Tagged: The Past Is a Foreign Country

Stories from the ’90s by Rick Geary

Self-publishing can strip out a lot of the standard bullshit of publishing. If this book had been published by a Fantagraphics or Dark Horse, it would be called something like Prairie Moons and Night Drives, or maybe True Stories and Other Lies.

But, since Rick Geary assembled it himself out of his archives and published it himself, it can be exactly what it is: Stories from the ’90s . Simple, clear, true.

Geary has been assembling his shorter stories into various books for a few years now; I think this is the most recent one, but I hope there’s at least one book’s worth left of newer work. Already available are Early Stories  (pretty self-explanatory)

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, The Lampoon Years: 1977-1988  (mostly single-pagers from National Lampoon in its declining years, though Geary’s work was excellent), and Rick Geary’s Book of Murder  (stories about murder, more and more straightforwardly as his career went on, over a roughly thirty-year span). Older Geary fans may remember At Home with Rick Geary (from 1985) and Housebound with Rick Geary (1997); I think most of those pieces have been collected in these four books now, along with a lot of other material.

Stories from the ’90s is even bigger than the previous books – they all landed in the 80-90 page range, while this one tops out at 120. (And is slightly more expensive, though slightly cheaper than his more recent individual Kickstarted books – as usual, pricing is complicated and based on multiple factors.)

And, of course, the whole point is that its full of oddball Geary stories. There are some long ones, like “Prairie Moon” and “Tragedy in Orbit” and “Mr. Nickelodeon” and “Our Illustrious Visitor of 1959,” but that’s only “long” in context: there are a passel of three-pagers and a half-dozen longer than that, but most of the work here is in single-page form. Geary was always deeply quirky in his short comics, full of strange transformations, matter-of-fact narration of bizarre events, random juxtapositions, and a sprightly, conversational tone no matter the style or matter of a story. This book has one Mask story – yes, the  same character the movies were about; it was a comic first, with work by a whole lot of different people – a couple of Geary-esque retelling of unlikely historical events, and a whole bunch of one-pagers on topics like “Desperate Clergy,” “Secret Places of My Shameful Past,” “Transgression Hotline,” and “Yes, It Happened.”

Geary’s art is mostly softly rounded here, full of people pulling faces during their madcap antics. His lettering is precise and lovely, either in bigger stories or framing those tiny little boxes of enigmatic objects he did a lot early in his career.

This is one of the most Rick Geary books possible, and it is wonderful. The only way I know of to get it is directly from the author, but don’t let that stop you: he uses one of the major amalgamators for merch (Storenvy), and it all works well. Hornswoggler says check it out.

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

The Adventures of Tintin, Vol 5 by Herge

I am still not your Tintin expert – I’m in the middle of my first reading of this series, seventy years or so after it was published and a good forty years after I was in the target demographic – but I did just read The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 5 , the first major post-war chunk of the adventures of the Belgian boy reporter (ha!), so I can, I hope, tell you a few things.

I’ve previously gotten through the earlier omnibuses: one , and two , and three , and four . I have not yet found the first two, semi-forgotten books Tintin in the Land of the Soviets and Tintin in the Congo, which are generally considered to be racist and/or dull and/or not up to Herge’s later level; I may get to them eventually, though the library copies I originally expected to read seem to have been quietly removed from circulation since I first thought about reading Tintin.

This volume starts off with Land of Black Gold, the story interrupted by WWII – Herge started it in 1939, was interrupted in 1940 by a small Nazi invasion of Belgium, and did six other books before getting back to this in 1948. [1] I didn’t know that until I read it on Wikipedia a few minutes ago, so major props to Herge and/or his estate for smoothing that transition out. Then it dives into what I see is the last two-book story in Tintin’s history: Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon, in which a pre-teen Belgian boy, his sea-captain buddy, and their absent-minded professor accomplice become the world’s first astronauts in a program run by a random Eastern European country, because comics, that’s why.

Black Gold does feel pre-war, with some vaguely escalating tensions in the background – mostly seen commercially, in oil prices – but the focus of the plot, as I think was always the case with Tintin, is on individual evil people rather than The Land of the Evil People or SMERSH or anything like that. Oh, the evil people are organized


, and come from somewhere, but it’s not the named, re-used Land of the Evil People, it’s just a place where these particular Evil People came from. This one is also deeply colonialist, obviously – how could it be otherwise?

And then Professor Calculus has been recruited by Syldavia to run their space program, because a small Balkan monarchy of course has a space program in 1948. (Admittedly, everyone wanted a space program in 1948, at least on the V2 level, and fictioneers are not obliged to let reality impinge too heavily on their worlds.) A rival country – unnamed but probably Borduria, unless I missed something – attempts skullduggery both before the launch (in Destination) and during the trip to the moon (in Explorers), but, as always in Tintin, is foiled by the forces of good and right and spiky-haired Belgianness.

This series is still the same kind of thing: everything I said about the earlier books still applies. They are very wordy for adventure stories, which makes this small-format omnibus a less than ideal presentation. These pages should be large, to be savored and to let the word balloons be somewhat less overwhelming. The comic relief is deeply slapstick, entirely silly, and mostly successful. The plots aren’t complex, per se, but they are complicated, full of additional wrinkles and problems as Herge rumbles through his stories and makes sure he has sixty-some pages of stuff for Tintin to overcome each time.

I expect I’ll finish up the series, and maybe even find the old suppressed books if I can, because I am a completest. But if you didn’t grow up with these, they’re just OK. Solid adventure fiction for boys, yes. Deathless classics of any kind, no.

[1] It’s all much more complicated than that, and I say “books” when I mean “serialized stories in a series of different magazines, which were then collected into books not always in the same sequence and then re-edited and revised multiple times over the next few decades, including but not limited to during different rounds of translation into English.” But they’re books now.

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

I, Rene Tardi, Prisoner of War in Stalag IIB, Vol. 2: My Return Home by "Tardi"

This is, obviously, a sequel. The first volume of Rene Tardi’s WWII war memoirs, as interpreted, reimagined, and made into a graphic novel by his son Jacques, was published in French in 2012 and English in 2018. That one covered the bulk of the war: how Rene got into it, his capture and transfer far to the east to Stalag IIB, and the life of the camp through the end of 1944. (See my post on that book for more.)

My Return Home  picks up the story from there: the first page has the POWs on the march, having already been herded out of the stalag by their posten (guards). It’s late January in Northern Poland — well, what is now Northern Poland; it was conquered Nazi territory then, part of the crumbling dreams of the greater Reich. Jacques begins deeply in medias res, giving no explanations for potential new readers. We don’t even get a date for nearly a dozen pages, and if we’ve forgotten that Jacques is drawing his younger self (circa 1958 or so; he was born in 1946 and seems to be a tween here) as an interlocutor and interpreter for Rene’s sketchy notebook account, there will be no relief to our confusion. (That’s the two of them on the cover: Rene from 1945 and Jacques from about 1958. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, frankly, but it works as a framing device.)

So: this is the story of a long forced march, of hundreds of French POWs (and some others, I think — Jacques and/or Rene are not particularly clear on the makeup of the POW group), through Poland and northern Germany, for reasons that were not clear to Rene on the ground in 1945 and are no clearer to us now. The posten apparently thought they would be killed by the advancing Russian armies — which is probably entirely true — and perhaps were still dutiful or suspicious enough not to leave hundreds of former combatants, even ones broken down by four years of camp life, in their rear as they fled West. (It probably made sense to them at the time. Some of them likely even made it out to safety and survived the end of the war.)

Rene kept a skeletal diary of the march — names of towns and kilometers on the road for each day, and a few other notes on river crossings and armies seen in the distance and similar events. That diary survived for Jacques to turn it into this book, but the reader has to be amazed at how much work it took for Jacques to go from those quick notes, which we can see on the endpapers, to three wide panels per page, full of landscape and men trudging through that landscape, with events and dialogue and endless marching.

In the end, though, My Return Home is more than a bit of a slog itself. We know Rene made it home, and the march is neither particularly interesting (another night in a random field! backtracking yet again to cross the same river!) nor horrifying (there are some moments, but it looks like nearly all of the POWs survived and only a few of them got up to anything that could be called seriour war crimes [1]). It’s another war story, and war is hell: we know that already. My Return Home is about a hundred and fifty pages of men marching through dull terrain under duress: that’s it.

Jacques’ writing, or perhaps the translation by Jenna Allen, is a bit stilted in spots. Since Jacques’s afterword is stilted, and fond of random exclamation points in the middle of the sentence the same ways, I’m inclined to pin it on him. His art is strong as usual, and his slogging POWs remind me of Mauldin’s soldiers — maybe just due to the era and my American biases.

There is a third volume, which was just published in the US, covering (I think) Rene’s return to Germany as a civilian, years later. But, frankly, it’s looking like there only needed to be one I, Rene Tardi, Prisoner of War in Stalag IIB, and that’s the one when he actually was a prisoner of war in Stalag IIB.

[1] Rene did, as part of revenge against the remaining posten near the end of the march. It’s mildly shocking in the story, but not surprising.

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

Nobody’s Fool by Bill Griffith

It is an odd and interesting thing: the biography of someone whose life is badly-recorded and full of gaps. It’s even more quirky when that person didn’t really do anything in his life, and even the records of where that person was are messy and often missing.

But Bill Griffith, cartooning king of all things pinhead-related, wanted to tell the story of Schlitzie the Pinhead, the second-most famous real-world pinhead [1], even though Schlitzie’s origins are disputed and his life basically consisted of being dragged around the US so people could gawk at him for fifty-plus years.

The result is Nobody’s Fool , a graphic novel about a person who may have been born Simon Metz around 1901 in the Bronx, and definitely was buried as Schlitzie Surtees in 1971 in California. Schlitzie was male, but the characters he “played” on stage were more often than not female — because that made the fake “savage” stories more shocking, because he was less than five feet tall, because it was a random carny idea that stuck, or for some other random reason, we don’t know.

The list of things we don’t know about Schlitize, though, are long. Well, “we” don’t know much about any random person born in 1901 and dead since 1971 — if that person did public things, they’d be recorded, but most of us live our lives in private, and those lives all die as the people we knew die. The people Schlitze knew are from a world that’s been gone for over sixty years, and they were marginal people to begin with — many of them with physical deformities or other health issues that shortened their lives, all of them living on the fringes of society, traveling from town to town to be exhibited as “freaks.”.

And Schlitzie, who I have to guess had some kind of development disorder — Griffith doesn’t speculate, or provide an armchair diagnosis — didn’t leave any kind of records himself, and didn’t live the kind of normal life (marriages, children, buying real estate, making business deals, joining clubs, working for companies) that generated the usual records. So we have third-hand stories and speculation and some informed guesses, random datapoints and decades-later interviews with people who knew Schlitzie.

It all gives Griffith a series of scenes, mostly of Schlitzie on stage or doing performance-adjacent tasks, since that’s the parts of his life than anyone knows anything about, fifty years after he died. But what did he feel? What did he think? We don’t know, and we’ll never know. Griffith doesn’t even try to define what Schlitzie could and couldn’t do — we know he liked to wash dishes, and that he had a larger vocabulary than other “pinheads” on the same circuit at the same time. But that’s about it.

So what Griffith has here is a sequence of pictures, a sequence of events that probably happened, more-or-less. We get to look at Schlitzie, the freak, acting weird, performing in sideshows and in the 1932 movie Freaks. We’re told stories about his origins that are probably more true than those told at the time — last of the Aztecs! half-monkey, half-human!, the missing link! — but aren’t really “true.”

This is still a sideshow. Schlitzie is still being paraded in front of a crowd to show off how weird and inexplicable he is. What he was like as a human being is still tertiary at best. Griffith cares about Schlitzie and his life, but he just doesn’t have the materials to tell this as a story. It’s just disconnected moments featuring someone with no agency and little understanding of anything that happened to him.

So this is a deeply sad book, even if it’s about a person who seems to have been relatively happy, as humans go. In a hundred years, this may be all anyone ever knows about Schlitzie Surtees. And we’ll still know nothing about Simon Metz.

[1] After Zip-the-What-Is-It, who seems by all accounts to have been a perfectly mentally “normal” African-American man who figured out a weird career for himself and ran it for all it was worth to the end of his life. That is probably a more interesting and meaningful story, but it’s not a pinhead story.

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

Berlin, Book Three: City of Light by Jason Lutes

I keep hitting reading roadblocks, no matter what I do. I used to have a life with a lot of dedicated time for reading and eyes that could stare at pages of text for hours on end, but the past decade has repeatedly broken all of my reading mechanisms, culminating in the minor apocalypse of the past two years. I went from reading 433 books in the Book-A-Day year of 2018 to, um, 43 the year afterward. And 2020 could possibly be even worse.

On top of that, I keep finding new things to stymie me. For example, who would predict that a graphic novel about Berlin sliding into fascism, intolerance, and sectarian violence in the early ’30s would be so resonant, and unpleasant, in 2020?

I’m sure Jason Lutes, planning out this giant project back in 1996, would have expected and wanted modern history to go differently, but, as it is, Berlin Book Three: City of Light  is immediately relevant to 2020 in ways that are deeply dispiriting and depressing.

Worse for me, the fact that this is the third of three books collecting a story that has been running for over twenty years — and the fact that Lutes uses a naturalistic style and doesn’t go out of his way to introduce characters that I last saw in a book I read in 2008 (see my review on ComicMix) — means that I only have a vague sense of who these people are and what they’re doing. It’s a couple of years later in their own lives as well, since Light is set in 1933 and Smoke was mostly set in 1930.

So I respected City of Light and I appreciated City of Light but I had the damndest time getting myself to read City of Light. I don’t want to see characters I like struggling as their society plunges into a totalitarian hellhole. (If I want that, I can just read Twitter.)

And let me say explicitly what I alluded to in my review of City of Smoke and what Lutes never says, but hangs ominously over the whole enterprise: every character we like in Berlin is probably doomed. They will all be killed by the Nazis, one way or another, sooner or later.

That’s what Berlin is about. How fascism smashes norms, destroys lives, agitates its followers and gets them to do the unspeakable in the name of blood and country. It’s a powerful message, especially in 2020, but I don’t want to read about it right now.

The way to read Berlin  now is to get the big single-volume edition and run right through it — that will solve my problems of character identification. The other problems, I hope, will start to be solved on November 3rd, and not by a book.

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

I, Rene Tardi, Prisoner of War in Stalag IIB, Vol. 1 by Tardi

I probably should say this first: this book is titled I, Rene Tardi, Prisoner of War in Stalag IIB, Vol. 1 . And it’s credited to “Tardi.”

One might easily assume “Tardi” means “Rene Tardi,” the chap who was a POW. But one would be wrong.

Rene died in 1986, and never drew comics. (There are some of his sketches in the frontmatter here, so I don’t want to say he didn’t draw anything. He could draw better than me, for one thing.)

This “Tardi” is his son Jacques, who originally used both of those names for his bandes dessinees until the weight of all of those other French cartoonists who only use one name got to be too much for him, and he succumbed to the lure of the single moniker.

Even in a case, like this one, where that creates confusion. Style is more important than anything else, eh mes amis?

Rene POW is a 2012 comic — translated into English for a 2018 publication in the US — based on a series of notebooks that Jacques made during conversations with his father in the early ’80s. One may presume that he had the idea for this book even then; Jacques Tardi had been a working cartoonist for over a decade at that point. But it took a few more decades for him to get around to it, during years when he told stories about The Great War and Paris detectives and Adele Blanc-Sec and American crime and steampunky super-science and many more.

For a book that claims to be a memoir of WWII, Rene POW has some very odd elements. It starts off with an introduction by Dominique Grange, which is mostly about her father and only secondarily about Rene Tardi. Somewhat later in the book, the reader realizes that Grange is Jacques Tardi’s wife, but the book does not explain this explicitly anywhere. In honor of that connection, Rene meets Grange’s father in that POW camp later in the book — they didn’t actually meet then in real life, or at least didn’t remember it.

And then the book itself is framed as Rene telling the story to Jacques. Rene looks like he did at the time of the war, a strong, angry young man in his uniform, and he narrates the book — sometimes as a voice coming out of nowhere, sometimes as his young self in the scene. And then Jacques appears as a schoolboy, maybe ten or thirteen, who wanders through the scenes without being part of them, questioning his father in words that mostly seem to be post-Rene’s death but sometimes do turn into a conversation between the two men.

So this is neither exactly what Rene wrote nor a true collaboration between the two. It is instead based on notes made while Rene was alive, but full of questions and second thoughts that Jacques only had after his father was dead. But that’s the only way to collaborate with the dead: to take everything they did and said, and present it as honestly as possible, while also pointing out the things they didn’t do or say.

POW life in WWII was horrible, and the French had it nearly the worst. (The Russians probably had it the absolute worst, and the Americans probably the “best.”) Rene Tardi was in Stalag IIB for basically the entire war; he was captured just as France fell. So he has a long time of horrible events to cover here, and they are horrible and unpleasant and full of hideous details.

This is not quite as searing as Tardi’s books about World War One; this book is about his own father, who survived the war. But it’s still a war story, and it’s a reminder of how much war destroys — not just the people who are killed and the cities that are flattened, but also what’s broken in even the people who survive.

[1] Completely unconnected footnote: I realized, when putting together this post, that I don’t have a snarky tag for France. (England has There Will Always Be An England , for example, but I tend to use the vaguer Foreigners Sure Are Foreign  for the whole rest of the world, which may not be the best plan.) My first thought, since my tags tend to be super-sarcastic and borderline obnoxious, was Wogs Begin at Calais, but that’s vastly too offensive.

So, instead, I’m creating the slightly less offensive new tag 246 Kinds of Cheese, in honor of De Gaulle. I trust you will treat this with exactly as much seriousness as it deserves.

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

Book-A-Day 2018 #379: Emma by Kaoru Mori (5 hardcover 2-in-1 volumes)

Is it damning with faint praise to say of a painter that you love her brushstrokes but aren’t crazy about her paintings? I hope not, because I’m about to say that about Kaoru Mori’s first major manga series Emma.

Emma originally ran for 72 chapters — 52 of the main story, and a follow-up 20 side-story chapters — in Japan’s Beam magazine from 2002 through 2008. It was collected into ten volumes, with the side-stories taking up the last three, then the volumes were translated into English. At some point, there were hardcovers, each collecting two of the smaller paperback tankobon volumes. And that’s what I just read: 72 serial chapters, 10 paperbacks, or five hardcovers. (Links to Volumes One , Two , Three , Four  and Five )

It’s set in the transition from the Victorian to the Edwardian era in England, starting in what seems to be the late 1890s and continuing for a few years past Victoria’s death in 1901. (There are no actual dates in the series, but Mori does contrast Victorian and Edwardian clothing styles in her afterwords without a whole lot of explanation…I don’t think she believes that everything changed poof! all at once. It is also difficult to judge how much time is passing, since even the old characters are mostly drawn with young faces.) The central character is Emma, a young woman of uncertain parentage and no actual last name, initially working as the maid-of-all-work in the London home of retired governess Kelly Stowner.

Emma meets and falls in love with William Jones, scion of a rich and rising merchant family, who also loves her. But there are the usual impediments: their respective positions in life, William’s engagement to the daughter of a Viscount, his stern father, blah blah blah and so on.

Reader, of course they get married in the end. We all know that. So I won’t pretend otherwise.

My problem is that the problems in their way are neither fish nor fowl. I’d be happy with a Dickensian drama with melodramatic problems solved in melodramatic ways — if one party were kidnapped to America by characters who look a lot like 19th century Jewish stereotypes, for example, and the other party had to chase her there and save her from durance vile — and I’d also be happy with a more serious, sedate story of manners and closely examined social mores of the time. Emma is neither of those. This story instead throws in a couple of melodramatic moments for no clear reason (like that abduction by racist stereotypes), but generally steers a sedate course without actually closely examining the actual standards of the society it concerns.

Emma, frankly, is a caricature of circa-1900 English society as seen through the lens of circa-2002 Japanese society: the aspects that resonate with Mori and her audience are emphasized, and the ones that would be inconvenient to this story are ignored or changed or misunderstood.

Some of my major issues with Emma:

  • the narrative seems to have never even heard of a “breach of promise” suit
  • a “former governess” lives in what would be an expensive London townhouse, perhaps because she became a governess as something to do after her husband died
  • in general, money may exist, but the lack of it does not seem to harm or motivate a single person in the world
  • an honest-to-God kidnapping happens and is never mentioned afterward
  • the entire race of the “the Irish” seem not to exist in this world, or at least to have no connection to domestic service
  • it’s yet another comic series whose narrative is apparently driven primarily by what the artist wanted to draw, and not any actual story purpose
  • fans of the series, and possibly even its creator, seem to be mostly interested in “stories about maids” and details of their clothing, rather than any actual story points

This is not an exhaustive list.

On the other hand, Emma looks gorgeous, and the character interaction on a scene-by-scene level is true and engaging. I might not always believe that all of Mori’s characters actually are British people born in the 19th century, but they’re interesting, distinct people no matter how ahistorical they may be. Their interactions are realistic, and if Emma had not insisted on its historicity, it could all be taken as the ways these people in this society interact.

I expect most readers won’t care about any of that. It’s a nice love story, sweet and totally innocent, as befitting the time-period. (Though there is quite a bit of female nudity in Emma, both of an older married woman and of a high-class prostitute, so it’s not appropriate for anyone looking for absolute purity of the Christian Dominionist strain.) And, again, I’m quite happy with ahistorical melodramatic stories — or solidly historical melodramatic stories, for that matter — but if something pretends to be serious and grounded, it should actually be so, and not just pretend to it.

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

Book-A-Day 2018 #357: The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 3 by Herge

I still feel like there’s something wrong with a forty-nine-year-old man reading the Tintin books for the first time, but it’s not like I can go back and read them any earlier now, can I?

The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 3  collects three WWII-era Tintin stories: The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Shooting Star, and The Secret of ‘The Unicorn’. I say “WWII-era,” but there’s no indication at all in the stories themselves that a global war was going on. It’s the same world of adventure and derring-do as the earlier books (see volumes one and two ), full of smugglers and pirates and ruffians, all of whom must eventually fall to the legitimate authorities (though the villains of Shooting Star are state-backed; it’s a fictional South American state and they’re explicitly nasty capitalists).

These books came in quick succession: serialized one after the other (1940-41, 41-42, 42-43); and all were published in color book editions by the end of 1943. Herge was clearly a powerhouse — remember this was in Belgium, in the middle of the war, with all of the related shortages and controls.

But, again, none of that shows in the stories: they’re adventure tales about criminals: drug smugglers, sharp-elbowed capitalists from fictional countries, murderous hunters of lost treasures. And they are after strange and mysterious things, mostly: a strange meteor that crashed in the North Atlantic, a pirate’s treasure. (Though Golden Claws, and from Tintin’s side Unicorn, are both cases where he gets caught up in something and has no idea what nefarious plot is going on, just that something is obviously wrong.)

Golden Claws introduces Captain Haddock, who I gather becomes a major supporting character from that point forward. His character has not aged well, and it takes the previously wince-inducing scenes of Tintin or his dog Snowy “accidentally” getting drunk and sloppy in the earlier books and makes them even bigger, more violent and stereotypical when it’s a big, bearded guy doing the drinking. I hope that he develops a character other than “alcoholic who is stupidly combative when drunk” in later books.

This omnibus series makes an interesting — that word here means “inexplicable” — choice by ending with Unicorn; that book apparently leads directly into the next book, Red Rackham’s Treasure. Or maybe the publishers figured their readers would be hooked anyway by volume three, so a little cliff-hanger wouldn’t hurt anyone. In any case, this book ends very obviously with a “buy the next book” message.

The Tintin stories have been the formative adventure tales in comics form for several generations of young people by this point — more in Europe than on my side of the pond, obviously, but he’s still a treasure of world literature. And the stories do still mostly hold up, aside from the comic drunkenness. If you have young people in your orbit, they might still find this exciting: it’s got all of the good stuff.

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

Book-A-Day 2018 #287: The Imitation Game by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Purvis

I’m going to start out with a potted rant; regular visitors may want to skip it.

A graphic novel is not “by” the writer. It is not “illustrated” by the artist. It is an inherently collaborative work equally created by both of them. (Assuming there are only two: it could easily be more.) Crediting a book that way is a mistake: even if the writer does detailed thumbnails of every single page and the artist follows them scrupulously, what the artist brings to the table is crucial to the telling of that story. It is not secondary; it is not “illustration.”

The Imitation Game  is a biography in comics form of British mathematician Alan Turing. The copy I have is credited as “by” Jim Ottaviani and “illustrated by” Leland Purvis. Now, I have an uncorrected proof, so the final book may have changed that.

But, if not, this is me looking sternly over my glasses at Abrams ComicArts and saying “tsk-tsk” while I do that little one-finger wave. This is Not Proper. This is Not Done. And we are Not Amused.

But on to the book itself. (If skimming to find the end of the potted rant, this is it.)

Alan Turing, I think, was born at either the exact right time or the exact wrong time. Professionally, he couldn’t have turned up at a better moment to turn his particular genius into reality. But socially and personally, he might have had a quiet happy life in some earlier time and he definitely would have been better off born a decade or three later, when his condition would be better understood and accepted. (I mean his mental condition, since he seems to have been somewhere on the autism spectrum, but his homosexuality would obviously have been less of an issue.)

Ottaviani tells Turing’s story at a slant, or at least starts that way: he opens with (and occasionally returns to) a conceit that he, or someone, is interviewing Turning’s friends and family after his death. But most of the book is just his life dramatized, with lots of explanatory captions (sometimes voiceovers from those interviewees) and a tight focus on his work during WW II.

Imitation Game doesn’t get into the math; it just shows what Turing did, and is particularly interested in the title experiment, better known to us as the Turing Test. It’s also very much a serious biography in comics form, and isn’t afraid to get a little artsy in presentation here and there. Turing’s suicide — I might note that there is now some scholarly doubt as to whether it was suicide — is presented in a particularly elliptical way, and readers who don’t know what he actually did will probably not be able to tell what he actually did.

(On the other hand, I read this in a black-and-white proof, and sometimes color can make things clearer in comics.)

I think biography, particularly of a thinker, is an odd subject for comics: it’s harder to show interior life in comics than in prose, so it’s a slightly less useful tool for the job than the usual one. That said, Imitation Game is a good, thoughtful biography of an important, quirky man, told well and using the form’s strengths well.

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