Tagged: Short Fiction

Disquiet by Noah Van Sciver

Disquiet by Noah Van Sciver

There are times when I don’t have much to say here. I read a book, I mostly liked it, I’ve already read a number of things by the same creator, I don’t have anything particularly new or specific to say this time.

And that sounds so horribly minimizing, doesn’t it?

But “this is good stuff, in line with the same person’s previous good stuff” is actually very positive. (Right? I think so, anyway.)

So, with that caveat: I just read Noah Van Sciver’s 2016 collection of comics short stories, Disquiet . It’s a general, miscellaneous collection – everything I’ve seen from him previously has been more focused, from the graphic novels Fante Bukowski  and Saint Cole  to the self-explanatorily themed As a Cartoonist  collection.

But this one is just some stories and art Van Sciver did, over about the previous five years, collected between two covers and assembled into a plausible order. They have different tones and styles and concerns – some modern-day, some historical, one more folkloric – and they’re separated by individual pieces of Van Sciver art, so they each sit separately, like objects on a shelf. I like that in a collection, frankly – with prose, it tends to be a thing of making sure there are blank left-hand pages where appropriate, and maybe icons or dingbats or similar decorative elements, but comics-makers are more likely to just have more art, that they did, which can help to divide stories from each other.

I guess I might as well take the stories one at a time:

“Dive Into that Black River” is a nearly wordless, two-page spread, more of a poster than a narrative comic. It’s the opposite of “hang in there, baby!” if you think of it as a poster.

“The Lizard Laughed” is the story of one day in the life of Harvey, a middle-aged man in New Mexico, whose estranged son Nathan comes to visit. They’re meeting for the first time in close to twenty years, since Harvey ran out on the family when the boy was nine. They go on a hike; the two have little in common, as you’d expect. It doesn’t end the way Nathan expected, which is good for Harvey. Harvey didn’t have any real expectations; he may be too self-centered for that anyway.

“it’s over” is a two-pager in a straightforward confessional/realistic mode, in which a young man reconnects with an old girlfriend for a one-day fling on his thirtieth birthday – which also turns out to be a major (fictional) world-historical event.

“The Death of Elijah Lovejoy” combines a two-page text introduction to the overall life of that 1830s abolitionist with a comics retelling of the mob that attacked his printing press, burning it down and killing him. (This might be the most Van Sciverian comic here, to my eye, all sweaty/bloody men fighting for their rigid views in the19th century.)

“The Cow’s Head’ is some kind of fable, I think – a young woman (who has the same name as Van Sciver’s then-girlfriend, who also wrote the book’s introduction – possibly coincidence but I doubt it) is driven out of their rural hovel by her cruel stepmother, finds shelter, and is polite to a flying, talking head of a cow. (As you do, in fables.) This, as also happens in fables, leads to better things for her, though not for her sad-sack father.

“Down in a Hole” is a weird one, in which a former TV kid-show clown goes spelunking and is captured by the secret subterranean race of mole people. Both of those random elements are equally important, and then there’s a twist ending. There’s a lot going on here, and I bet there’s some subtext or purpose I just didn’t get.

“Untitled” is told in small-format pages – maybe it was a minicomic? – and focuses on a young woman, visiting her parents for Christmas. She lives nearby – close enough to bicycle – but rarely visits. It’s a slice-of-life mood piece, so I won’t try to explain the moods.

“Dress Up” is the doubly-narrated story of a good Samaritan/vigilante who foiled a robbery, as told by him to a young female reporter a little later, after the initial media furor has quieted a bit.

“When You Disappear” tells the story of a prison break, two men fleeing to New Jersey, there talking and separating. It’s based on a dream, but is less “dream-logic-y” than that might imply.

“Punks Vs. Lizards” is a pulpy post-apocalyptic story about, yes, punks who battle giant  intelligent lizards that have apparently conquered the world. Our Hero defeats one particularly powerful lizard at great cost.

And last is “Nightshift,” in which yet another young woman tells how she worked at a bakery overnights for a while, saving up money to get out of this unnamed town.

I found all of the stories interesting, and many of them compelling. They were aiming to do different things, and all were good at what they aimed to do (assuming I was correct). This is a probably a better introduction to Van Sciver than the two or three books of his I actually read first, if anyone thinks his work sounds interesting.

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

World Record Holders by Guy Delisle

World Record Holders by Guy Delisle

This is a flashback: you need to know that first.

Guy Delisle’s comics career has been mostly circling the lands of memoir – a series of longer, more serious books about his travels, created when he was a working animator and/or lived in interesting places of the world (Shenzhen , Pyongyang , Burma Chronicles, Jerusalem ), and a series of shorter, funnier books about his “bad dad” parenting style (User’s Guide , Even More , Owner’s Manual , Handbook ). His most recent major book, Factory Summers , was also in that mode: a look back at the job he went back to, several years in a row, while he was in school.

The outlier is his book Hostage , which is non-fiction and the story of one person’s time in a particular place, but was about someone else, not Delisle himself.

But Delisle’s first couple of books [1]  were stranger, quirkier things: two collections of short wordless comics, full of transformations and uneasy connections, Aline and the Others and Albert and the Others. They were originally published in 1999 and 2001, with North American editions in 2006-7. Like a lot of creators, Delisle started with shorter comics and then turned to book-length stories.

And he was making comics before the Aline and Albert stories – there’s a French book, Réflexion, back in 1996, which I suspect was short comics. If I were a betting man – and I am very much not – I would say some of those stories are probably in this book.

Which finally brings me to World Record Holders , a collection of Delisle’s short, mostly earlier comics. It was translated by Helge Dascher and Rob Aspinall and published in 2022. It collects twenty-two stories, originally appearing in various places – mostly magazines and anthologies, I think, with a whole lot in Lapin, a couple from Deslie’s 2002 French collection Comment ne rien faire, a handful in Spoutnik, and a few other scattered publications – between 1995 and 2014. But the 2014 story is an outlier; other than that, the newest piece is from 2007, and about three-quarters were published by 2002.

These are very much stories by a young creator trying new and different things; the art is mostly similar to Delisle’s mature style, but “similar” covers a lot of ground, and the level of finish varies a lot here, along with other details of line width and shading and use of blacks. That’s a lot of fun to see, and the styles generally work well for the individual stories.

It opens and closes with two short autobio stories, from 2001 and ’02, of Delisle – in very much his modern style – confronting the blank page early in his cartooning career. They make strong bookends, and also help bring the reader into the odder, quirkier material in the middle: most of these comics are not about Delisle at all…in fact, I’d be hard-pressed to make any overall statements about this collection, to say what it’s “about” in any comprehensive way. 

There are stories that may have been experiments, or try-outs, or explorations. Shaggy dog stories, artistic exercises, a few pieces of short autobio. A whole lot of a variety, in art and tone and matter and style – but all Delisle, all pretty successful, all enjoyable to read. And, yes, there is a title story – it’s buried, almost exactly in the middle, so you’ll have to find it to learn what records Delisle is talking about.

[1] In English translation, at least – assuming that means something for wordless comics. I see from Wikipedia that Delisle did a number of books in French that have never been translated, and I’m particularly intrigued by the “Inspecteur Moroni” series.

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