it sound very deliberate: it’s not. Simon is aimless when Portugal begins, and only slowly gathers any aim as the book goes on. He’s still drifting until very deep into the book, still just going along with whatever happens, and only shows some interest in family stories and the details of life in Portugal. So this is the story of a reawakening, in a way: one connected to history and heritage in a very personal way.

Pedrosa tells this story at a distance, though small talk and background voices, with gorgeous watercolor panels that lend a slow, deliberate rhythm to this fairly long book. It took Simon a long time to climb out of his ennui; we’ll see it happen slowly, and learn with him. This is a lovely book, with a quiet personal story told quietly and well – it may not be for all readers but those who can engage with it will find a lot to love.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 7 by Herge

This is the end. Well, sort of: there’s an unfinished last book called Tintin and Alph-Art, which is available in what I think is the form Herge left it (rather than completed by other hands). But this is definitely the last Tintin stories actually completed and published.

The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 7  collects books that cover almost two decades: The Castafiore Emerald (serialized 1961-62), Flight 714 to Sydney (66-67) and Tintin and the Picaros (75-76). Herge was clearly not devoting as much time to writing and drawing new albums in his fifties and sixties as he was as a younger man, but I suspect he was doing just as much “Tintin stuff,” only related to running a business empire: approving toy designs

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, meeting with movie people, arranging sublicenses, and all of the other things that are definitely work but don’t deliver any new material from a creative person.

Anyway, the three books are quite separate here, as you might guess from that sixteen-year span. So I guess I should treat them separately.

The Castafiore Emerald stands out as different from the rest of the series: it’s entirely set at Marlinspike, Captain Haddock’s ancestral pile, and it’s a mystery/farce rather than the series’ more usual adventure plot. I found the humor was not quite as juvenile as Herge sometimes gets – it’s still most based on how horrible Bianca Castafiore is and how much Haddock can’t stand her (and, secondarily, on how much of a blustery klutz he is), but that’s the story here, rather than random interjections. The story sees Haddock injure his foot, so he’s stuck in a wheelchair, right as Castafiore invites herself (and the inevitable accompanying media frenzy) to Marlinspike, leading first to worries about theft and then what seems to be an actual theft. It’s also got some good don’t-judge-people material, suitable for its young audience, though that thread is mostly background.

Flight 714 to Sydney is a more typical adventure story: Tintin and Haddock and Calculus are off to some international aviation symposium in Australia, get sidetracked by an eccentric rich guy, and then a villain strikes. There’s a lot of running around with guns after that, mostly serious, and a weird fantastic element that struck me as outside the usual style of the series and that largely serves to set up a deus ex machina ending in a book that didn’t need one. That one element aside, though, the adventure stuff is strong, and the comic relief mostly well-integrated into the actual story.

And then the last finished Tintin book, the one I could have read as a child of the appropriate age if Tintin was a thing in the USA in the mid-70s (it wasn’t), is Tintin and the Picaros, something of a greatest-hits compilation of the series. The fictional Latin American country of San Theodoros from The Broken Ear provides a venue and a big chunk of cast, one secondary villain returns from The Calculus Affair, and of course there’s the usual suspects of Tintin, Haddock, Castafiore, and the Thom(p)son twins. It has an odd anti-violence message from Tintin as part of his revolutionary plot, and that plot is fairly thin and mostly on rails.

I still think these omnibuses are a rotten way to present the Tintin books: they’re too physically small to read easily and the books are long and dense enough that they’d work better as individual albums. I expect the next big repackaging of Tintin will be back to the album format; every series gets packaged into omnibuses for a while and then broken back out again. If you have the inclination to read this series, I’d either wait for that switch or look for actual albums. (If you’re reading in a language other than English, the latter should be easier.)

As for me, I’m happy I read the series: it was a big hole in my comics cultural literacy. I didn’t love the Tintin books, but I didn’t expect to: they were made for European boys starting several decades before I was born, and I didn’t read them until I was middle-aged. But I can appreciate what they do well – I don’t think I’ve even mentioned Herge’s lovely line in any of these posts (maybe because of the horrible small size of these omnibuses, which does not display his art well at all) – and indulge the things they do to keep that young audience happy and engaged. I still don’t think I’d agree with the Tintin maximalists, but this is pretty good stuff. (See my posts on the earlier books for more.)

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.