Tagged: Foreigners Sure Are Foreign

One Hundred Tales by Osamu Tezuka
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One Hundred Tales by Osamu Tezuka

It’s tough to be a fan of someone when you’re not quite sure what aspect of their work you’re a fan of. I read a big bunch of Osamu Tezuka books, mostly published by Vertical, more than a decade ago – MW, Ayako , Ode to Kirihito, Apollo’s Song, a few others – and liked them all a lot. They were smart, sophisticated, serious books for adults, with a striking depth of expression and focused imaginative power.

Vertical might have published everything Tezuka did in that vein; I really don’t know. But I haven’t seen anything else similar from Tezuka in my scattered reading since then. The latest attempt was One Hundred Tales , originally published in Shonen Jump magazine in installments in 1971 under the title Hyaku Monogatari and translated by Iyasu Adair Nagata for this 2023 Ablaze edition. (It was part of a series called “Lion Books” that some awkwardly-worded backmatter in the this book attempts to explain, but doesn’t do a great job of – they don’t seem to have been “books” in the first place, but multiple-segment manga stories published in SJ; the narrative slides from talking about this series to other manga projects to anime projects without a whole lot of clarity; and there’s no explanation of what “Lion” is meant to mean in this context.)

Tales is, I think, part of the main flow of Tezuka’s career, the huge flood of stories mostly for teen (and younger) boys that he created for so long at such volume. There are elements that resonate with adults, but it’s mostly an adventure story with minor pretentions of philosophical depth, with the usual random Tezuka comic relief and contemporary cultural references thrown in willy-nilly.

The title makes it sound like a retelling of the Arabian Nights, but it’s actually a loose retelling of Faust, set in a vaguely historical-fantasy Japanese setting. The main character is a mousy accountant/samurai (shades of “Office? Submarine!” ), Ichiru Hanri, sentenced to commit ritual suicide for his very minor role in a coup plot against his feudal lord. He doesn’t want to die, and offers his soul if he can survive – so a demon (yokai, more accurately) in the form of a beautiful woman, Sudama, offers to buy his soul in exchange for three wishes.

Ichiru wishes to live his life over again, to have the most beautiful woman in the world, and to rule his own country and castle. And so the episodic story moves forward – first Sudama makes Ichiru young and handsome, then he visits (in his new face and under an assumed name) his horrible wife and lovely young daughter, then he chases his choice for most beautiful woman (Tamano no Mae, a powerful yokai) with no good result, then has the requisite training montage to become a stronger and better sword-fighter, and finally spends the back half of the story working for another minor feudal lord, massively enriching that lord and then overthrowing him.

It’s all pretty zig-zag. It does add up to a coherent story, but it only maps to the wishes fairly loosely. Sudama is also vastly more “helpful attractive supernatural woman” than she is “powerful scary demon” – the Faust parallels are mostly superficial, and drop away for the required happy ending.

Tezuka was an energetic cartoonist – sometimes too much so, to my eye, since this book starts off with Ichiru in full comic-relief mode, all goofy panic and silly faces, and the tide of comic relief comes in several more times as the book goes on. But, if you think of this as an adventure story made very quickly for publication in a massive weekly comics magazine for boys – which is exactly what it is – it’s admirable and pretty accomplished in that context.

Whether that context is enough to overcome the negatives is up to every reader to decide. Tezuka is a world-renowned creator of stories in comics form, but his standard mode is very idiosyncratic and very tied to the specifics of the Japanese market and audience at the time.

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

Feeding Ghosts by Tessa Hulls

Feeding Ghosts by Tessa Hulls

We are all haunted by history, one way or another. For some, it’s personal; for others, it’s public. After the 20th century we had, for all too many it’s both, intertwined.

Tessa Hulls is in her thirties, the second child of two first-generation immigrants to the US, brought up in a tiny Northern California town where she and her brother were  the only people at all like them. Her mother Rose is mixed-race, born in tumultuous 1950 Shanghai to a Swiss diplomat who had already run back home before the birth and a Chinese journalist, Sun Yi, who thought she could weather any storm.

Hulls tells the story of all three women, over the last hundred years, in Feeding Ghosts , a magnificent, impressive first graphic novel all about the ways Tessa and Rose, and Sun Yi before them, are haunted by history.

Hulls is the one telling the story, and that frames it all: she has those core American concerns of “who am I?” and “where did I come from?” Making it more complicated, she’s here exploring her Chinese identity as the daughter of two generations of Chinese women who had children with European men, and as someone raised in America entirely in the English language.

One more thing: one very big thing. Sun Yi was moderately famous: she escaped China for Hong Kong in the late 1950s, when Rose was a child, and wrote a scandalous memoir of her life under the Communist upheavals of the previous decade. She got her daughter, Rose, accepted into a very highly regarded boarding school in Hong Kong, despite not really having the money to pay for it. And then she mentally collapsed. Sun Yi spent the next two decades in and out of mental hospitals and was eventually cared for by her daughter in America starting in 1977, when Rose was 27. Rose spent her teen years in that boarding school, alternately worrying about her mother’s care and being molded to be part of an internationalist elite. And then Rose fled to America, first for college, then for a brief nomadic freedom that her daughter would eventually emulate.

Let me pull that all together: Tessa Hulls, whom a lot of Americans would cruelly call “one-quarter Chinese,” grew up in a town with no other Chinese people. Just a mother, quirky and specific and tightly controlled, the kind of mother who has Rules for everything that are rarely said explicitly, never explained, seemingly arbitrary, and core to her concept of the world. And a grandmother, trapped in her own head, scribbling every day as if she was eternally re-writing that famous memoir, and speaking only the smallest bits of broken English. That mother and grandmother spoke a different language together – I think mostly the dialect of Shanghai – which they never taught Tessa. “Chinese” was that language, that mysterious past, the symbol for all that was hidden and frightening and different for Hulls growing up.

Hulls has a lot to get through in Feeding Ghosts: a lot of family history and related world history, a lot of nuance and cultural detail that she learned as she was researching her family’s past. She tells it all mostly in sequence, after a brief prologue, but “Tessa Hulls” is present throughout, our narrator and filter, the voice telling us how she learned the story almost as much as she tells the story itself. This is a story unearthed and told, not something pretending to be purely dry and factual. It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s primarily about Tessa’s journey, how she decided to figure out this tangled knot of her family history, to do it with her mother as much as possible, to reconcile the two of them and try to come to a place here they could better meet and understand each other.

Hull’s pages are organic, specific, inky. She uses swirling white outlines on a black background as a visual element regularly – the pull of all of those ghosts, if you want to be reductive – to open and close chapters, and more subtly in the backgrounds of fraught moments.

One of the hallmarks of a great big book is that it leaves you wanting to know more. I was enthralled by the stories of young Sun Yi and Rose, and how Tessa learned what they did and what it meant. (The latter is the more important thing, in an ancient, rule-bound, formalistic society like China – maybe even more so in a time of such transition and upheaval as the early Communist years.) But I felt that she was less forthcoming about her own youth. This is very much a story of these three women, but I wondered about other figures: Hulls’s father is almost entirely absent, signposted as a British man with a thicker accent than Rose and seen only a handful of times. And Tessa’s brother, just one year older, growing up in this same house and environment, is even less present – did he feel any of these pressures? Or was this so much a matrilineal thing, tied into those cultural assumptions of what men and women do, that he was able to “be American” in ways more closed to Tessa?

But that’s not the story Hulls is telling. And every story casts shadows: the story that-is dimly showing flickers of other stories that could have been, or might yet be. The brightest, most brilliant stories cast the clearest shadows – that may be why I wonder so much about Hull’s father and brother; they’re dark, mysterious shadows just outside the circle of these three women, brilliantly illuminated and seen in depth.

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

Memoirs of a Man in Pajamas by Paco Roca

Memoirs of a Man in Pajamas by Paco Roca

So the book today is all kinds of things – source of an animated romantic comedy , compared to Seinfeld, a new 2023 collection of the work of the cartoonist behind Wrinkles  and The House . What it isn’t, though, is a single thing.

Memoirs of a Man in Pajamas  doesn’t explain itself. But it collects Paco Roca comics in three sections and has three copyright dates – 2011, 2014, 2017 – which three sections are somewhat different in style and format and concerns. And it says, here and there, that these comics originally appeared in Spanish publications, I think always weekly, at those times.

I’ll note, here, that all of the reviews I’ve seen of it focus most tightly on that first section, making me wonder if Publishers Weekly and all the rest only flipped through the back half of the book.

The strips here feature a cartoonist, happy with his life as he hits forty and most enthusiastic about the fact that he works from his home in his pajamas. He is mostly Paco Roca himself, but there are a few strips here that make it clear that Roca intends the pajama-clad cartoonist as a fictional character: this is not a diary comic, it’s not trying to be true, and he implies that he’s taken stories from friends (other cartoonists, perhaps?) and adapted them for Pajama Man.

That’s most important in the first section, too, which is entirely single-pager slice-of-life stories about the cartoonist and his life. The second and third sections see Roca shift to two-pagers (with a few longer pieces here and there, particularly to open each section) – the second is mostly slightly deeper concerns about the cartoonist’s life, shading into larger issues, and the third section shifting in the other direction, mostly Pajama Man thinking about larger societal issues with a few this-amusing-thing-in-life pieces mixed in.

What’s notable is that none of this is personal. We see Pajama Man’s girlfriend consistently, but never learn her name or job or backstory. A small child appears midway through, also without a name. We see Pajama Man traveling to give talks about comics, but – except for a couple of sly references to Wrinkles – no one talks to him about specific books, nor do we see him working on comics. He’s just at a screen that we can’t see, working long hours like any other knowledge worker – again, this isn’t a diary comic, Roca doesn’t talk about tools or art supplies or styles or anything about the creative work.

The Seinfeld comparison is apt in an unexpected way: this is a packaged, fictionalized version of a life – turned into comedy for a particular purpose. It looks real, because that’s the way to make it work best. And that – Roca has Pajama Man complain a few times here – of course makes his readers think it is real, which is good (for the work) and bad (for Pajama Man, and presumably Roca speaking through him).

Man in Pajamas is denser and longer than you might think – the strips are wordy and discursive, and the book is over two hundred pages long. It’s all amusing, and much of the back half is deeper and more thoughtful than that, as Pajama Man grapples with capitalism and Spanish history and the modern world in general. Roca’s line is detailed and illustrative, but still fairly close to ligne clair – there are a lot of small panels here, and the type can get a bit small (I read it digitally), but Roca is a fine storyteller, even when the story he’s telling is “one guy sitting around, trying not to do anything.”

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

Mickey Mouse: Zombie Coffee by Régis Loisel

Mickey Mouse: Zombie Coffee by Régis Loisel

Formats come with expectations and assumptions – not always warranted, but they’re along for the ride already.

For example: Mickey Mouse: Zombie Coffee , a bande desinée by Régis Loisel, originally published by Éditions Glénat in France in 2016 in (waves hands) some format, possibly within Le Journal du Mickey , is laid out like a newspaper comic. Four panels across, most of the time, about four times wider than tall, two strips to a page, 137 strips total.

As an American comics reader, on first glance I assumed this was a little less than half a year of dailies in some newspaper, and my thought was “who knew there was a regular Mickey Mouse strip in French newspapers?”

But I think that’s wrong. I think these appeared in that magazine, weekly – maybe one at a time, maybe two or three on a page each issue – and that the strip format is either an artistic choice or a very specific slot in that magazine that might look like an American daily, but is a different thing.

So I’m left wondering about the rhythm of this story: was it just one strip a week? That’s pretty slow for an adventure strip – though a lot of webcomics are on a similar pace, these days. It might explain why a lot of these are pretty wordy – you need to remind the reader of what’s going on. Or, to be positive, perhaps this ran in a really large space, and these strips are shrunken a bit for this book publication.

In any case: it’s a Mickey Mouse story, of the old school. The time is during the Great Depression, the place is Mouseton (presumably USA, but unspecified), and our hero and his friends are the downtrodden, pushed-around little guys of the early days rather than the fancy suburbanite or corporate icon of more recent years.

Mickey and Horace Horsecollar are looking for work, with no luck. Mr. Ruff, “the foreman” (seemingly the only way to get hired in Mouseton) keeps finding excuses not to hire them. So the two decide to run off with their girlfriends (Minnie and Clarabelle Cow) to go camping and fishing for a while, bunking with Donald Duck on a lake somewhere, because “camping is free.”

That takes up about the first quarter of the story – they return to Mouseton to find things have changed. A rich developer, Rock Fueler, is turning their neighborhood into a golf course. The potential good news is that means jobs, plus money for the houses he’s buying. But of course the capitalist is the villain, so his plans are much more nefarious than simply building something.

Fueler has employed two chemists to create massively addictive “Zomba” coffee, which he then distributed free to all of the citizens of Mouseton. The men, zombified by coffee, work almost for free, and the women and children get packed off to a new housing project on the outskirts of town. And the chemists are working on further foodstuffs, to squeeze the last few cents out of the Mousetonians.

Even Goofy, left behind, is now a coffee zombie, though Horace and Mickey do save and reform him.

And then our heroes fight back, against the nearly overwhelming forces arrayed against them. Pegleg Pete is one of Fueler’s top henchmen, as of course he must be, so he does a lot of the immediate attacking, sneaking, and other evil deeds. There are chases and fights and confrontations, and various bits of comedy along the way – for example, the chemist’s food is so seductive that noseplugs are required to resist its tantalizing aroma, so the big end scene is played out almost entirely with people speaking with those stuffed-nose voices.

I read this digitally, and I think that means I saw it somewhat smaller than the printed book – I hope so, since it’s full of detail and life and energy, and a larger format would make it a lot better. I haven’t seen Loisel’s work before, but he’s clearly great at this style, and has had a long and respected career making things that mostly haven’t been translated into English.

It’s a classic Mickey story told well for a modern audience – my understanding is that the French audience is mostly middle-graders, but there’s no reason it needs to be limited to that age.

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

I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib

I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib

Identity is important in American life – the “what are you” question that probably can be asked politely, but rarely is. We’re a nation that needs to put people into specific boxes, to celebrate or denigrate based on what your parents and ancestors were and did – or, more reductively, what you look like.

I’m sure similar things happen in other nations. But it’s so central to American life, especially if you’re not the default. As it happens, I am the default: male, Northeastern, very WASPy, and now middle-aged. But even people like me can see how it works if we pay attention.

So the result is: many, possibly most immigrant memoirs by first- or second-generation Americans boil down to: this is who I am, this is where I came from, this is what’s important to me and my family, and this is why that matters. Those are the questions they keep hearing, so they answer them. Those are the things that are assumed to be central to an American identity: what’s on the left side of the “something-American” hyphen?

Malaka Gharib grew up in a diverse city – Cerrittos, California, mostly in the ’90s – and still had to deal with that question more than most of her peers, because her family wasn’t one thing, like most of her schoolmates. (There’s a page here where she shows a schematic of her highschool, with every group – Koreans, Taiwanese, Filipino, Pakistani, Portuguese, Mexican – in their clusters, and her all alone in the middle.)

The back cover of I Was Their American Dream , Gharib’s debut graphic novel from 2019, is a very slightly different version of a page from the book asking that very question, in that blunt American way: “Malaka, what are you?” (And note, of course, it’s always what, like a thing, and not who, like a person.) The book is her answer.

The short answer is that her mother was Filipino and her father was Egyptian; they met in California, fell in love, married, and had this one daughter before divorcing. Gharib tells that story here: that’s the start of every American story, explaining who your people are. But Gharib has two kinds of people: the Filipinos and the Egyptians. She lives mostly with the extended family of her mother, but spends summers with her father in Egypt.

They’re both part of her identity. She’s different, special, unique. Which is not known for being a comfortable thing for a teenager.

American Dream tells that story – how she grew up, discovered she wasn’t typical, and how that worked out for her through school and college and early adult life. (She was around thirty when she drew this book.) The voice is the adult Gharib looking back: this is a book that could be read by younger readers, but not one specifically pitched to them.

Gharib had a second memoir, the more tightly focused It Won’t Always Be Like This , a few years later. That book is more thoughtful and specific, but American Dream is bigger – this would be the one to start with, I think. And Gharib has a mostly breezy tone and an appealingly loose art style throughout – she may be grappling with some serious themes, but not in a heavy-handed way. She seems to have had a happy childhood, and is celebrating that – comics memoirs so often come out of the opposite impulse that it’s important to mention that. This is the story of a happy childhood, in large part because it was quirky and specific and filled with interesting, loving people from two different cultures.

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

Onion Skin by Edgar Camacho

Onion Skin by Edgar Camacho

Two young people meet cute, share their dreams with each other over the course of a long drunken night, find they have a lot in common, separate for a while, and find each other again to achieve those dreams.

He’s Rolando; she’s Nera. Unusually for a story like this, there’s no romance or hint of it – no reason not to, it just doesn’t happen. They connect in other ways, the way any two people do.

This is Edgar Camacho’s graphic novel Onion Skin . Other stuff happens, too – and he doesn’t tell the story in order to begin with – but I’ll get to that. There’s only one copyright date in the book, 2021, so maybe it was translated quickly (by Camacho himself) for US publication after it originally appeared in Mexico? Or maybe the date of US publication just isn’t listed, and it made its way north in ’22 or this year.

Rolando worked as a graphic designer in advertising; he hated it. He hated it so much he injured himself – not quite deliberately, but maybe unconsciously – in order to lose the job and free himself. He wants to do something else – probably related to art – but he’s a bit vague.

Nera lives in a broken-down food truck. She’s self-sufficient and self-assured, but wants to be cooking food for people and has no idea how to get there.

None of that is where we start in Onion Skin. We start with the food truck Dawg Burger – they don’t seem to serve burgers, but never mind that – on the run from three bikers, on a lonely road somewhere in Mexico. There are two people in the truck: we don’t know yet they are Rolando and Nera. They get away.

And then we flash back, and we realize this story will be told in at least two timeframes: something like “now” and something like “then.” We meet Rolando; we meet Nera. Eventually, they meet each other. And we keep flashing forward to the two of them in that truck, some time later – traveling around, making great food, gathering a big following, attracting the attention of those bikers, getting into danger and out of it.

Camacho is serious about his characters and their concerns, but not overly serious. The big conflict with those bikers is just a couple of clicks down from cartoony: they are clearly dangerous, but not homicidal, and we’re pretty clear Rolando and Nera will make it out OK in the end. And telling the story inside-out as he does lets him breathe new life into a kind of story we’ve all seen many times before: he can bounce between the high points and interesting moments and never get bogged down in getting from Point A to Point B.

He also brings a stylized art style, design-y and modern, to add more energy. He’s particularly fond of quirky sound effects, another source of fun here. On top of all that, the focus on food is making me want to eat chilaquiles!

Onion Skin is a fun, energetic, visually interesting book by a strong new creator, telling its story with verve and excitement. It already won a couple of awards in Mexico, including the first National Young Graphic Novel Award, which I hope will be enough encouragement for Camacho to keep going and make more books like this.

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

The Lighthouse by Paco Roca

The Lighthouse by Paco Roca

This is a 2004 graphic novel – should I say bande dessinée? Roca is Spanish, but my sense is the term is used generally across Europe – that the creator’s afterword notes was tweaked a bit for subsequent publications, finalized (or abandoned, if we’re being Da Vinci-esque about it) in 2009. This English translation – which Roca might have kibitzed on, as his afterword talks a lot about kibitzing on the French and Spanish and other editions in the first years – was done by Jeff Whitman for a 2017 American publication.

So it’s older that it might look, but maybe not entirely so. The original work is about two decades ago now, but I’m not sure Roca didn’t touch it, one last time, before this edition.

The Lighthouse is one of Paco Roca’s earliest works, I think, but that picture is muddy. He’s been translated out of sequence here in North America, with The House from 2005 only arriving in 2019 and Wrinkles from 2007 lapping it handily in 2008. But he was already, according to that afterword, deeply into the working life of a cartoonist, coming off a complex book called Hijos de la Alhambra and working intermittently on the series Los Viajes de Alexandre Ícaro (neither of which, from what I can tell, has been translated into English) before diving into El Faro (the original Spanish title for The Lighthouse).

It’s a relatively simple story, as that afterword says: mostly in one place, two major characters, some action but a lot of talking. It wasn’t something that would require a lot of research and page design, and not in color. That’s one of the things that appealed to Roca, he says: it was a palate cleanser (and maybe, if I’m being puckish, also a palette cleanser, given it’s not in color).

I’ll also point out that the US-edition cover is a collage of panels from the book, maybe because the US audience needed the obvious weenie: a book called The Lighthouse must have a lighthouse prominently on the cover. Roca includes a much better-looking painterly cover in that afterword, but it includes the carved breasts of a mermaid figurehead, which may have killed it for an American audience. (I hate to say it, but my country is crazy in some ways that are very obvious and very well known globally.)

Francisco is a young soldier, fighting for the Republican side towards the end of the Spanish Civil War. He’s fleeing a disastrous battle, hoping to get across the French border to survive, assuming he’ll end up in a camp there but knowing the Fascists will kill him if he stays. He doesn’t make it to the border, but he does meet and is taken in by Telmo, the aged keeper of a remote lighthouse.

The book is about the two of them: what Telmo tells Francisco during his recuperation, the boat they built, the way Telmo rekindles a love for life in the younger man. Telmo has plans and dreams and schemes, which he draws Francisco into wholesale, while the reader probably notices they may not be entirely based on reality.

The war must return in the end, of course. And the young man must move forward, while the old man, having given his lessons, is left behind. We know how this story has to go. It all does happen, and it happens well. Roca makes Telmo’s lessons valuable, even if they are based on less than solid footings.

This is probably a minor book in Roca’s career; I’ve only seen his The House  before so I’m mostly guessing. But it’s the BD equivalent of a bottle episode: solid, interesting, accomplished, working within a limited space and accomplishing what it can there.

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

Enlightened by Sachi Ediriweera

Enlightened by Sachi Ediriweera

I think I’m writing for people roughly in my position: respectful, interested, only slightly informed. People who might have unexpected or unhelpful resonances with a book about different lives and different traditions on the other side of the world. (Do those old-fashioned clothes from Southeast Asia look like epic fantasy garb to anyone but me?)

I say that up front. If this is your culture, your tradition…well, I hope not to be wrong, or infuriating. But I doubt I will be helpful or insightful; you know this better than I do. Reviewers don’t say that often enough, I think: what you see always depends on where you stand, so I want to be clear about where I’m standing and the things I can see from there.

Enlightened  is a graphic novel, published for middle grade readers, about the life of the Buddha, Prince Siddhartha. It’s by Sachi Ediriweera, a Sri Lankan cartoonist, designer, and filmmaker. It is subtitled “A Fictionalized Tale,” and it’s about Siddhartha’s search, but it’s not a work of religious proselytization.

Maybe I should say that again: if there is a Buddhist equivalent of Chick Tracts, this isn’t it. This is a lightly fictionalized biography of a person of world-historical importance, the kind of book young readers will find, hopefully enjoy, and then probably write a report about. Siddhartha’s core insights are presented here, and the path he followed to find them, but the point is to inform, not to convert. [1]

Edirirweera tells his story slowly and quietly, starting with Siddhartha as a young prince chafing under the restrictions of his over-protective father. Ediriweera drops us into this world without explaining it, but the outlines are quickly clear: medieval-level tech, vast gulfs of wealth and poverty, what seems to be many small kingdoms living together peacefully, a mature and self-contained civilization.

Siddhartha’s is a story about suffering: despite his father’s coddling, he learns that other people suffer, that life is often pain. His people believe that they are reincarnated over and over, living lives slightly better or slightly worse, depending on the choices they made previously.

So Siddhartha grows up, still coddled and kept in the palace, with almost no contact with the outside world. He marries the princess of a neighboring kingdom, Yashodara. And when their son is born, he realizes he must break out and see the real world, and that this is his chance. He does; he runs away from his palace and wife and son and father and luxurious life, to join a monastery and live as a poor monk.

Years pass. Siddhartha has no contact with his old life. He studies and meditates and thinks and talks to other monks. In the end, he comes to a revelation: life is suffering, suffering is caused by desire, and so the only way to end suffering is to not desire. He teaches his new Eightfold Path, he gathers students, he becomes famous.

That leads him back to his old family. In the way of religious stories, there’s a bit of anger, but everyone is completely convinced, almost immediately, by the obvious truth of Siddhartha’s path. And so everyone comes to follow his path, as they can. I may be making this sound like a radical philosophy – and it could be one, in a strict form, all leave-your-goods-behind and break-the-wheel – but there’s a lot of nuance. There’s a huge spectrum between desiring everything and desiring nothing, and Buddha’s path is a positive, peaceful one, as Ediriweera presents it – perhaps even assuming nearly everyone will fail, that eliminating all desire is a project over multiple lives, multiple passes through the world. I don’t see any sense of hurry here: it’s all about letting go of things, and the more you can let go of, the better off you will be in the end.

Ediriweera tells this story quietly, as I said, in an unobtrusive style with a few, mostly light colors overlaid on his black (for figures) and cool blue (for backgrounds) lines. It is a peaceful, undemanding look for the art, and entirely appropriate.

What I know about the life of the Buddha is scattered and random; Enlightened told me that story again in a clear, organized way and explained things to me that I probably didn’t realize I didn’t understand. It’s a fine, meditative, thoughtful journey through the thinking and life of a man we could all do well to emulate – and I hope its path into the hands of the younger readers of North America is simpler and easier than I fear it will be.

[1] I expect to see various astroturfed mothers pretending to support liberty demanding it be removed from school libraries, though. This is a county where yoga is feared as a gateway drug to Buddhism. And, no, I am not exaggerating .

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

Grosz by Lars Fiske

Grosz by Lars Fiske

Today I’m going to try to describe a nearly wordless book about an artist I’m not all that familiar with, by an artist I’m not all that familiar with. If I descend into potted history and bland statements, that will be why.

George Grosz – I probably could force Blogger to display the original German spelling of his name, but I don’t have the energy for that this morning – was a German painter and caricaturist of the early 20th century (1893-1959). As you probably can guess from the intersection of the time, place, and field, Grosz was artistically radical and politically engaged: he was strongly anti-Nazi from the earliest days, moderately Communist (but, like so many others, disillusioned after a visit to the Soviet Union), and generally anti-clerical and anti-“high society.” He escaped Germany with his family just as Hitler rose to power, living in the US for the last twenty-five years of his life before dying in an accident in postwar Berlin very soon after his return there.

Lars Fiske is a cartoonist and artist and maker of other kinds of books; he’s Norwegian. His cartooning style is not a million miles away from Grosz’s paintings: both are complex, full of overlapping elements and extreme caricature. And, maybe a decade ago, maybe not quite that long, he made a book about Grosz’s life. In 2017, Fantagraphics published a US edition as Grosz . I didn’t see any indication of a translator, but the text is minimal: Fiske may have done it himself.

Grosz is a potted life, made somewhat more elliptical by being wordless. We see Grosz doing things, and have chapter titles (with what I think are quotes from Grosz) and place/time tags, but we’re not told the meanings of events and have to piece it all together ourselves. But we can follow it pretty well: Gorsz was a dandy of a young man, with big ideas for art, served in the army in the Great War where he apparently was wounded, loved American culture and strongly criticized German society, was involved in radical movements both artistic (Dada) and societal (Communism), ran afoul of growing oppression in Germany throughout the ’20s, and eventually got away to the US, where his life calmed down substantially.

Fiske’s art is extremely energetic, mostly black-and-white with some pops of color (red in particular) and a beige-ish overlay with geometric shapes of white cut out. Gestures are large, faces are caricatured, and he uses strong diagonals throughout – sometimes to divide actions into overlapping panels, sometimes as defining elements, sometimes as vanishing-point lines that he leaves in the drawing, sometimes just to be there. His drawings are visually dense: this is not a book to scan quickly.

I found I got a decent sense of the high points of Grosz’s life, and came to like the hawk-nosed guy, who is a bit of a sex-mad loose cannon in Fiske’s telling. Probably not just in Fiske’s telling, too, and to the end of his life, frankly: Grosz died from injuries sustained by falling down the stairs after a long night drinking. Which is definitely a colorful way to go, especially in your mid-sixties.

Even if you don’t care about Grosz – I didn’t before I read this – Fiske’s strong, assured cartooning and his aggressive linework make this a really visually interesting comic to read.

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

The House by Paco Roca

The House by Paco Roca

Some books have things that are easy to write about; some don’t. The more naturalistic a book is, the harder I find it to dig into – the more it’s just people living their lives, and the point of the book is seeing them, feeling some comparison to your own life, and making larger connections in your head.

A review can’t do any of that work for the reader. At best, it can point in interesting directions. At worst, it can short-circuit that process, making the book look facile and cheap and dull. Let’s see if I can find some interesting things to point towards, and avoid making vague windy claims.

The House  is a low-key graphic novel, by Spanish illustrator and cartoonist Paco Roca, about three grown siblings – two brothers and their sister – over the course of a few weekends, maybe two or three months – which they spend, separately or together, in the vacation home their father built in their youth but which they haven’t visited much at all for several years.

That father died about a year ago; they’re cleaning the old place up to sell it.

That’s the story. That’s what happens. First Jose, the younger brother, with his relatively new partner Silvia comes to do some desultory clean-out – we see for ourselves that he’s the unhandy brother before the other characters tell us. Then the older brother Vicente, then sister Carla visit the house, to do repairs and clean things out. First separately, then together. They each have their own small cluster of family – spouses, children – and they bicker, in that comfortable quiet way families do, with each other over what to do with the old place and how to handle it and how good any of them are at specific things. They talk with their neighbor, an old friend of their father’s.

Behind all of this is, of course, their father’s death, and how they lived through it – what they did and didn’t do and how they reacted and who did what and who ran away and avoided what. There are no big revelations, but there are things they haven’t talked about before, things that they haven’t said to each other. There are things the reader will understand that the siblings probably don’t; we get a wider, more expansive view of the story than any of them.

Roca intertwines that with flashbacks, mixing moments across decades, using a muted palette of colors to indicate scene shifts and changes of emphasis. His short, fat pages – this book is smaller than an album, and in landscape format – often do more than one thing at a time, with scenes that sit side-by-side to comment on each other or that bounce back and forth from the past to the present.

It’s quietly magnificent, a universal story told precisely and well, using all of the language of comics to show this family in all their depth and complexity. Pages echo each other, colors indicate where and when we are, body language tells us what people are thinking and feeling, dialogue is natural and telling in both what it says and what it doesn’t. And, most importantly, it all comes together in the reader’s head: it’s the kind of story that shows rather than tells, that leads the reader on a journey without just throwing up obvious signposts for plot beats. Anyone who’s been in a relatively functional family will recognize a lot of this, and sympathize with at least some of the characters – if you have a sibling too much like Jose or Vicente, maybe not all of them!

One last note: I see I’ve neglected to mention the translator, Andrea Rosenberg, who is only credited in the backmatter. Obviously, the main body of the work is Roca’s, but all of the words in this English-language edition are via Rosenberg, and their strength speaks to that work.

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