Friday, 25 February 2011

Books: B.P.R.D.

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B.P.R.D.
Vol 1: Hollow Earth and Other Stories
Written by Mike Mignola, Josh Dysart et al
Art by Guy Davis, Paul Azaceta et al





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B.P.R.D.
Vol 2: The Soul of Venice & Other Stories
Written by Mike Mignola, Josh Dysart et al
Art by Guy Davis, Paul Azaceta et al

2004



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B.P.R.D.
Vol 3: Plague of Frogs
Written by Mike Mignola, Josh Dysart et al
Art by Guy Davis, Paul Azaceta et al

2005



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B.P.R.D.
Vol 4: The Dead
Written by Mike Mignola, Josh Dysart et al
Art by Guy Davis, Paul Azaceta et al

2005



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B.P.R.D.
Vol 5: The Black Flame
Written by Mike Mignola, Josh Dysart et al
Art by Guy Davis, Paul Azaceta et al

2006



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B.P.R.D.
Vol 6: The Universal Machine
Written by Mike Mignola, Josh Dysart et al
Art by Guy Davis, Paul Azaceta et al

2007



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B.P.R.D.
Vol 7: Garden of Souls
Written by Mike Mignola, Josh Dysart et al
Art by Guy Davis, Paul Azaceta et al

2008



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B.P.R.D.
Vol 8: Killing Ground
Written by Mike Mignola, Josh Dysart et al
Art by Guy Davis, Paul Azaceta et al

2008



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B.P.R.D.
Vol 9: 1946
Written by Mike Mignola, Josh Dysart et al
Art by Guy Davis, Paul Azaceta et al

2009



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B.P.R.D.
Vol 10: The Warning
Written by Mike Mignola, Josh Dysart et al
Art by Guy Davis, Paul Azaceta et al

2009



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B.P.R.D.
Vol 11: The Black Goddess
Written by Mike Mignola, Josh Dysart et al
Art by Guy Davis, Paul Azaceta et al

2009



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B.P.R.D.
Vol 12: War on Frogs
Written by Mike Mignola, Josh Dysart et al
Art by Guy Davis, Paul Azaceta et al

2010



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B.P.R.D.
Vol 13: 1947
Written by Mike Mignola, Josh Dysart et al
Art by Guy Davis, Paul Azaceta et al

2010



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B.P.R.D.
Vol 14: King of Fear
Written by Mike Mignola, Josh Dysart et al
Art by Guy Davis, Paul Azaceta et al

2010



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Or "The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense" if you wanna be picky - is an ongoing series spun off from the pages of Mike Migola's Hellboy - and tells the tales of a covert organisation founded with the aim to protect the world from dangers from the occult, paranormal and supernatural. A satisfying blend between the X-files, Lovecraft and JLA and featuring a rotating cast of characters including Elizabeth 'Liz' Sherman (a woman with pyrokinetic abilities) and Johann Krauss (a disembodied ectoplasmic spirit with psychic abilities, who inhabits a containment suit) this is a comic that cares about stuffing your eyes with as many outlandish and ghoulish images as it can muster. With nice character touches and beserk climaxes - a must read for all fans of horror comics.

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Links: Supervillian Review of B.P.R.D. Vol 9: 1946Jog The Blog Review of B.P.R.D. Vol 9: 1946, 4th Letter Article, Are You A Serious Comic Book Reader Review of B.P.R.D. 1947 #3, Sean T Collins Review of War on Frogs #4Sean T Collins Review of Vol. 9: 1946.

Further reading: B.P.R.D.: Hell on EarthHellboy, Witchfinder, Abe Sapien, Lobster Johnson, Chew, Top 10, The Walking Dead, iZombie, Doom PatrolThe Umbrella Academy.

All comments welcome.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Events: Islington Comic Forum 2011/03

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The next Islington Comic Forum is on Tuesday the 29th of March. From 6:00pm all the way to 7:30pm.
Upstairs Hall at North Library Manor Gardens N7 6JX
Here is a map.

Meet and talk with other members. Hear recommendations. Tell us what you think. And a selection of over 100 hand-picked titles for you to borrow and take home.

The Book of the Month is:
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.
If you get a chance please read it. You can reserve yourself a copy here. (For those of you that don't get the chance - don't worry - you can still come and join in with the discussions).

You can find us on facebook here. And join in with the discussions here.

Come and join us. All welcome. Hope to see you soon.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Books: Crossed

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Crossed
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Jacen Burrows

2010




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"Remember Youtube?" That's how it starts. And what a great way to start.

And then you're plunged headlong into the unrelenting horror. Make no mistake - with Burrows aiming to become somesort of 21st Century version of Bosch [1] - this is book is full of nightmarish scenarios and images that will sear themselves into your head. It will leave you feeling weak and despondent and lying on the floor in the foetal position totally wrecked and drained. But don't let that put you off - because (for what it does, for how it wants to make you feel) it's also really really really good.

I won't lie: at the Islington Comic Forum meetings Crossed is - well - Crossed is a bit of a contentious book. In fact "contentious" doesn't really cover it: basically everyone else hates and I love it - with one guy (Malcolm) turning round to me once and saying something like: "You know what you remind me of Joel? You like that guy who stands up for the Star Wars prequels [2]: I can't tell if you're trolling of if you're just deluded." Answer: neither. If the rest of the world don't like this book then - well: it's the rest of the world that's crazy (yeah - I said it).

What is it about? Well. It has the trimmings of a typical zombie survival tale thing: there's a plague that infects people and you end up with a small group of survivors who can hope for nothing more than to try and stay alive. But things are much much worse than anything else you're ever seen before. For a start: the zombies aren't really zombies: they're more intelligent, more dangerous and more evil. And the survivors don't really act in the way that you' may have been led to expect in other stories like this - there's no real bonding, no real funny character moments, no real hope etc. Apocalyptic stories - in the main - tend to present a sanitized version of society falling apart: things might get rough but things will never get too crazy and people will never only suffer harm in an 'acceptable' way (so they'll get shot in the chest - but not in the face). But Ennis (damn him) presents things gone completely insane and bodies being unacceptability harmed. Some folks have accused this book of being part of the "torture-porn" genre - but I would disagree. Anything of that type that I've been unfortunate enough to come across I've found to be brain-dead, artless trash. And while Crossed may not hold out for any high-minded pretension (It's more "The Road's" uglier, meaner little cousin) - it is sophicatedly put together and it knows exactly what it's doing. Fair warning: this book is 18+ and is probably only going to appeal to a select few. It's not pleasant. It's not nice. It's extreme and ultra-violent and nasty. But then that's what horror is for. 

Open up and say: "Argh."

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[1] I realise that's a bit of a highfalutin reference to make and - obviously Jacen Burrows (no offence Jacen) - is no Hieronymus Bosch in terms of actual painting skills and blah blah. But in terms of creating hellish images: images that made my blood run cold and my guts twist - and this is a really great comic for the way it just keep flinging more and more outrageous and horrifying images at you - I mean: it's not the skill - it's the effect. And how it left me feeling long after I'd put the book down (hopeless and distraught in a way I haven't really felt since I saw Requiem for a Dream on a Friday night at the cinema when it first came out - which left me lying face down in bed for the whole weekend just sorta moaning and whimpering at the extreme unforgiving harshness of the world: and if you've seen it then I'm pretty sure you'll know what I mean).

[2] Me personally I'm not really that much of a fan of any of the Star Wars films all that much (yeah yeah whatever): but hey there are people out there who are willing to make the case for the prequels in a way that doesn't seem totally bogus: check out Timothy O'Neil over at The Hurting: "Even when the action onscreen lulls - like, say, any of the times when the less-polished actors have to emote (you know who I'm talking about) - there's always something fun happening around the edges." And then: Drew McWeeny Film Nerd 2.0 series on Hitfix (which consists of him watching films with with kids) going through all six movies (in a bit of a haphazard order: 4, 5, 1, 2, 3, 6) so that's: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the ClonesRevenge Of The Sith, Return of the Jedi and has him saying stuff like: It is an imperfect film, certainly, but it remains one of the most preposterously scaled works of imagination I can name, a movie that casually introduces whole worlds and races of creatures, throwing out new ideas and images at a gallop. And the flaws that have been beaten to death by Mr. Plunkett and his devotees are far less outsized than they insist. When someone says "The film doesn't make any sense," that's simply not true. You may not like the movie, but the film makes both narrative and thematic sense, and there are some nice things Lucas does that he gets no credit for. I like the way the storyline about the Queen and her decoys serves as a mirror for the notion that Darth Sidious might be hiding in plain view, and I like the lesson the film sets up about the relationship between the Naboo and the Gungans." But - whatever. Maybe if I ever get around to talking about some of the Star Wars comics I could go into more depth: but that's probably gonna be a long time coming so don't hold your breath...

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Links: PopCultureBomb Article, Dark Faerie Tales Review, Zero 2 Heroes Review of Crossed #2, Bleeding Cool Review of #9, Popculturebomb Review, Bleeding Cool Interview with Garth Ennis.

Further reading: CradlegraveNeonomiconThe Walking Dead, Just a Pilgrim, 303, Alan Moore's The Courtyard, No Hero, Blackgas, Sweet Tooth, Zomnibus, Supergod.

Profiles: Garth Ennis.

All comments welcome.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Books: D.R. and Quinch

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D.R. and Quinch
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Alan Davies

2001




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"Err - does this word look like "submarine" or "sandwich" to you?"

"Sandwich."

"Right. So the movie is set on a submarine, and not, as you may have previously imagined, a sandwich."

Basically: Beavis and Butthead with thermonuclear capacity. Appearing in 2000AD and with nice clear crisp black and white artwork by Alan Davies the two alien teenage delinquents - D.R. (it stands for "Diminished Responsibility") and Ernest Errol Quinch (catchphrase: "S'right!") - were only supposed to appear once in a "Future Shock" short story. But the audience (mainly compromised it must be said of teenage boys) fell in love with their evil ways and so D.R. and Quinch got brought back again and again. Unlike later Alan Moore none of this was in any way 'deep' or 'clever' - but with both title characters likely to describe just about anything as, "totally," "incredibly," "unbelievably," or "extremely" it was pretty funny albeit in a silly juvenile kinda way. Includes: Love, Hollywood and The Meaning of Life.

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Links: The Comics Journal Review, Time ReviewSatisfactory Comics Review.

Further reading: Skizz, The Complete Future Shocks, Chew, Lobo: Portrait of a Bastich, Smax. Marvel Boy.

Profiles: Alan Moore.

All comments welcome.

Books: Queen & Country

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Queen & Country
Vol 1
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Steve Rolston, Brian Hurtt, and Leandro Fernandez

2008



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Queen & Country
Vol 2
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Jason Alexander, Carla Speed McNeil and Mike Hawthorne

2008



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Queen & Country
Vol 3
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Mike Norton, Steve Rolston and Chris Samnee

2008



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Queen & Country
Vol 4
Written by Greg Rucka
Brian Hurtt, Scott Morse, Rick Burchett and Christopher J. Mitten

2009



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Tara Chance is a spy (or 'minder') working for M16. Her life is miserable and unglamorous. The missions she undertakes are portrayed realistically and are often brutish, messy and unresolved. As opposed to a refined sip of a martini reading Queen & Country is like glugging a whole bottle of cheap, nasty vodka (I hope that doesn't put you off reading it - because bits of it are really good). With black and white artwork from a wide range of artists (which means it can be a bit hit and miss at points) the stories are divided into 'Operations' which means that you can pick it up at any point - but it's worth reading them in order to appreciate the slow building up and disintegration of the relationships between the minders. So yeah: terrorism, intrigue and deadly assassins - what's not to love?

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Links: Comics Worth Reading, Geeks of Doom Review.

Further reading: Button Man, 100 Bullets, The Punisher MAX, Red, Sleeper, Desolation Jones, Gotham Central, Batwoman: Elegy, Criminal.

All comments welcome.

Books: Shortcomings

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Shortcomings
By Adrian Tomine

2007





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I love this line from the NY Times review of the book: "vaguely misanthropic and sexually insecure, Ben is the not-so-lovable protagonist of “Shortcomings.” But don't let that put you off. This is an excellent comic written in the same crisp, clean, matter-of-fact style as Ghost World and with the same keen eye for the minutiae of things. After a series of short stories this is Adrian Tomine's first attempt at writing something long-form and the results are excellent. There's slow naturalistic unfurling of the characters, no clumsily exposition, a storyline that's neither too pat and predictable nor meandering and unfocused and an enfolding feeling that is best described as 'bittersweet.' The guy's good.

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Links: The Hurting ReviewNY Times Review.

Further reading: Summer Blonde, Ghost World, Blankets.

All comments welcome.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Books: DMZ

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DMZ
Vol 1: On The Ground
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli and Brian Wood

2006



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DMZ
Vol 2: Body of a Journalist
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli and Brian Wood

2007



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DMZ
Vol 3: Public Works
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli and Brian Wood

2007



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DMZ
Vol 4: Friendly Fire
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli and Brian Wood

2008



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DMZ
Vol 5: The Hidden War
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli and Brian Wood

2008



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DMZ
Vol 6: Blood in the Game
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli and Brian Wood

2009



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DMZ
Vol 7: War Powers
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli and Brian Wood

2009



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DMZ
Vol 8: Hearts and Minds
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli and Brian Wood

2010



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DMZ
Vol 9: M.I.A.
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

2011



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DMZ
Vol 10: Collective Punishment
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

2011



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DMZ
Vol 11: Free States Rising
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

2012



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DMZ
Vol 12: The Five Nations Of New York
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

2012



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I mean - everyone has an active imagination when they're a kid right? (Yeah? Yeah).  So hopefully you won't think me too strange (hell - maybe everyone was like this - I don't know) but I always used to like walking (and - yeah - sometimes running) down the streets acting out cool scenarios in my head. James Bond was always on heavy rotation: pretending that I was a secret agent being sent out on crazy missions and fighting bad guys and staging impossible escapes and all that kind of stuff - whatever: mostly I guess it was an excuse to fling myself through a hedge or jump over boxes or whathaveyou. And then growing up just a little more: it was the prospect of nuclear war and stuff like that (having graduated from James Bond to things like Akira and Dr Strangelove and etc) and playing through images of troops fighting in the streets, tanks rolling down the road and planes dropping bombs from overhead (I'd never seen Red Dawn - in fact: I still haven't - but I imagine that if I had it would have left me grinning from ear to ear and added to my mental jukebox of greatest hits).

DMZ is all about taking that - well - thrill (that's the right word right?) of imagining the city as a war zone and spreading it across several volumes worth of comic book: part science-fiction / part (half-baked) political commentary / part political intrigue and all New York: it's like my childish fantasy all mapped out into  it's own self sufficient and (pretty much) consistent little world [1]. That's the premise of DMZ that imagines New York as a bombed out shell caught in the crossfire between hostile forces (Like it says: "Looters, roving gangs of neighborhood milita, insurgents, car bombers, contract killers... this is daily life in the city"). Young naive Matty Roth is about to be dropped in at the deep end and has to learn quick how to deal with a life full of violence and compromise. (And also maybe how to be less of a dick). Think equal parts Escape from New York, Fallujah, and New Orleans right after Katrina. Spiced with political intrigue, tribal fighting, private military contractors and loyalties forged and betrayed. Bonfire of the Vanities graffitied over with Anti-War slogans and M.I.A. on the soundtrack [2]: and how you take that will vary according to taste.

At the start of it - I must say I was pretty much convinced. You know: it seemed kinda edgy and cool [3] when I first started reading it - because - hey: war is always fun and exciting right? [4]. But then I started to get a little but side-tracked by some of the - well - issues that it raises. It's like the whole point of DMZ is to show you how the other half live: you know - capturing the gritty realism of life in a war zone - or (sorry) next to a war zone (did you know that DMZ stands for "Demilitarized Zone"? Nope - me neither) which is why characters saying stuff like: "I didn't know so many civilians still lived here... all we hear about is insurgents and stuff." I mean obviously the best way to do this stuff would be to set it somewhere that existed in the real world (Iraq and Afghanistan are the two examples which leap to mind - but (unfortunately) it's not like the world is lacking in war zones) but (if we're going to be honest here [5]) then who would want to read a comic book about life in Iraq? (Well - yeah - Not me. I do read some Joe Sacco now and again - but I do find it a bit of a chore - sorry Joe): only thing is by making things more accessible to a Western audience (that would be me) it white-washes everything and - well - instead of setting it in some far-flung foreign country - it bases the action in New York. Because - hey - we want to see what life is like for people who aren't us - but the only way we're going to want to read about it: is by making it about people who are just like us - yeah? And that's the bit that I kinda found a little hard to swallow.

Viva!

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[1] And - hey - it's almost believable - although (if you asked me) it would be Texas rather than New York that would be the first place in America to secede from the union.... (although that makes it sound like I know what I'm talking about when (and let's be clear here) I really don't).

[2] And I would just like to point out - for the record - that I wrote that sentence before Vol 9 M.I.A. actually came out. Am I surprised that they used M.I.A. as a title? Hell no - I'm just surprised that it took until Vol 9 for them to do it.

[3] "So I realized that being with my family is more important than being cool."

"Dad, what you just said was powerfully uncool."

"You know what the song says: "It's hip to be square.""

"That song is so lame."

"So lame that it's... cool?"

"No."

"Am I cool, kids?"

"No."

"Good. I'm glad. And that's what makes me cool - not caring, right?"

"No."

"Well, how the hell do you be cool? I feel like we've tried everything here."

"Wait, Marge. Maybe if you're truly cool, you don't need to be told you're cool."

"Well, sure you do."

"How else would you know?"

[4] Best example of this would be in that Jake Gyllenhaal, film Jarhead where a whole bunch of army guys start watching Apocalypse Now (that famous anti-war screed) and start cheering and whooping when the Ride of the Valkyries scene starts playing: which just goes to show that - you know: if you want to be anti-war then it's not going to be a good idea to actually show it: because people will end up getting a kick out of  (but then - hey - who can blame them? It is a very kick-ass scene): it's like saying you're anti-porn and then showing people pornography - no matter how you sell it: the message is going to be lost.  

[5] And yeah - I realise that this whole argument kinda makes me into a massive hypocrite - but - hey - what can you do? (And at least I'm being up front about it - so I get points for that - right?).

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Further reading: The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century, Ex Machina, Demo, Scalped, Northlanders, Footnotes in Gaza, The New York Four.

All comments welcome.

Books: The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch

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The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by Dave McKean

2006




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Yeah Mr Punch always been kinda creepy. There's that bit in Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker where he talks about: ‘Its some kind of thing it aint us but yet its in us. Its looking out thru our eye hoals... What ever it is we dont come naturel to it.’ [1] and - yeah - the few times I came across a Punch and Judy show on the beach when I was young - that shrill, inhuman voice always used to leave me feeling distinctly shaken all the way down to my roots.

An unseen narrator looks back to his time as a young boy sent to stay with his grandparents and learning the ways of the Punch and Judy men. A story that doesn't put everything on a plate rather nestling dark hints within the artwork and the things that people say ("death is relative, not absolute. you can be slightly dead, just as you can be slightly pregnant") and captured in the exquisite haunted artwork by Dave McKean that mixes paint with photography to brilliant effect. That's the way to do it.

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[1] No - those aren't spelling mistakes (from the wikipedia page): "The first person narrator, Riddley, writes in a distinct form of English whose spelling often resembles a phonetic transliteration of a Kentish accent"

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Further reading: Signal to NoiseViolent Cases, Cages, Stray ToastersNeil Gaiman's Midnight Days.

Profiles: Neil Gaiman.

All comments welcome

Books: Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth

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Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth
By Chris Ware

2000



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http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/


I'll be honest with you.

I mean - it's not like when I first wrote this post that I hadn't read Jimmy Corrigan [1]. It's just that - well - it's most definitely not the sort of book that you can just pick up and read half-heartedly over the course of a few lunch-breaks. I mean - comics are supposed to be easy to read right? And (if we're going to try to be honest here) mostly pretty disposable - more like a TV show that will entertain you while it's on - but won't stick around that much in your head after it's done. But Chris Ware - well - he's not really interested at all in trying to hit the pleasure circuits at the front of your brain (which at this point in time in our media-saturated-age-yadda-yadda-yadda [2] etc is pretty much easy picking) - he's more interested in burrowing deeper and attempting to strike gold somewhere deep inside you. Of course this means that it's a lot drier than you habitual comic readers may be used to (and I'm not just talking about people who only read superhero comics or whatever - I mean even compared to something like Blankets which - altho it may seem imposing - is pretty open and user friendly and a snap to read: Jimmy Corrigan is a lot tougher and a lot more effort to read) and (almost perversely) it doubles up in terms of it's forbearance.  By which I mean: not only is it super-long (if like me you've had it sat on your "to read" [3] pile - then you'll know how it just sorta squats there and a glares out you - like a big, fat, book-shaped toad (with no eyes - so how exactly does it glare at you? I don't know: but it does) - because - well - it's just so much bigger than all the other books that sit around it (which comparatively speaking - look like a cinch to read - it's like they're all little cosy villages with easy to navigate streets: while Jimmy Corrigan is more like a megalopolis that you just know that you're going to get lost in as soon as you take one step inside...) and also) - well - also (and you'll know this if you've ever started to try and read it) - inside it's all super-tiny: with everything all packed in so tightly that there's hardly any room for your brain to move around.

All of which adds up to why my advised reading method for this book would be a monastery on top of some isolated wind-swept hill (somewhere in the middle of the Lake District) surrounded by candles and with a big old fashioned Sherlock-Holmes style magnifying glass grasped firmly in your hand [7].

But then - why did I bother to put it up on here in the first place? Wouldn't it have been better to leave it and write about some books that I had read? What's so special about this Jimmy Corrigan kid anyway (apart from being the Smartest Kid on Earth obviously [8])?

Well: of course it depends on who exactly you're talking to - but for many folks out there Jimmy Corrigan is one of the best comics ever written. For like seriously. I mean - maybe you weren't there (or weren't paying attention) but back when it came out it made such a splash that Dave Eggers [9] in The New York Times called it "Possibly the greatest achievement of the form, ever [10]" and it won the Guardian First Book Award ("The consumer will note that these honours are generally only bestowed upon those authors who refuse to learn how to draw.") which is how it ended up being spoken about on Newsnight Review [11].

So: you open up the book and the first thing that greets you (if that's the right word: maybe more like: looks at you coldly?) is a double-page spread of tiny little text at the bottom left hand corner on the far side it says: "General Instructions." And you're braver than me if there's not a small part of you that shrinks a little (while another part let's out a Scott-Bakula-style: "oh boy.") [14].

But don't fret yet. Because if you take the plunge and start reading - well - it turns out that the water's fine. And (yay) actually pretty funny in a dry academic McSweeney's [15] sort of way and in fact (oh how relevant) like it says right at the start: "...it was not the intention of the author of this publication to produce a work which would in any way be considered "difficult," "obscure," or even worse, "impenetrable." - so that's a good sign - right? Plus someone who's able to sum up the entire history of literature as "the means by which to fashion all manner of falsehood and perjury." has more than earnt themselves a few hours of my time (it'll only take a few hours to read this whole book - right? Right?).

(Although I would like to point out that he's flat out telling porkies when he says in "2. Ease of Use"that it's possible to read during a "snack break" or elsewhere out and about. Trust me: this is a book that needs to be read at home in a your favourite comfy chair with a hot beverage sitting next to you: anything else just isn't going to work... If you're gonna do it right (and skipping over bits in this case doesn't just feel like cheating - it practically feels like blasphemy) you're going to need take it reeeaallly ssssllllooooooowww - yeah?)

Over the page from that is a diagram that I will happily admit made me feel daunted when I first looked at it (hell: it's daunting every time I look at it): when the solar system is just one small (almost missable) component in a wider mechanism that stretches back in time and across continents and successive generations - well - I reckon it's ok to feel a little scared. But if you take the time to delve in (and flip the book around) it's really not so tough to make sense of. And (yay) there's quite a few little jokes hidden in their too (I like the picture that goes in the photo album that goes in the bin).

And then (after that) we start with the book proper: in the endless expanse of space and then in the course of only a page (Chris Ware obviously warming us up for the perilous journey ahead) we twist and turn from reading left to right to flipping the book on it's side (so that we're approaching the Earth with America underneath us) to going right to left as we zoom into Chicago and the house where we're just know we're going to end up spending an awful lot of time [16] (did I say this was only going to take a few hours? Hmmm. That may have been a little optimist..).

But wait. I mean - I said I was going to be honest - yeah? (Yeah). Well - then I'll admit at this point that this wasn't a book that I was partially looking forward to reading (again or rereading or whatever). Most of the time reading a comic - it's something to look forward to: it's a pleasure you know? Something to be done for fun (yay fun!). But this book - I dunno: it wasn't quite that it felt like work: but it definitely felt more like something I had to do rather than something that I wanted to do. Like (I guess) a fisherman who knows that there's a really big fish out there that kinda got away from him a while back and now (this time round) I was kinda determined to land it - take it home - and display it proudly on my mantelpiece (the mantlepiece being this blog I guess: "How big was it?" "Hell - this big." etc). And so yeah - even tho there's that stuff at the start and it's pretty funny and stuff - once it starts: I dunno - there was a feeling like listening to the first few notes of a some jazz concept-album (jazz concept-double-album) or watching the opening credits for some obscure three hour experimental french film: a feeling of - how tough exactly is this going to be? And: what am I letting myself in for? (Is it too late to stop? Or is my seat-beat too firmly fastened?)

But yeah - then the fun house doors swing open and it's too late to leave. So.

And yeah: being honest. When it starts - it is a bit of a drag. Like - it's tough. And hard going. If most comic book reading is like a happy little bike ride across sunny plains - then Jimmy Corrigan is more like climbing a particularly steep mountain in bad weather. It's not that every step is difficult - it's just one step after another - just - uphill: but you can feel the strain and you can feel yourself working as you go up. Puff. Puff. Puff. Ok ok. Come on - you can do this. You can do this.

My thoughts during all this? Well. First of all it makes a lot of sense that it got those awards and all that lovely praise from all those distinguished sources: because mostly the things that Jimmy Corrigan reminded me wasn't other comics - but the kinda of late 20th Century / early 21st Century highbrow literary novels that tend to get so much love from things like the Booker Prize (and that mostly I tend to pretty much avoid). I mean - I don't know if someone somewhere has written off a checklist of things a book needs to do if it wants to get some critical love and respect but - well - Chris Ware sure seems to hit a lot of the right notes (not that I think he did this in a calculated way - I mean: I don't think it's been written in a cynical way - far from it - but still): there's the troubled childhood stuff, there's the intermingling of dreams and reality, there's lots of mundane day-to-day stuff that's captured in excessive detail (I imagine if Jimmy Corrigan was a book with no pictures then would be pages and pages of "lyrically descriptive"passages: I mean check that bit where the kid describes the exact way his dad laughs), there's some very authentic-seeming historical flashbacks which is the kinda of thing that always appeals to that Hilary Mantel crowd and it's pretty much non-stop with the misery and isolation and loneliness and modern ennui that afflicts pretty much everyone everywhere living in cities and stuff: in fact if the Newsnight Review crowd had bothered to read the thing rather than get disgusted by how ugly they thought it looked (which - hey - it doesn't: it's actually all pretty lovely looking - so shut your face Tom Paulin) then it kinda seems like just the sort of thing that they'd normally go crazy for. Plus: there are some amazingly cool sentences scattered all around the book like bits of sticky toffee to chew over in your mind: there's a description of a tooth falling out that goes: "An unexpected celery twist of flesh and the sharp edge in his mouth floats free." And: "Listening to the heavy, stumbling descent of the six legged creature which has invaded his house."(you might need the context to properly make sense of that one). Also: "swathed in the vast landscapes of my blanket and sheets." (and reading that back - oh man - I just want to go to bed and snuggle myself in). Oh: and (not forgetting) - "An urge to confess is halted by a feminine whisper in his ear: "Shut up or I'll kill you." (I think I may have actually laughed out loud when I read that one for the first time).

But yeah back before that: my thinking was: urg. Really? Do we really need another book that does nothing but recreate the awkwardness and pain that comes from everyday living? Mostly I guess the stories that tend to appeal to me are (to put it bluntly) the ones that transcend - well - everything. And the ones that I find a bit of a drudgery to read and that I pretty much tend to avoid are the stories that rub your face in the sadness and despair. Because - isn't it obvious? - (and try and hold back the tears) but life is sad enough - you know? [18] I think it was last year (yeah: pretty sure) but I read Joseph Heller's second novel Something Happened (Catch 22 is one of my favourite books ever - and so I thought I would see what else he had to offer...) and although it's amazingly written and goes deep into things like (I dunno) humanity and men and misery and loneliness and all the bitter ironies of life and etc etc etc: it isn't really a book that I enjoyed reading and I don't know if I would really recommend it. Yes: it's amazingly put together and the workmanship is exquisite and all the rest - but man: it's such a chore to get through: and what's wrong with having a bit of entertainment mixed in with your intellectualism (did I mention already that my favourite comic is probably Scott Pilgrim?)? And - well: Jimmy Corrigan sure did remind me a lot of Something Happened.

So. Yeah. I guess I wasn't really having a good time reading it. But come on: it'll be great once you get to the top and can admire the view! And - look! look! look! - isn't Chris Ware really clever! Look at all the clever stuff he does! [19] Clever clever clever. You know: "Possibly the greatest achievement of the form, ever!" and so on. And so on. And even tho it uses the repetition of certain images (Captain Crunch. Milk. Captain Crunch. Milk.) to make them feel like nails being hammered into your coffin and even tho there's such grisly sequences as someone dropping a concrete block on their child's head ("It hurts so much make it stop make it stop") and sentences that will make you shudder with yukinesses ("He makes his usual weekly deposit.") it also often blindsides you with a small little moment of beauty: bad example maybe - but there's this bit (just one panel really) where James is pulling his horse through the snow that really reminded me of that painting that's in the 1972 version of Solaris (it's called Hunters in the Snow and it's by Pieter Bruegel (although when I checked - the painting actually looks nothing like it - and instead of a horse it's dogs and the people's postures are different - but still - for whatever reason it set off the connection in my mind)). Better examples (maybe?): the way a bedroom can switches around from when you're lying down to when you're up and about, mustaches that seem to smile and someone saying 'cocksucker' in pictorial form (you'll know it when you see it).

And so yeah: more climbing and more climbing. And then: it's like hitting turbulence when it starts with the historical flashbacks and Chris Ware decides that having everything being tinny-tiny wasn't difficult enough and so instead of using Comic Sans (or is it Comic Sans? I dunno - whatever it is that is the font that comics usually uses: you know the one I mean) it starts with the joined up handwriting. And I think that when I first saw that I was going to have to lean in even closer to be able to read this stupid thing I mean yeah - I was a little tempted to just pack up and call it a day (who needs this anyway? And in fact: I got pretty convinced that reading it was giving me a headache - literally: I mean - after the first hour I had to put the book aside and have a glass of water and a paracetamol: not to mention the crink in the neck it gave me from having to lean so far into it... I mean maybe someone should think about putting the same kinda of health warning label on the book that they give packet of cigarettes: WARNING READING JIMMY CORRIGAN CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR BRAIN AND NECK?).

But of course there's a but coming (you knew that there would be right?): because as much as a struggle as it was to read and although it deals out more punishment than any other comic out there (I mean - I guess what I'm saying is that you need some serious stamina and brute physical strength to be able to make it this far - so kids - don't even think about trying this without proper adult supervision - ok?) there was a moment (or rather - a slow creeping of a moment: like a choir of angels that start singing in silence and then raise the volume so slowly that you don't even notice that they're there until it's grown up all around you and engulfed you in this beautiful heavenly sound) when I realised that I had fallen completely under it's spell and that I couldn't stop reading it even if my hands were on fire: it was just like - well: there's nothing else that's really like a story when it worms it's way into your head and then completely immerses all the boundaries between you and the book - so that it's all there is: there's no you, there's no world, there's no anything - there's just the story and nothing else. And - well: when it happens - it's bliss. It's total bliss.

So: that was nice (you know: bliss being good and all).

And so yeah: I guess the point of all that is to say that - this is a book that I'd say you really need to stick with if you want to feel the effect of it (at least that is - if you're anything like me). There's no easy way in and little in the way of instant gratification. And those first two thirds (which should take you a good few hours to slog your way through) are tough: but I'd say that it's worth it in the end and everything all kinda falls into place (and falls apart).

And even tho you know that if you ever meet Jimmy Corrigan in the flesh there would be all sorts of social awkwardness (he is after all: "A lonely emotionally-impaired human castaway.") - and it's kinda messed up how as a kid he has the face of an old man and as an old man he has a face like a kid - the book is a marvel in how it slowly opens him up and then gently lowers you into his mind. Until his defeats end up striking out at you (and so you know to prefer yourself: this is a book filled with a lot of defeat).

One of the best comics ever written? Well. Yeah. For what it is and how it works and for a certain type of person I can certainly understand why you'd want to hold up Jimmy Corrigan high as an example for how serious comics can get and how much they can do. For my slightly more peculiar tastes (which I guess mostly comes down to my big fat sweet tooth) I can think of other comics that I would recommend before this one - but still: it's up there and if you're drawing up a comics canon to represent the best that the medium has to offer and this book isn't included - well - you're doing something wrong.

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[1] As preserved here for the sake of posterity (can you tell that I only managed to make it about two thirds through the book before I gave up?): "Tightly packed and dense with small details that go on to reveal emotional enormities Jimmy Corrigan is a comic book that requires a slow, attentive and careful reader. Loved by critics all over the world (the first (and so far only) comic to win the Guradian's First Book Award) it follows the young Jimmy Corrigan as he makes his way in a big scary world beset on all sides by setbacks and defeat. Told with a unique style that sometimes ends up resembling intricate mechanical diagrams with various stages of life as the moving parts this is a comic book that is unafraid to take it's time and roll out it's pleasures and insights quietly. A monotonous undertaking for both it's author and for those brave enough to scale it's dizzying heights - it's a comic that I guarantee will linger long inside your brain once it's over (if you manage to finish it)."

[2] Actual exclamation of surprise: after writing that I found this on the opening page (under: "New Pictorial Language Makes Marks. Good for Showing Stuff, Leaving out Big Words"): "It's a media-saturated world where media saturates everything and you can think about anything other than media saturation all the time." (Spooky!). I mean - I guess maybe I remember it from reading it the first time round - but seeing how that was over a year ago - it seems unlikely.

[3] Or - more strictly speaking: "to re-read up to the midway point and then read from there to the end." In fact - strictly speaking: it's even more muddled than that seeing how at the library I work we have a copy of Acme Novelty Library 13 (or if you want the roman numerals: XIII) [4]. And (although I didn't even make it to the end of that) I did dip in and read about halfway into it. So I the bit where he climbs on top of the building [5] and hangs out with the Italian kid ("James! I am bringing you something today!") wasn't new to me...

[4] So you know (if you didn't know): Acme Novelty Library is a comic book series created by Chris Ware that tends to sell over 20,000 copies per issue (altho it only ever really manages one issue per year): Jimmy Corrigan originally appeared in serialized form in Acme Novelty Library 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14.

[5] I wanted to know the name of the building that he climbs on top of [6] and so (even tho I was still reading the book) I was googling stuff like "jimmy corrigan chicago worlds fair 1893 building" and stumbled upon this review in Publisher's Weekly that (oh my god - how totally rude) gives away the climax like it's part of the synopsis ("Planet of The Apes is a film about a bunch of astronauts who crash-land on Earth"): so BOOO to you Publisher's Weekly and thanks a lot for spoiling the book for me (I mean - I guess not completely - I still enjoyed it at the end: but it did take away the shock of that big revealing moment - sigh).

[6] Although - damnit: I never managed to work it out. (sad face). Anyone else know?

[7] I was going to find some cool relaxing monk chant stuff with loads of reverb and recommend that as the ideal soundtrack - but - when it actually came down to it I found that the best accompaniment was actually some soothing Bach (to be specific: The Six Partitas as performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy): which I guess is how you can tell you're reading something proper. (I did try Elliott Smith and Radiohead and even some Port Royal - but nothing else seemed to fit properly...).

[8] And - yeah man: that title - am I the only one out there to be wrong footed by that "Smartest Kid on Earth" sub-title (Does it count as the sub-title? Is that the right word for it? I dunno - whatever)?  But surely I can't have been the only person out there who was expecting (back the first time I read it) a story about some-sort of baby genius or something?  (I didn't know anything about it back then other than the title and the fact that it was supposed to be very good and all that): and then - well - it's like thinking that you're getting a box of chocolates only to open the top and find - I dunno - peanuts on the inside: so that first time round it took me a long time to stop going: where's the chocolate? where's the chocolate? where's the chocolate? (And: I mean - why have that "The Smartest Kid on Earth" but there at all... I mean: maybe I'm missing something - but it's not really a book that that's concerned with intelligence - smart or otherwise (I mean: I would get it if he was the Dumbest Kid on Earth or something like that) - you know? The Loneliest Kid on Earth - now that I could have understood and would have made a lot more sense to me. But - hey - whatever. Whatever.

[9] Yes the guy who founded McSweeny's (you haven't heard of it? [15]) and the name that Miranda Sawyer drops below (the book she's talking about is A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius which I've got to admit I was reminded of too - when you hit those opening pages of notes and glowing review extracts: but yeah - whatever). 

[10] Well - that's what it says on the back cover of the book: the full quote in the article is: "Ware is the most versatile and innovative artist the medium has known, and though it's unlikely that anyone soon will tell a story as powerfully as did Spiegelman in ''Maus,'' in terms of sheer aesthetic virtuosity Ware's book is arguably the greatest achievement of the form, ever." (But you can read the whole thing for yourself here). (Minus points for the title tho: "After Wham! Pow! Shazam! Comic books move beyond superheroes to the world of literature." Really Dave? Really? I mean - that was a cliché even all the way back in 2000).

[11] I can't remember how I know that it was on Newsnight Review (maybe I watched it when it happened?) - but obviously it was noteworthy for other people too [12] - as far as I can tell there's no version of it on youtube (for those of you who don't know what Newsnight Review is I did find Adam and Joe's totally excellent Toy Review which should tell you everything you need to know (Tom Tortoise = YES!)) but I did find on this website a transcript which I'll put here now for the purposes of your entertainment (with thanks to BugPowder and Craig Naples! - Although I should point out that the presenter is Mark Lawson and not Dominic - but whatever):

Mark Lawson: ".. the X-Men and Ghost World were adapted from comic books and the mainstream acceptability of a form associated with children has now spread to the novel. [Cut away to silent footage of someone presenting an award. Chris Ware walks up to the mic and is clearly doing a very funny morose deadpan acceptance speech. Which we can't hear] Last night the Guardian First Book Award was presented to a novel in the form of a comic strip, Chris Ware's "Jimmy Corrigan The Smartest Kid On Earth". [Shot of first few pages] About a middle aged man in Chicago whose comic book hero comes to life [shot of pages where Superman actor seduces Jimmy's mum]. Although Art Spigelman's Maus, a comic book about Auschwitz won the Pulitzer Prize in America nine years ago [shot of pretty rare looking archive hardback of Maus sitting on a table, then three whole panels of Maus]. This is the first time that the British literary awards have allowed such a broad definition of fiction. Starting a debate about whether the worlds of the Booker and The Beano can merge. [Three more fast shots of "Jimmy...", then back to the studio.] Craig Brown, can a comic book be a novel?

Craig Brown: "Certainly, I thought Posy Simmonds' "Gemma Bovery" was a complete masterpiece. It certainly should have won the Turner or the Booker or both. They certainly can. The only thing that slightly worries me about this book is that, and about Maus, is that people like giving prizes to gloomy... ahh.. comic novels.. ahh.. comic book book novels.. and actually I think the form works better with Tintin or Posy Simmonds, where it's light and funny and breezy."

Mark Lawson: "Tom Paulin, does it count for you as a novel?"

Tom Paulin: "The colours are dreadful, it's like looking at a bottle of Domestos or Harpic or Ajax. Awful bleak colours, revolting to look at, it's on it's way to the Oxfam shop."

Mark Lawson: "I understand why the judges went for this, Miranda, because the if you look at the kind of invention and structure there is in cinema and television and music. And the novel is still a very conventional form, and you understand why they've done this, but did this one work?"

Miranda Sawyer: "Well, I mean I haven't read it, but well the thing it reminded me of was un eh Dave Eggers book, y'know, the det, the attention to detail, the kind of like little dedications, and, and, the kind of nerd boy attitude towards it, and I think that y'know obviously it's not a novel, but it can definitely tell a story in the same way that "From Hell" told a really great story and it was eventually turned into a film."

Mark Lawson: "What there are we judging, Craig, do you judge it on the pictures or the words. I mean, could the words be rubbish and the pictures carry it or..."

Craig Brown: "Well, I suspect with this book its the other way round. The pictures don't particularly appeal to me, they're they're they. Especially the actual people, I don't like those, while Posy's people were so beautiful and there was movement, not much movement in these..."

Tom Paulin: "So ugly..."

Craig Brown: "I like what Miranda was saying, I like the obsessive quality."

Miranda Sawyer: "I like the pictures, I'd like to stick up for them."

Tom Paulin: "Disgusting look to it. Really horrible."

Miranda Sawyer: "I disagree."

[13] Oh: and Chris Ware obviously heard about it seeing how he puts the Tom Paulin quote ("The colours are dreadful, it's like looking at a bottle of Domestos or Harpic or Ajax. Awful bleak colours, revolting to look at, it's on it's way to the Oxfam shop. Disgusting look to it. Really horrible.") on his "Popular Press Easily Duped" page (I also like the LA Times Book Review quote: "Nearly impossible to read").

[14] Of course: if like me - you're reading a copy that's from a library (yay libraries!) - chances are that there's a date label and barcode covering up a lot of this (up above I said that it's a double-page of text - but actually - when I lift up the date label (that's the label where the library stamps the due dates) - there's a exploded diagram of a mouse bonking a cat's head ("If b) did you a) feel sorry for the cat head or b) not?") that I can only just see the edges of - oh well: hopefully it's not too important... (if I ever make a book then I'm going to make sure that I leave enough room on the opening pages for the barcode and the date label: for defs) [20].

[15] McSweeney's? No? In that case read this: Back From Yet Another Globetrotting Adventure, Indiana Jones Checks His Mail And Discovers That His Bid For Tenure Has Been Denied. (And yeah: for those that didn't know - Chris Ware edited McSweeney's 13 so there's history there and if you like one then you'll most probably like the other).

[16] Except - oops. No. It's gone only a few pages later. Damn.

[17] From the Corrigenda at the end (if I was still a teenager - this is the kind of thing that I would be very tempted to photocopy and stick on my wall): "Lonely (lõn'lẽ) adj. Alone, or by oneself. The permanent state of being for all humans, despite any efforts to the contrary. Can be soothed or subdued in a variety of ways, viz. marriage, sexual intercourse, board games, literature, music, poetry, television, party hats, pastries, etc., but cannot be solved."

[18] Not that I'm advocating that all entertainment should be light and fluffy just to take your mind off your day (or anything like that): in fact - far from it. I mean: I love stuff that engages me that and requires a little work - but (simply put) I prefer thinking about parallel dimensions and (I dunno) questions of personal identity more than I like thinking about - erm - failed relationships and the death of a loved one, not having a loved one and dying alone. (Having written that down I realise that maybe that sounds like I'm just trying to avoid the harsh realities of life and doing the whole sublimating or transference thing (or whatever) - well - hell: nothing wrong with that).

[19] Best example (and for me - maybe the pinnacle of the whole book in terms of just - well: massively showing off) is when Jimmy and his dad are at the doctor's and his dad raises up his finger and we flash ("Ah")- for just one panel - on to his dad's memory of taking a photograph back when Jimmy Corrigan was just a boy ("It's okay Jimmy... he's just going to take a picture."): and yeah -the first time I saw that (back when I read it the first time around) I remember thinking - wow - that is totally amazing (and what else can I say? It's an effect that only a comic could achieve blah blah blah? Whatever. It's just a great moment: and yeah - it's totally amazing).

[20] And - ha - there's a white rectangle security tag on the last page too. Oh well. I sure hope it wasn't covering up anything too important...  

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Links: The Hurting Article: The Ten Best Comics of The Aughts: 8. Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth  Guardian Review, Comics Journal with Chris Ware Part 1, Part 2, Hooded Utilitarian Analysis, Eopinions Review.

Further reading: Asterios Polyp, Quimby the Mouse, Fun HomeBuddhaBlack HoleWilson, Blankets, Gemma Bovery, From Hell, Summer Blonde, Scott Pilgrim, Meanwhile, American Born Chinese, The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing is a Way of Thinking.

All comments welcome.

Books: Palestine

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Palestine
by Joe Sacco

2001





Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:
http://www.library.islington.gov.uk/TalisPrism/

In late 1991/early 1992 the artist Joe Sacco visited Palestine and interviewed many of the people who lived there. Using their testimonies he then wrote and drew this book. Not so much then "graphic novel" but more "graphic reportage." While the tone of the book is serious and the events depicted mainly harrowing and bleak (although Sacco does enliven things up with his distinctive authorial voice and keeps keen note of how much tea he ends up drinking) the artwork is lively, full of rich detail and shot from great twisty angles - with the box captions spilling around and across the pages. There's no 'big' narrative that keeps you going throughout the book (disclosure: I'm the type of guy that likes a good story) and so at times I did find things heavy going - but this is deservedly a landmark work and one that will repay the reader with a better, clearer understanding of how the world works and how those with power treat those without.

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Links: Guardian Review, Guardian Interview with Joe Sacco.

Further reading: Footnotes in Gaza, The Fixer, The Photographer, Maus, Waltz With Bashir.

All comments welcome.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Books: Fun Home

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Fun Home
By Alison Bechdel

2006





Available now from Islington Libraries
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Ok - so. Back in the early days of the Comic Forum I was looking around for a "book of the month" - something that had multiple copies in the Islington stock and also seemed kinda clever looking and wasn't just - you know - Alan Moore. So I did some looking around and checked the shelves and stuff and found myself staring at Fun Home.

If it wasn't for that I don't think I would have ever bothered to pick it up. I mean - it just didn't seem like my cup of tea at all. Flicking through the pages the artwork seemed kinda drab (basically just whites and greens) and the subject matter (a memoir about going up in a Funeral home?) and - perversely - all those fawning plaudits on the back cover about what a work of genius it was made me shy away. It all just looked so worthy and - damn it - boring. Like an Oscar-winning film: I mean - yeah - ok - well-made and emotional and all the rest: but nothing exciting and crazy and wild. More like something your granny would appreciate.

And so of course - against my better judgement - I picked it up and of course it was great. And so I made it book of the month and wrote this following rather dry description: "Highly critically acclaimed upon it's release this is one of the best mature [1] comic books of recent years. Written and Illustrated by Alison Bechdel (who made her name with the long running syndicated strip 'Dykes To Watch Out For') Fun Home is an unflinching recollection of growing up and her troubled and turbulent relationship with her father. This is a comic that is by turns: sad, funny and pretty emotionally devastating. With a novelist's eye for a telling detail this and no holds barred account of the inner workings of her family. Your tears will be jerked. Your heart will be broken." I mean - I guess you can get a small sense of what it was like from reading that - but it isn't exactly the best thing I've written on here.

After that I stumbled upon a big fat collection of the afore mentioned Dykes To Watch Out For ("The Essential Dykes To Watch Out For" see below) and that's when I saw a whole different side to Alison Bechdel - one that was a lot more wild, free and crazy and - well - young (she did start it back in the year I was born) which in turn - seeing how I enjoyed that so much - made me want to re-read Fun Home and see if it was coloured by knowing her better - and hoping that I could find something to say to re-write this.

This is what I got: First off - it's strange how even tho Dykes To Watch Out For (let's just call it DTWOF from here on in ok?) is purely fictional and Fun Home is a retelling of her childhood - it feels like you get to know what feels like the real Alison Bechdel from the first while Fun Home feels a lot more like she's putting on heirs and graces. I mean - I guess that makes sense: DTWOF was composed bit by bit with (especially in the early days) in sense that it was going to be anything special (Lesbian soap opera comic books not really being such a profitable market back in the 1980s) so everything feels raw and spontaneous. Fun Home in comparison feels very studied and artfully composed - I mean - it goes deeper and gets a lot more poetic - I guess it's like the difference between 2 minute clips that someone's just uploaded on to youtube and - here's that example again - an Oscar film. What's "better" depends on what your tastes are. Second - coming at it again with fresh eyes it now makes total sense that comic got so much love from people who would normally consider graphic novels to be below them - not because it's a really good comic (which it is) - but because of all the literary allusions scattered throughout: there's F. Scott Fitzgerald, Albert Camus, Henry James, James Joyce and William Shakespeare as well as Daedalus and Icarus and Telemachus and Odysseus (phew!). But you get the point: this is a comic that isn't afraid to show off of it's fancy book-learning which I reckon is what makes it so appealing to those who wouldn't normally want to be seen reading something with so many pictures - add that to the fact that it's not "vulgar fiction" but a high-minded memoir means that it's something that you wouldn't have to be embarrassed about if you brought it up in conversation at a dinner party [2].

It's also pretty funny seeing how certain obsessions carried over from DTWOF into this (it makes complete sense that she would use newspaper headlines in order to help orientate the reader about where they are - seeing how often she uses them in DTWOF) and there's one line in particular that maybe reveals a little more of her psyche then she intended [3].

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[1] Ha. Love the fact that I said "mature" - which you know: isn't exactly the most effusive praise when I use it. Maybe there was a part of me that was still holding back?

[2] Not that I'm saying that Bechdel has done these things on purpose: the book never reads like it's being deliberately pretentious or shoe-horns things in or anything like that: it all reads like everything happens organically.

[3] That line is one about her father: "It was like being raised not by Jimmy but by Martha Stewart" which - considering that her DTWOF authorial stand-in Mo has a certain sexual predilection for doing Martha Stewart role-play. Well... I'll say no more.

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Links: Jog The Blog Review, New York Times Review, Comics Journal Interview with Alison Bechdel, The Hurting Article: The Thin LineThe Hooded Utilitarian Review / The Hooded Utilitarian Article: Fun Home: Technically Speaking on the first 86 pages / The Hooded Utilitarian Article: Seeing the Big Picture: The Use of Composition in Comics.

Further reading: Are You My Mother?The Essential Dykes To Watch Out For, Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on EarthBlanketsPersepolis, Violent Cases, Asterios Polyp, Summer Blonde, Years Of The ElephantStrangers in Paradise.

Profiles: Alison Bechdel.

All comments welcome.