Drawn & Quarterly – Read About Comics http://www.readaboutcomics.com Where to find out what's really good. Mon, 16 Nov 2015 17:36:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.10 Letting It Go http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/07/12/letting-it-go/ Fri, 12 Jul 2013 13:00:50 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2493 By Miriam Katin160 pages, colorPublished by Drawn & Quarterly

Miriam Katin is a comic creator whose work I’ve been following for over a decade now; encountering her stories in the Monkeysuit anthologies, watching her make a jump to the oversized Drawn & Quarterly Vol. 4, and then her first graphic novel We Are On Our [...]]]> By Miriam Katin
160 pages, color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Miriam Katin is a comic creator whose work I’ve been following for over a decade now; encountering her stories in the Monkeysuit anthologies, watching her make a jump to the oversized Drawn & Quarterly Vol. 4, and then her first graphic novel We Are On Our Own. Her stories of her life as a Jewish Hungarian immigrant offer a glimpse into a life that will be unfamiliar to most, and she’s always had a strong skill as a storyteller. Her new graphic novel Letting It Go is in many ways the most personal one yet, focusing on the news that her son is planning to move to Berlin. What results is a frank and slightly comedic story about trying to let go of one’s anger.

Katin’s story in Letting It Go is a mixture of humor and drama; this is a book where at one moment she’s trying to deal with a cockroach invasion in the apartment that Katin and her husband Geoff live in, and the next she’s reeling from the news that her son Ilan is moving to Berlin and applying for Hungarian citizenship. "The fact that he’s in Berlin, it’s a horror," Katin tells her aging mother, and later thinks as she looks through the citizenship application, "This is like handing my baby over to the wolves." She doesn’t mince words in Letting It Go, and in doing so you get a strong sense of just how much of a shock to her system this move is. And with that, Katin takes you with her on a journey of understanding and releasing some of her anger.

There’s an interesting sequence near the end of the book where Katin and her husband have visited a museum in Berlin, and Geoff had placed his wedding ring in a box for the metal detectors, only to later realize it wasn’t back on his hand. The ring isn’t at the security system, and Geoff and Katin are convinced that someone stole it. It’s not until Geoff is telling the story to others later that he angrily pulls off his jacket, and the missing ring flies out of a pocket. "In the story I’m working on, it will stay lost," Katin tells Ilan. "It will be meaner that way. I want it as nasty as possible." That incident tells simultaneously does several things within the context of Letting It Go. It reminds us that the events of this book are all through Katin’s admittedly skewed perspective. It makes you wonder how much liberty she took in recounting these stories. Most importantly, it lets you in at this point on how her long-held opinions on Germany are starting to soften, since ultimately she didn’t change what happened for the purposes of making Letting It Go meaner. In many ways, Katin seems to be the one surprised by the ending of her own autobiographical book; she tries to steer it towards one conclusion, but even she can’t stop it from course correcting. As she starts to find things familiar in Germany and even goes through the expense of a second trip there for an art opening, one gets the impression that she’s not as intractable as Katin wants us to believe she is.

If you’ve never seen Katin’s art before, it’s a real treat. Drawn with colored pencils, Katin’s art is a beautiful mixture of carefully realized portraits and scribbles. Her animation background is very much on display in her art; when Geoff is storming down the street while steam blasts out of his ears, I love the almost excited way that Katin draws herself squeeze up next to Geoff and putting her hand on his arm. The next image has her in front of him, and your mind fills in the interstitial image of her swinging around; through posture and the illusion of movement, Katin finds a way to have her drawings figuratively come to life. At times Katin’s art is whimsical and entertaining, like her getting buffeted around the page by musical notes from Ride of the Valkyries. As the art retreats into a single color, the stark nature of her drawings combined with the funny action on display is eye-catching, a sudden shift into something that contains both whimsy and a serious point. Compare those with the full-color portraits that are carefully rendered throughout the book. When Katin draws the Stolpersteine (a series of memorial plaques to those dying in concentration camps, embedded in the cobblestone street), it’s a moment of beauty amidst a deeply depressing scene. Her colors are so vivid, her attention to detail so sharp, it’s hard to not get instantly drawn in.

The best thing about Letting It Go, I think, is that Katin doesn’t present her ultimate change of heart through any one huge moment of discovery. Rather, it’s a gradual shift over time, one that lets some of that anger slip away bit by bit. Doing so presents the story not only more believable, but I think more interesting. For a book that isn’t afraid to take flights of fancy to show Katin shopping to a gift for herself, or noting that she recently "accepted the dry martini as [her] personal savior," it’s a book that plumbs the depths of Katin’s spirit. The end result? Letting It Go is that rare autobiographical story that holds real interest for readers from all walks of life. Once again, Katin’s created a real winner.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Wild Kingdom http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/07/16/wild-kingdom/ Mon, 16 Jul 2012 16:00:13 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2351 By Kevin Huizenga108 pages, black and white, with some colorPublished by Drawn & Quarterly

With Kevin Huizenga’s much-praised Gloriana having just being released into a hardcover edition, now seemed a good a time as any to look at one of his earlier, similarly-dimensioned books, The Wild Kingdom. Those looking for a defined narrative line throughout [...]]]> By Kevin Huizenga
108 pages, black and white, with some color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

With Kevin Huizenga’s much-praised Gloriana having just being released into a hardcover edition, now seemed a good a time as any to look at one of his earlier, similarly-dimensioned books, The Wild Kingdom. Those looking for a defined narrative line throughout the book might be a bit disappointed, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading. While The Wild Kingdom shares Huizenga’s Glenn Ganges character (these days probably best known from the Ganges comics), it’s a loose, free-form series of shorts that feel more observational than anything else. Many of them focus on interactions or looks at wildlife; one story, for example, lets us see the movements of a bird that lands in the middle of a traffic lane and how danger seems to inch ever closer.

The center section of The Wild Kingdom suddenly shifts to full color, as we get a bizarre and surprisingly funny shift into a series of commercials. They’re nonsensical and great, and I think the complete derailment of the mood of The Wild Kingdom up until that point actually is a plus for this book. It’s so out-of-the-blue that it almost feels startling, and the laughter that results is that much more genuine. And when the book closes out with what seems at first like a sad moment for a single bird and then dominos into something greater, well, it’s the most unexpected ending I’ve seen in a book for quite a while. Add in Huizenga’s stripped down and attractive art, and this is a book that manages to sneak up and surprise you again and again. While I don’t think I’d put The Wild Kingdom up as one of Huizenga’s greatest comics, it is still immensely entertaining. For a book that at a glance feels a bit slight, I’m now kicking myself for taking so long to read it. Wonderfully unpredictable, this is a book I suspect I’ll be re-visiting over the years.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/07/06/jerusalem/ Fri, 06 Jul 2012 13:00:41 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2340 By Guy Delisle336 pages, colorPublished by Drawn & Quarterly

I’ve always enjoyed travel non-fiction, and that’s definitely what Guy Delisle’s books set in different parts of the world fall under. Books like Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea and Burma Chronicles have given us glimpses into these far-off, almost-inaccessible places, mixing local color with the [...]]]> By Guy Delisle
336 pages, color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

I’ve always enjoyed travel non-fiction, and that’s definitely what Guy Delisle’s books set in different parts of the world fall under. Books like Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea and Burma Chronicles have given us glimpses into these far-off, almost-inaccessible places, mixing local color with the travails of his own life. With Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, though, he’s going to a place that feels a little closer if perhaps also more volatile. The chances of knowing someone who’s gone to Burma or North Korea are small at best, but Jerusalem (and to a lesser extent, Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza in general) is a much higher probability. So in doing so, Delisle loses his previous "edge" of transporting the reader to a place they’ll almost certainly never visit, and has to rely more on his own storytelling ability.

In Jerusalem, Delisle and his family are moving to East Jerusalem for the same reason they’d gone to Burma; his wife Nadège’s job at Médecins Sans Frontières. For those unfamiliar with the breakdown of Jerusalem, as Delisle himself relates to the reader early on, it’s a portion of the city that was annexed into Jerusalem in the 1967 war but is considered by most of the world as being part of Palestine. As we quickly see from Delisle’s attempts to navigate the city, this means going through checkpoints and barriers constantly, something that his own neighbors can’t so easily pass through. From there, it’s a whirlwind of learning local customs from a number of religions, balancing the wildly differing schedules of Nadège and their children, and what to do whenever the Israelis and Palestinians have armed conflicts break out.

Those looking for a deep, interesting view of the politics between Israel and Palestine should look elsewhere, although to be fair it’s not what Delisle is promising. There are a lot of non-fiction graphic novels set in the region, like Joe Sacco’s Palestine and Footnotes in Gaza (both of which are distinctly journalism), or Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less (a personal journey about Glidden’s understanding and feelings towards Israel). Delisle’s is travel writing, which means that the focus is on giving us a glimpse of what it’s like to live in Jerusalem on a day-to-day basis. This means suffering alarms, accidentally driving into an ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood during the Sabbath, or learning how to navigate El Al’s customs agents every time he tries to fly back into the country. This is, after all, a narrator who doesn’t know what Yom Kippur is before moving to Jerusalem, and at one point on a map labels Lebanon as Libya. You aren’t going to get deep political discussion in Jerusalem, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

What we do get, though, is a slow transformation from frustration to acceptance to almost (but not quite) fitting in to the strange world that is East Jerusalem. Once Delisle starts finding places to use as a studio (in a most unlikely location at that) and settling into a routine, his life actually gets more interesting rather than less. I think it’s because with a lot of that initial frustration having faded away it lets him start to notice some of the smaller and more interesting details about the world around him. Near the end, Delisle wistfully notes that had he and his family stayed for a second year, things would have been much easier, and it’s easy to see that being true. That initial struggle evaporating turns his journal into a much more personal piece; something as simple as building piles of stones and finding a turtle can be just as interesting as being shown where a group of Jews have temporarily stored their new foundation stones for building the Third Temple.

Delisle’s art is simple and iconic, which is a great style when it comes to a personal journal. When drawing himself it’s just two dots for eyes, a point for a nose, and a simple line for a mouth, Instead he puts the focus on just the right things at the right time; the clothing being worn, the buildings that make up Jerusalem, the landscape that surrounds them. It keeps your attention centered, and Delisle himself is able to fade into the background when necessary, then burst back to the foreground for a reaction shot. Delisle’s art shifts between two-color and full-color, with the latter reserved for historical flashbacks, maps, and moments of accent. It’s a curious decision but it does make those moments stand out particularly well. I’d love to see a full-color book from Delisle—I think his usage of flat colors is an attractive mix with his simple style—but for now I’ll settle for what I can get.

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City is a book that when read as a travel journal hits all the right spots. It’s not Delisle’s best (that’s probably still Pyongyang), but I think Jerusalem could definitely battle with Burma Chronicles for an easy second place finish. Delisle’s travels pull the reader in just the right way, so that you can almost project yourself into the setting. Jerusalem might not be as remote as some of his other destinations that he’s written about, but ultimately it’s still a satisfying read.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Fallen Words http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/06/22/fallen-words/ Fri, 22 Jun 2012 13:00:11 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2296 By Yoshihiro Tatsumi288 pages, black and whitePublished by Drawn & Quarterly

Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s career as a manga creator is long and varied; originally known for helping create the "gekiga" alternative manga genre in the ’40s and ’50s, and then bursting back onto the scene a few years ago with his enthralling autobiography A Drifting Life. [...]]]> By Yoshihiro Tatsumi
288 pages, black and white
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s career as a manga creator is long and varied; originally known for helping create the "gekiga" alternative manga genre in the ’40s and ’50s, and then bursting back onto the scene a few years ago with his enthralling autobiography A Drifting Life. With Fallen Words, his new short story collection, Tatsumi addresses an old Japanese storytelling technique and group of long-standing stories (called rakugo) by shifting them from performance art into a comics page. And once again, Tatsumi shows the reader that he’s still got the skill and craft that’s made him an important craftsman of manga all these years.

Each short is short and mixes humor and drama; once you understand these were stories that were performed by storytellers for crowds, the overall rhythm and conversational mood of these pieces becomes much more clear and understandable. Even if you didn’t know this in advance, though, it would be easy to confuse these for Tatsumi’s older gekiga comics, with their offbeat and entertaining conclusions. Nothing is quite as simple as they’d initially seem, even though there’s a certain internal logic that runs through all of them.

It’s "The God of Death" that I think sums up the entire Falling Words collection, both tonally and in terms of reader satisfaction. It starts out simply enough; a man and his wife are so down on their luck they can’t afford the three ryo it costs to pay their baby’s godparents in exchange for the baby being given a name. At the end of his wits, he feels that the God of Poverty is responsible, but from there gets sidetracked into thinking about the God of Death. And just then, the God of Death shows up and asks how he can help out. From there, the story sidetracks from a normal, every day story into one that’s a bit more off-beat. The God of Death tells the man how he can use his new ability to see the God of Death to help "heal" people who are sick, and how this ability both gives them lots of money but also moves them eventually into a new, bad situation. And then just when you think you know where things are going, one final glimmer of hope shows up, accompanied by a last second swerve.

And to me, it’s that last second swerve that punctuates each of the pieces in Fallen Words. It’s not always a "ha ha, didn’t see that coming!" moment, but rather a sudden proclamation or final burst of dialogue that is clearly meant to both surprise and amuse the audience. It’s a storytelling punch line, that moment where you can almost see the performer letting that final piece out and into the listeners, followed by a mixture of laughter and applause. As a result we’ve got all different genres of stories in Fallen Words—a brothel employee listens to complaints of angry patrons, a father takes his annoying son with him on a shopping expedition, a poor family finds purse full of a fortune—but the overall pacing is the same. But while with other creators that recognizable format might grow old, in Fallen Words it actually heightens the experience; you find yourself eagerly awaiting that sudden shift and moment where you laugh along with Tatsumi.

You may also find yourself noticing that there’s a certain class level that runs throughout Fallen Words. These rakugo stories are never about the already-wealthy or well to-do. It’s about people down on their luck, eking out an existence, definitely part of the lower class. You’ll start to recognize those tropes as Fallen Words moves from one setting to the next; the innkeeper who can’t afford to stay open, the patron who can’t pay his bills, and so on. It makes sense when you think about it; stories like these would probably be performed to those who didn’t have much money, who couldn’t go to high-society events. It’s a form of storytelling that is often used to entertain the masses, and here the audience can watch people just like them either succeed or fail, depending on how that final beat was to land. The cover describes the shorts as "moral comedies" and it’s easy to see why; perhaps once again because of their "meant for the broad public" nature, there’s a big push for working hard and not taking shortcuts, but interspersed with a good sense of humor.

There’s a certain sameness in Tatsumi’s art for Fallen Words, although it’s hard to tell if that’s deliberate or not. There’s definitely a very distinct and often-used set of faces on these characters; most of them in particular look identical, although there are a few exceptions, especially stories with several main characters. It’s something that at first I found a little frustrating as I would start a new story and see another character that looked like the last story’s lead, but over time I grew to appreciate it. It felt almost like this was a deliberate choice on Tatsumi’s part; these are, after all, an attempt to shift a group of tales performed by storytellers onto the printed page. Having the characters look the same over and over again, in that light, is a decision that actually works rather well. We aren’t getting the literal storyteller performing in front of us, but through Tatsumi’s art we’re seeing those performers take the stage again and again. As with A Drifting Life I’m always enchanted by Tatsumi’s drawings of backgrounds, although here they’re far less frequently appearing, and slightly less detailed. If anything it reinforced my feeling that the sameness of the characters was a choice from Tatsumi, once again making us feel like we’re seeing this performed on the street, perhaps.

Tatsumi might be seventy-five years old, but Fallen Words is a strong reminder that he’s still an important creator in comics. With each new release I’m delighted to see how good he still is; the fact that he’s been able to change gears in recent years to shift to autobiography and now rakugo is all the more impressive. Whatever of Tatsumi’s is released next, there is no doubt in my mind that I’ll be buying it. Fallen Words is a bit different from his earlier works, but it’s just as entertaining.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Blabber Blabber Blabber: Vol. 1 of Everything http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/02/08/blabber-blabber-blabber/ Wed, 08 Feb 2012 14:00:51 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2128 By Lynda Barry176 pages, black and white, with some colorPublished by Drawn & Quarterly

Lynda Barry is one of those creators for whom I didn’t immediately gain an appreciation. The first couple of times I tried to read her syndicated strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek, it just didn’t click, and I shrugged and moved on. But [...]]]> By Lynda Barry
176 pages, black and white, with some color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Lynda Barry is one of those creators for whom I didn’t immediately gain an appreciation. The first couple of times I tried to read her syndicated strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek, it just didn’t click, and I shrugged and moved on. But then her books One! Hundred! Demons! and What It Is were published, and the two made me a huge convert. So when Drawn & Quarterly announced their multi-volume collection of Barry’s comics, I was both intrigued and a little scared. Would these old comics of Barry’s finally connect with me, or would it just reinforce my earlier opinion of her work? As it turned out? The answer was both.

Blabber Blabber Blabber: Vol. 1 of Everything dives all the way back to Barry’s earliest comics in the late ’70s, and those earliest Ernie Pook’s Comeek are quite different from what was eventually to come. The comic eventually was taken over by Marlys, Maybonne, and company, but in these early days it’s primarily a series of one-off comics that are either 1- or 4-panel creations. Those who have never understood the title of Ernie Pook’s Comeek will be shocked to discover that Ernie Pook really was a character in those earliest strips, although there’s nothing particular to distinguish him from any other character that shows up in these early days. Comics often end in punch lines like, "I bet I’m getting future emotional disorder from this," or feature a tiny version of a person sitting on a tea cup. It’s a hugely varied strip that I think in some ways loses its effectiveness by being read in a collected edition; spread apart, the jokes and off-kilter humor has more of an impact, but in a rapid-fire state it’s hard to not notice a certain sameness. There are still winners in those early strips, though; every now and then Barry pulled a real winner out of nowhere, like the time a girl tells her mother about learning about the planets. With a particularly scratchy and primitive art style, it’s probably the least attractive to a casual reader, although the closer you look the more you can see what’s still to come from Barry.

Next are the Two Sisters strips, which (mostly) focus on twins Evette and Rita. There’s a bit of a through line for these stories in terms of the writing, and their want of a dog or their dealings with the world around them feels much more focused and interesting. It’s hard to not feel like these are the proto-Marlys and Maybonne, and Barry’s feeling out her idea of regular characters and how to work with them without getting bored. Barry’s art is going through a shift here, moving away from angular to rounded, and the way she draws the girls with their singular strands of hair standing out is an almost instantly more appealing visual style.

The last section of the book are Girls and Boys strips, which shift back to a series of mostly unrelated strips, despite having a cast of characters. They’re less gag-oriented like the Ernie Pook’s Comeek strips at the start of the book, and at times they feel more like meditations on the world and people around Barry than something aiming for a specific point. This is also a section of the book that is primarily drawn in profiles (although it eventually shifts away from this style). It feels almost like you’re looking at cut-out puppets moving across the panels as a result, the characters never shifting away from the direction they initially face in, wiggling across the page. Add in the return of some of the tropes from Ernie Pook’s Comeek (I’m still a little unsure why Barry is so taken with the idea of miniature people appearing and talking to the characters, but it happens a lot), and Girls and Boys feels in many ways like a sequel to Ernie Pook’s Comeek, only with a slightly different art approach that is eventually abandoned.

I almost hate to admit that my favorite part of Blabber Blabber Blabber: Vol. 1 of Everything is the new material from Barry, as she explains in comic form how each portion of the book came about. From tracing R. Crumb comics to trying self-publishing for the first time, each anecdote is instantly gripping; Barry over the years has become an amazing storyteller. These earlier strips don’t quite hit that level, though, but the more you read, the more you begin to see flashes of what’s to come. Those deeply curious about Barry’s genesis as a comic creator will definitely want to buy Blabber Blabber Blabber: Vol. 1 of Everything, but in many ways I feel like this is for the die-hard fans. I’ll read more of the Barry collections because more than anything this has made me curious on how we get from these early days to the later parts of her career, or even just to the point where her regular cast of characters makes a debut. But while I found enough to enjoy here, I’m all right with waiting a bit for the next, inevitable release.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Paying For It http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/06/10/paying-for-it/ Fri, 10 Jun 2011 13:00:19 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1793 By Chester Brown288 pages, black and whitePublished by Drawn & Quarterly

It’s been eight years since Chester Brown’s last graphic novel (a collection of his biographical mini-series of Canadian political leader Louis Riel), and his work has always been wide ranging, but had you told me that his new book would be about Brown’s experiences [...]]]> By Chester Brown
288 pages, black and white
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

It’s been eight years since Chester Brown’s last graphic novel (a collection of his biographical mini-series of Canadian political leader Louis Riel), and his work has always been wide ranging, but had you told me that his new book would be about Brown’s experiences with prostitutes I wouldn’t have believed you. On the surface it sounds like a crass, flippant subject. What Paying For It actually delivers, though, is a thoughtful and interesting examination on the life of a john and on prostitution in general.

One of the things I appreciated right off the bat was that we don’t ever get a definitive "this is right, this is wrong" statement in Paying For It‘s main narrative. As Brown explains to his friends what he’s going through and his feelings on the matter, we get responses from Joe Matt and Seth on their own feelings on the matter. And while this is clearly Brown’s book, he doesn’t suppress or hide these other viewpoints on prostitution. With that in mind, Paying For It follows Brown’s life as his girlfriend Sook-Yin breaks up with him in 1996, but the two decide to still live together. Deciding that he’s never going to have a girlfriend again, he figures this will mean he’ll have to go without sex.

Flash forward to 1999, and we’re watching Brown become a john for the first time, as he nervously meets a prostitute for some outcall work. There’s some humor in those early encounters; Brown looking under the bed, in the closet, and in the bathroom to make sure that no one is hiding there, or trying to figure out if he should take his shoes off or not (in case he has to run). In many ways it serves to not only poke fun at Brown, but also to help let down the guard of the reader. What might otherwise scare a reader off is instead an entertaining sequence that segues into the actual sex part of the story.

What we get from this point is where the meat of the story shows up. It’s a combination of a series of conversations between Brown and Matt, Seth, and Sook-Yin about the nature of prostitution, as well as Brown’s many, many encounters with prostitutes over the next few years and how his initial nervousness turns into a rather blasé, almost jaded look at the entire experience. It’s not that he starts to look down on hiring prostitutes (not at all, in fact) but rather he starts to recognize certain patterns with some women, and some of the tricks of the trade, so to speak. Brown doesn’t come across as someone particularly wise when these moments hit, though. Instead it’s in such a dispassionate voice that it’s actually a little sad. Comparing this Brown to the one who feels like a weight has been lifted off of his shoulders after that initial encounter is rather startling. Brown has slowly lost a lot of the optimism that he first experienced with his new outlook on sex.

It’s the last third of the book that ends up being, for lack of a better word, the most conversation-inducing. Brown makes a big decision in how he’s going to treat his favorite prostitute, and in doing so, the book comes to a sudden and abrupt conclusion. After over 100 pages of watching Brown go to prostitute after prostitute (some of them repeats, others new), the entire book wraps up in eight pages. It’s a startling and somewhat unsatisfying conclusion to the narrative, and people who haven’t flipped through the book before reading will be especially surprised since there are a good 60 pages left in the physical book itself. It’s there that Brown writes a series of appendices (with spot illustrations), where he explains in far greater detail his feelings on prostitution, why it should be normalized, and in doing so answers a lot of questions that he’s been asked about the trade. And while I appreciated that in the main narrative there are no "this is the answer" definitive statements being handed out, it’s here that Brown gets a little preachy. I understand why it’s here; these are points that he’s no doubt tired of having to bring up with people who know him, and by going public with Paying For It they’re a series of questions that will be asked in greater frequency. But none the less, this is a much starker, more black-and-white laying out of Brown’s beliefs here. With no one to argue them, it comes across as a well-mannered screed of sorts, and I’ll admit that toward the end I found myself skimming rather than reading the pages. I’m not someone who enjoys being lectured at (regardless of if I agree, disagree, or fall somewhere in the middle with the lecture) and I suspect I’m not the only one.

While I enjoy Brown’s comics, there’s no denying that his art style is extremely simple and straight-forward. In the past he’s drawn his comics as a series of individual, same-size rectangles that he could then paste onto pieces of paper and re-arrange as necessary, and I saw nothing here to make me think that he’s not still doing so. There’s no variation on page layouts—panels are two-to-a-row, unless there are an odd number of panels in a chapter in which case the last panel is by itself, centered— and Brown’s people look remarkably similar to one another. Aside from different levels of male-pattern baldness (and a hat), there’s no way to tell Brown, Matt, and Seth apart from one another, for example. Sequences with Brown and Seth walking and talking are near-identical, the two in the same position in every panel, with only a silhouette of a building changing, plus the occasional puff of cigarette smoke from Seth. Brown makes his comics work because of his sense of pacing and overall interesting stories, but his sequential art in general comes across much more as a series of storyboards for a film than as a graphical creation to be relished and studied on the basis of his art skills.

Overall I think Paying For It is definitely a good book, but its flaws—the extremely rushed and sudden ending (after an extended sequence hitting the same notes), the preachy appendices, the slightly dull art—keep it from being a great book. Is it worth reading? Absolutely. I appreciate that it challenges people’s notions of prostitution, and provides a fascinating look into one person’s extended experiences with the practice. But go into it with the understanding that it’s not a perfect book, and you’ll end up with a stronger final impression of Paying For It.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Scenes from an Impending Marriage http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2011/04/01/scenes-from-an-impending-marriage/ Fri, 01 Apr 2011 12:00:18 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1730 By Adrian Tomine56 pages, black and whitePublished by Drawn & Quarterly

The fact that there is a television show named Bridezillas is, perhaps, an example of just how weddings can bring out the crazy in people. They’ve got that power. Everyone says they’re going to start simply, keep things from spinning out of control, but [...]]]> By Adrian Tomine
56 pages, black and white
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

The fact that there is a television show named Bridezillas is, perhaps, an example of just how weddings can bring out the crazy in people. They’ve got that power. Everyone says they’re going to start simply, keep things from spinning out of control, but 9 out of 10 times, sooner or later… pow! The craziness kicks in, even if just for an hour. It’s with all of that in mind that I’m terribly amused about Adrian Tomine’s Scenes from an Impending Marriage, a short comic originally created as a wedding favor for his and Sarah’s guests. Because if you’ve ever planned a wedding, been near someone planning a wedding, or even thought about planning a wedding, this will ring ominously true.

Scenes from an Impending Marriage is divided up into a series of short stories as Adrian and Sarah go through the various stages of wedding planning; figuring out the guest list, creating the invitation, finding a venue, figuring out what to wear, and so on. Like most couples, they’re not always on the same page about everything. And even more so, just because the two of them are in agreement on something does not mean that the rest of the world will be. One person’s crowning glory is another person’s mark of shame, and that’s doubly true when it comes to weddings.

The conflicts that arise are never serious—after all, this was initially meant as a way of saying thank you for coming to the wedding—and in doing so, Scenes from an Impending Marriage has a light-hearted feel. You aren’t going to see Adrian and Sarah stomp away from one another muttering that this was a bad idea, or explaining that their new in-laws are hideous monsters. It’s not the tone that Tomine was aiming for, and rightfully so. Had Tomine created a complete work of fiction around a couple planning a wedding, there’s no doubt in my mind this would have been a much bleaker creation. For long-time Tomine readers, though, this brings to mind some of his earliest works that were collected in 27 Stories, with a fun, cheeky twist to most of the chapters.

When Tomine does get harsh, it’s over failed attempts to find something for the wedding, never with his and his wife’s comic book alter egos. They learn that just because a DJ can talk the good talk (even if he professionally goes by the name "DJ Buttercream") doesn’t mean their musical tastes are going to even remotely coincide, or what happens when they ask a park employee (while checking the area out as a possible wedding location) what would happen in the event of rain. The comic is still good-natured even then, but you can catch just the edges of a deeper frustration, where clearly the process of planning everything was starting to wear on the pair. And ultimately, when Tomine is a critic in regards to himself and his wife, he (wisely) makes himself the butt of most of the jokes. It’s his freak-outs, his complaining, his controlling nature that are the punch lines to the different situations.

Tomine draws Scenes from an Impending Marriage in a slightly more stripped down style than his recent work, perhaps because of the light-hearted nature of the comic. It’s cute, using mostly nine-panel grids and illustrating himself and his wife in a fun manner. I was impressed at when he switched over to the single-panel, Family Circus illustrations, as well as his depiction of the Peanuts "Aaaauuuggghhhh!!" (complete with noses straight up in the air); they’re both cute little nods to those classic strips.

Scenes from an Impending Marriage is a slight but fun book, an entertaining change of pace from Tomine. As someone who’s both watched friends and family members plan their weddings, and also is beginning to think about what to do for his inevitable own ceremony, it’s a fairly accurate depiction of the process. If you’re looking for the perfect engagement gift, Scenes from an Impending Marriage is the new gold standard.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Make Me a Woman http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/10/22/make-me-a-woman/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/10/22/make-me-a-woman/#comments Fri, 22 Oct 2010 07:00:52 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1538 By Vanessa Davis176 pages, color & black and whitePublished by Drawn & Quarterly

Vanessa Davis’s comics are not, at a glance, the sort of experiences that would be universally understood. A love/hate relationship with Jewish boys, going to fat camp, celebrating the High Holy Days, a mother who uses slightly inappropriate and sexually tilted words. [...]]]> By Vanessa Davis
176 pages, color & black and white
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Vanessa Davis’s comics are not, at a glance, the sort of experiences that would be universally understood. A love/hate relationship with Jewish boys, going to fat camp, celebrating the High Holy Days, a mother who uses slightly inappropriate and sexually tilted words. "That’s not me at all," you’re probably thinking. But what makes Davis’s comics in Make Me a Woman so good is that somehow, she makes everything relatable to the reader, no matter what their background. Boiling down the emotional experiences of each story to their core, there’s a lot to connect with. And more importantly, fall in love with.

The stories in Make Me a Woman are a mixture of recollections and every-day journal entries, and each have their own particular charm. I was initially familiar with Davis’s comics through her more structured stories, where she picks a specific portion of her life to focus on and then tells it to us over the course of several pages. There’s a lot to love there, with stand out stories including the camaraderie and friendship found at fat camp (I totally want to go now, too), trying to live up to expectations (the last two panels in particular are killer), and "going home for Christmas" (which probably sums up everyone’s family experience at least once in their life). Davis is remarkably unselfconscious in her stories, presenting herself in a relaxed, humorous fashion. It’s that utter lack of a wall between her and the reader that helps make each story so relatable; it invites you in and lets you match your own similar emotions to the ones she experienced, making each story feel like you were somehow there.

At the same time, though, Davis serves up less structured snippets and vignettes from her life throughout Make Me a Woman, and I found myself slightly surprised at how much I loved them as well. They’re usually just a brief moment or scene, recorded in comic form for posterity’s sake, and yet somehow they become engrossing. It helps that Davis doesn’t present these as throw-away pieces, or something that doesn’t deserve the same amount of attention as her full-length stories. Even if it’s just a short conversation on an elevator, Davis brings the people she encounters (as well as herself) to life, making you feel like you’re sitting in the corner and observing all of these moments yourself.

One of the things I found the most interesting about Davis’s Make Me a Woman is her approach to page layout and the traditional idea of panels. For some of her full-color stories done for other publishers (like her Tablet stories) there’s a traditional look to her layouts. Stories move from left to right, usually in rows across the page, separated by her words that form gutters separating the columns of art. It’s in her black and white stories, though, that Davis instead uses the entire page as a single, large art form where the image flows from one moment to the next, the passage of time unencumbered by panel borders or separations. As your eye moves across the page, each drawing bleeds into the next, but it’s still incredibly easy to follow. It’s a beautiful technique, one that is hard to pull off even as Davis makes it look effortless. It’s a different type of storytelling than most people are used to in comics, but it’s one that I hope Davis never abandons.

As for the figures within the art, Davis draws people in a relaxed and realistic manner. Davis draws herself so close to reality that when I met her at the Small Press Expo this year I was able to instantly pick her out of a crowd. From the way her hair falls around her face and shoulders, to the freckles on her cheeks and nose, she looks as attractive and down-to-earth on the page as in real life. She’s remarkably good at capturing other details like posture and body language, too; from laughing over a silly note left on food, to a nervous swig from a bottle of beer at a club, people move and act true to life. It’s hard to say whether I like her black and white or color art more; while the black and white drawings come across as much more intimate and personal, she has a strong sense of color that pops off the page without ever looking garish or out of place. It’s a great look and each new page made me fall in love with her art all over again.

When reading Make Me a Woman, it’s hard to not feel like you’ve somehow become friends with Davis by the book’s conclusion. She lets you into her life and share her thoughts, and in such a welcoming, friendly manner. If hanging out with Davis on a regular basis is even half as enjoyable as her book, her boyfriend, family, and friends are all extremely lucky people. This is, easily, one of my favorite books of the year. Highly recommended.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Market Day http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/10/18/market-day/ Mon, 18 Oct 2010 07:00:59 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1528 By James Sturm96 pages, colorPublished by Drawn & Quarterly

One of the things I’ve always liked about James Sturm’s historical stories is that he is able to take events from the past and make them still pertinent to his present day readership. That’s never been more clear than with his latest book, Market Day, set [...]]]> By James Sturm
96 pages, color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

One of the things I’ve always liked about James Sturm’s historical stories is that he is able to take events from the past and make them still pertinent to his present day readership. That’s never been more clear than with his latest book, Market Day, set in a European city near the turn of the 20th century, detailing the day in the life of a weaver taking his rugs to market for sale. What we get is not only a look into this man’s life, though, but a story that has to do with consumerism, the economy, and—most importantly—trying to create art rather than just product.

At first, Market Day seems like a fairly simple story. We watch Mendleman the rug-weaver head out with his rugs, cart, and horse on the long journey into town for market day, before the break of dawn. He frets over his wife Rachel who, eight months pregnant, is not accompanying him as is their normal routine. He thinks of worst-case scenarios for him and his family. He wonder how he would weave scenes that play out around him into a rug. And most importantly, he prepares to take his rugs to Albert Finkler’s store to sell them. And it’s there that Sturm lets Mendleman’s world fall apart, casting Mendleman into a spiral of despair and defeat.

Mendleman’s experiences at A. Finkler & Son, the other market stores, and then at the emporium are hard to not compare to problems in present-day commerce. As small, family-owned and local businesses fold with the rising pressure of larger chains, Mendleman finding less places to sell his wares (and at much lower prices) is a scene that rings true. It’s a reminder that not only is this a problem that has existed longer than people might have thought, but that so much as one person going out of business effects numerous people. When Mendleman, exasperated, finally sells his rugs to the emporium, it’s hard to not feel horrible as it happens. Even as he bows to the pressure of receiving some money instead of none, you know that the greatly reduced wages are such that he and Rachel will hardly be able to make a living.

It’s also hard to ignore the other allegory in Market Day, as Mendleman talks about the care and precision he puts into his rugs to make them art, rather than to just dash them out as quickly as possible. It’s a struggle that many comic artists have no doubt had as well; you can whip things out quickly to get the needed cash, or strive for excellence and hope that someone will appreciate and value the hard work and care you’ve put into your art. Sturm is a comic creator who has worked for both the small press as well as the big comic companies, and it’s hard to not feel like Sturm is making his own feelings on his craft as a comic creator known here. As Mendleman’s one haven as a creator collapses and he considers giving up the art that he’s devoted his life to, it makes you think of the smaller publishing companies that have gone out of business in the last few years and which comic artists the art form has directly lost as a result.

Even ignoring the various allegories and messages, Market Day is still a strong and moving book. It’s hard to not feel for Mendleman as he gets wrapped up in his worries and fear; we see that even when things are going well while he walks to the market with his merchandise at the start of the day, so after everything has gone wrong it’s multiplied a thousand fold. Sturm accentuates Mendleman’s mood with his expressive art, the deep, dark colors of the night surrounding him as he walks, the gloom just as apparent through the visuals as with the narration. Mendleman gradually transforms into little more than a black silhouette against the brown and gray surroundings, his despair covering him like a cloak.

Fortunately, for every piece of gloom in the art there are other places that you can see brightness and beauty. I love the way that Sturm draws the market itself, with all of the various wares spread out; it makes you want to somehow visit this place yourself and shop. Even simple stores and stands look enticing, and there’s a wide plethora of people that Sturm draws for you to eye. The green countryside in particular serves as a visual contrast to the darker colors of the city, and it’s so bright and cheerful that it makes the later walk through its lanes and hills at night that much more gloomy.

Even if you read Market Day as little more than a day in the life of an eastern European man in the 1900s, it’s an engrossing read. As a commentary on art, and devotion to one’s craft, and to the shifting marketplace and how it can affect so many people with the smallest of changes, it’s that much more interesting. Market Day might not be a cheerful and heartwarming story about what it’s like to be an artist, but it’s certainly an important one for people hoping to survive in the 21st century market. This is a cautionary tale for not only those selling to the market, but those buying from the market as well. Highly recommended.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Nancy Vol. 1: The John Stanley Library http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2010/10/01/nancy-vol-1/ Fri, 01 Oct 2010 07:00:25 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=1499 Written by John StanleyArt by John Stanley and Dan Gormley152 pages, colorPublished by Drawn & Quarterly

I never really "got" Nancy. I’ve heard for years about Ernie Bushmiller’s original strips and how fantastic they were, but Bushmiller died right around the time I started paying serious attention to comic strips in the early 1980s. So [...]]]> Written by John Stanley
Art by John Stanley and Dan Gormley
152 pages, color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

I never really "got" Nancy. I’ve heard for years about Ernie Bushmiller’s original strips and how fantastic they were, but Bushmiller died right around the time I started paying serious attention to comic strips in the early 1980s. So I’ve never seen any of the originals, just the interpretations of other writers and artists over the years. I have, however, read some John Stanley comics in the form of Little Lulu, and I thought they were adorable. When I heard that Stanley had created stories for the Nancy comic years ago, I couldn’t help but wonder if this would finally be my introduction to the world of Nancy that so many other people had raved about.

Stanley’s stories are all short and to the point, which considering that Nancy was originally just a four-panel comic strip, is probably not a bad thing. There’s a wonderful disconnect from the real world into Nancy’s in these stories; I hesitate to say that they’re "kid’s comic logic" because it seems unfair to label them as something so simple. Rather, Stanley is telling fantastical stories where product exchanges at the department store erupt into chaos, rich boys always lose out to the downtrodden in the way of love, and witches live down the street. It’s all very matter-of-fact as Nancy (and occasionally Sluggo) wanders through this landscape, the impossible erupting around them in a no-nonsense manner.

That’s not to say that Nancy, under Stanley’s care, is unflappable. It’s especially true in the stories co-starring Oona Goosepimple, the young creepy girl who lives in the mansion down the street and whose house is full of witches, monsters, and ever-shifting corridors that you can get lost in for years. Oona was Stanley’s own creation, and reading the first Oona stories here surprises me that no one else picked up the reins with her after Stanley left the book. While the Oona stories stand out as being particularly odd, I think in some ways they’re the best pieces in this first book because it’s here that Stanley is able to spook the normally blase Nancy. Nancy ultimately exits the Oona Goosepimple stories even more confused and dizzy than when she enters them, a fun state to watch our title character.

Stanley also avoids making Nancy ever saccharine or saintly; she’s anything but that, as it turns out. Her Aunt Fritzi seems continually exasperated with Nancy’s antics, regularly exiling her from the house in order to get some peace and quiet. While Nancy means well much of time, she’s still a child and Stanley occasionally puts a devilish streak into Nancy at which point you just need to back slowly away. Nancy is as much demon as she is angel, here, and it’s that mixture that helps keep the book fresh.

The art in Nancy was created with layouts from Stanley and finishes from Dan Gormley. It’s a nice, simple final look; I’ve heard artists over the years talk about the iconic look of Nancy, and you can see that in these drawings. With her perfectly spherical hair and full cheeks, she’s adorable looking and impish. Comparing her to the sophisticated look of Aunt Fritzi, or the slightly gaunt Oona Goosepimple, and you can see how carefully crafted Nancy and her friends are from Stanley and Gormley. A lot of the jokes depend on sight gags, and the pair keep everything moving swiftly and easy to follow.

The pages of Nancy are printed in a slightly faded, old-comic look; at first I was a little surprised that they weren’t crisp and white, but by the end of the book I found myself liking the old, archived feel of the book. In general I’m impressed with the presentation of Nancy Vol. 1: The John Stanley Library. Seth created an iconic cover illustration of Nancy with the simplest of lines, and the end papers are just beautiful. Be warned if you buy one volume of Nancy, you’ll quickly want to buy more. And as for the Bushmiller original Nancy comic strips? It turns out collections of them start in 2011. I’ve got a lot of Nancy ahead of me.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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