Tag Archives: recommend

{comics} exquisite corpse

Exquisite Corpse by Pénélope Bagieu

originally: Cadavre exquis (Gallimard 2010)

ARC via Netgalley w/ free and fairly regarded gratitude to First Second Books. Anticipate their English translation (by Alexis Siegel): May 2015.

Zoe isn’t exactly the intellectual type, which is why she doesn’t recognize world-famous author Thomas Rocher when she stumbles into his apartment…and into his life.

Zoe doesn’t know Balzac from Batman, but she’s going to have to wise up fast…because Rocher has a terrible secret, and now Zoe is sitting on the literary scandal of the century.–Publisher’s copy.

Zoe is an amusing protagonist because she is atypical in literature; which is to say, she is strikingly familiar.

The translation from the French is good—not only of text, but of situation. Zoe is appropriately rendered as the wide-eyed young woman who desires more for her life. She is objectified on the job and lives with a loser of a man/lover. What she lacks in education/sophistication, she makes up for it in fortunate meetings. Two cute-meets later, Zoe finds herself where she couldn’t have imagined, yet proving she has the wiles to pull it off.

The rhythm or lack of artful transitions took some adjustment, but it suits the no-nonsense characterization; melodramatics are foiled. The brief leaps through time and the presence of those life-changing (plot-turning) meetings support the multiple meaning of the title. You’ve corpse (the dead) that is multiply “exquisite” (see OED), and you’ve “exquisite corpse:” a story created collectively. Perhaps you’ve played the game where, say, I would begin the story, the next person would add, and the third, and the fourth around a circle or in a zig-zag… Exquisite corpse is a form that removes the notion of storytelling as being a solitary act. Exquisite Corpse reminds us of the same. The publishing world involves critics and publicists and editors and readers/consumers, cover designers, the muse, etc. A book/story becomes the property of more than one individual person.

Where the “dead” writer is not without ego, Zoe actually is—she cannot afford one. Okay, there is the confidence of her youth and sexuality. Her “not exactly an intellectual type” antics makes her difficult to deal with at first, but her earnestness wins over the end. Yet however sassy and daring she is established as, is she ever more than just a body with its bundle of desires and desirability? A device… and is this a bad thing at all for the protagonist to be (can they be anything else?). I digress into my degree. I was as wonderfully entertained in a lighter reading; Bagieu’s work is capable of a great deal.

The bold color palette and black inked line work is placed in basic panel-layouts. Exquisite Corpse is deceptively simple (not unlike its protagonist and the relationships therein). Cool ghostly tones mark Zoe’s initial interactions with Tom. Is he a ghost? Yet as we learn more about Tom, the cool tones remark upon his characterization in another way.

Exquisite Corpse is accessible comic work. And I had to appreciate the decision to tell this particular tale in the comic medium versus the short story. The novel is a conversation on the high brow versus low (as well as privilege, choice, selfish desire, economics). And it is (all) couched in a humorous story I feel the Europeans really excel in telling. This European novel’s sensibility, sense of humor, and its twist are well suited for American audiences.

Pénélope Bagieu’s Exquisite Corpse is both entertaining and thought-provoking. In the end, I suppose I should just say Exquisite Corpse is quite the provocative graphic novel for readers of comics or no.

—————–

recommendations: Lit majors/literati; it is for those frustrated with the celebration/privilege of the Dead White Guy in Literature; it is also for those interested in a nice female graphic-fiction departure from the memoir.


{comics} no sleeping beauty

The Rise of Aurora West By Paul Pope; J. T. Petty; David Rubín (Illustrator)

(First Second Books 2014) tradepaper.

Having read Paul Pope’s Battling Boy, naturally I was eager to seek out The Rise of Aurora West. We’d met Aurora West in Battling Boy as the recently orphaned (before our eyes) daughter of Arcopolis’ Science Hero Haggard West. The Rise takes us back to a time where Pope and Petty can flesh out a bit more of the mystery not only behind the up-and-coming hero of Aurora West, but the arrival and rise of the supernatural monsters terrorizing the city. You read with dread their development of a weapon to take down the elder West. The most compelling mystery for Aurora, of course, is the death of her mother and whether her imaginary friend was really all that imaginary–or harmless.

puzzling out the pieces

The ass-kicking adventures are tempered by familial implication and what a violent life-style costs. Haggard had to come to his own decisions about the monsters that haunt them, Aurora must as well. Haggard is driven by the desire to protect his daughter and avenge his wife. How might the ending of Rise and the events of Battling Boy affect the nature of Aurora’s own career as a hero of Arcopolis?

While the characterization in Battling was sound, it was good to learn more about Aurora’s background as well as become more familiar with her own Ms. Grately. Too, Rise sets up intriguing story lines for the next volume and the next issue of Battling Boy adventures. Rise functions successfully as a prequel, but it is a complex novel in its own right–one that would be a shame to miss.

Now for the art. I hadn’t thought nor expected a different illustrator. David Rubín is obviously talented, but I prefer Pope’s rendering of Aurora and company in Battling Boy. The smaller size to the novel was nice. It made me think Archie over epic fantasy superhero, but I was less taken with the aesthetic. The black and white befitting the size. And for a narrative told from Aurora’s POV, a shift in artwork suits the shift in mode.

Rise isn’t the current adventure, but a story of what was going on before Battling Boy arrived on the scene. In a genre that frequents artistic collaborations for design purposes or necessity, I should have better anticipated another hand. Rise sets itself apart from Battling in a good way, and an important way. You’ll want this volume (the first of two) for your collection–just adjust another expectation: that the volumes are not going to fit uniformly on the shelf. Not that Aurora could fit uniformly on a shelf somewhere. Watch out female comic book heroes.

{images belong to Paul Pope; J. T. Petty; David Rubín}


{picture book} Hatke’s creatures

JuliasHouseJulia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke

First Second 2014.

When Julia’s house finds a new place to settle, she puts a sign out for lost creatures to combat her own sense of loneliness. But now a new conflict has arisen and a list of chores is her solution.

Ben Hatke, whom we have long since learned is a genius with young heroines and illustrated robots, impresses with his more earthbound whimsy. Julia’s house is charming and its inhabitants excite the imagination—and the fine digressions into lore.

Julia's Home for Lost Creatures II

julias house for lost creatures 2

The color palette, style, energy (I do love Julia’s hair)…Hatke manages a delightful picture book that is sweetly entertaining. And what caregiver will be able to resist a conversation on the way we can participate more harmoniously as family?—which is how we talk chores in our own creature-filled household. A lesson (besides “look at the mermaid doing the dishes, sweetie!”) that I appreciated was Julia’s understanding of her own limitations and abilities; which seem to frequent Hatke’s work. The house is too quiet, she opts for hospitality; it becomes too much for her, she asks for help. Hatke’s heroines are a resourceful lot. I was totally geeked to see Julia had a workshop.

Oh, and if you were a bit bummed by the idea that one of Hatke’s robots would not make an appearance? You’ll find a lovely invention there at the end.

julia's house chores

Julia’s House for Lost Creatures is a great little book about community. It is also a great place to join Hatke in the workings of the imagination. I look forward to what Hatke will have for us next. (another Zita??).

 ———–

Not to be categorized as girls only and it spans a good age range. I’m thinking about this one for a storytime and encourage listeners to draw their own creature (and what chore would suit them best?). You should also take this book as a hint to check out Zita Spacegirl if you’ve yet done so.

Hatke did a blog tour called “Ben Hatke’s Bestiary of Lost Creatures” that may interest you.

 {images belong to Ben Hatke}


{comic} revealed

Hidden : A Child’s Story of the Holocaust

Written by Loïc Dauvillier; Illustrated by Marc Lizano

Color by Greg Salsedo; Translated from the French by Alexis Siegel

First Second Books, 2014.

Ages 6-10; Grades 1-5.

 Encouraged to talk about her evident sadness, a grandmother shares her memories long hidden about her experience as a child in 1942 Paris. Opening in the late hours of evening (the dark) in the privacy of a home, steeped in themes of hiding and silence, the novel will eventually affect a catharsis that moves the reader to compassion and tears. And yet, it will be a story the reader will loathe to tuck away and forget.

The continual exchange between grandmother and granddaughter Elsa escapes the contrived as the young Elsa struggles to understand how a young Dounia Cohen’s life is upended by the horror of a mass eradication of Jews in Paris. Elsa alongside Dounia wonders at the lies adults will tell, the sudden cruelty of her neighbors or their heroics, the loss of a parent, the importance of a courageous community. The gently told story does not skirt the horror and sorrow. The portrayal of the injustice Jews and their sympathizers faced honors the intellect of a grade-schooler. The sequences are those Hidden’s young audience would understand, the fear and heartache of losing their parents, schoolroom humiliations, inexplicable displays public violence… They will find contemporary relevance in subjects of honesty, loyalty, identity, bullying, and loss. I was struck by how contemporary the novel makes the holocaust–how present. I was moved by the silence after that final narrative line at the bottom of page 68; how its said into the quiet; how Elsa sleeps in innocence.

One of the marvels of Diary of Anne Frank is how the reader connects with her youth. Elsa’s sympathies reflect her youthful audience. Dounia as young and old help them cope. She is the wise grandmother and the child witness. She shows fear and regret and incredible courage. The story reinforces what is right and good without the heavy-handed messaging.

Dauvillier understands the power of the oral historian in couching his story. He creates a connection to the present and the past not only through a framework and a paced movement from one to the other, but in reemphasizing the connections visually. Elsa is the unfreckled version of her grandmother when young. And while the story is told, Elsa is safe in the arms of the older Dounia/Simone. Hidden closes out of doors in the daylight in a tender exchange of reconciliation that forgives the silence and celebrates sharing the unspeakable.

I admit to being uncertain about the art when the book first came out, and I did find following the text a bit tricky at first. I appreciate, however, the accessibility of the cartoon work. Lizano manages the expressive without unbalancing the gentility in the narrative. He provides meaningful settings even when the image shouldn’t be rendered in anything more than words. He provides meaningful renderings when the language for child-audiences are inadequate. A lot of frames are close-ups, emphasizing subjectivity and a sympathy with the character and situation. The viewer is just as often cast as an observer of distances and emptiness, of the foreign. Lizano and Salsedo are fearless with darkening tints and shadows.

 

I was deeply impressed by Hidden. It approaches a difficult narrative with a caution that does not underestimate its young readership*. It leaves an impression that is empowering and interventionist, rather than crippling—an impression not only meant for the youngest of us.

Hidden would be a great graphic novel for intergenerational story time, and I shouldn’t think it only for educational venues or historic commemorations. Put this one on the any-day shelf.

——–

*something I see more in translated European texts.

{images belong to Marc Lizano}


{picture/book} rules of summer

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan. Arthur A. Levine (Scholastic) 2013.

 “Never break the rules. Especially, if you don’t understand them.”–back cover copy.

Rules of Summer, in its most simplified description, is about two brothers’ summer adventures. The story is told by Shaun Tan so there is the surreal and the incredible wordless impact of his imagery. Fans of Tan’s work should already have the book read or on their radar. If you don’t know Tan (for whatever reason), you may begin here.

“This is what I learned last summer” is how the story begins. And it is fair to assume the voice is that of the younger brother, but as the story progresses there are moments where the elder might have inspired a new rule as well. As it is, each of the double-page spreads “tells of an event and the lesson learned*.” And as the publisher also observes, “By turns, these events become darker and more sinister.”

Like the past tense framing of the story alludes, some rules aren’t realized until after they are broken. We understand how much is left unknown and unspoken and the genius of the book is how much it reflects these notions. There is a very very clever brain behind all the beauty on the page.

I mentioned surreal, and indeed there is a strangeness to the realist settings, but there is also a surreality to the story itself. The dark and the whimsical coincide, the summery tones in the color also have texture, and it opens with a more ominous tone than it closes.

Rules of Summer also opens on the title page with the younger running; you can practically hear him calling out to his elder brother not to leave him behind. His older brother doesn’t leave him behind—which is terribly important to the narrative. The summer ends and the sun is setting outside the darkening room where the boys watch television together and the walls hold drawings that commemorate their adventures.

The books dedication reads “for the little and the big,” which is precisely who it is for. Also, a good book for brothers and for people who have a folkloric imagination.

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*Would be amusing to take a double-page spread and try to write a story that would inspire that image.

{images belong to Shaun Tan; read more about the book via Tan’s site, here}

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read in participation w/ #Diversiverseamdu150


{comic} this one summer

If the summer narrative isn’t your glass of lemonade, it isn’t mine either, but I had to see what all the raving was about and I was very pleasantly surprised. Make it your book club read. Make it the first comic you’ve decided to read if you have been harboring a mistaken belief that comics can’t be accessible, female-friendly, and/or literary.

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki. First Second 2014. Hardcover, 319 pages.

This One Summer has the cinematic quality of classic Summer films like Stand By Me, but it has the added bonus of escaping the sentimental or the nostalgic.

Rose returns to Lake Awago as she does every summer with her family. Her sisterly friend Windy returns as well. But unlike the seemingly carefree summers of earlier years, Rose’s parents are fighting and soon she and Windy are as well. Circling the adolescent turning point is a crush, pregnancy, and classic horror films–which makes sense.

this-one-summer-art-excerpt

The publisher describes the book as an “ultimately hopeful story about a girl on the cusp of her teen age—a story of renewal and revelation.” “Ultimately” is a key term. The novel left me on the brink of despair for the increasingly irritating protagonist. Why did she seem so familiar? She is a naïve preteen whose imagination is limited by any number of things. She ignores realities that stare her in the face, or accompany her every day in the form of a best friend. She’s pretty much everyone.

The Tamaki’s infuse their summer drama with plenty of humor and charmingly odd relatives. Windy is a spirited girl you hope will be spared from the typic behaviors the more seriously matured Rose begins to express.

I appreciated the pop culture references and the game playing of M.A.S.H–that took me back to my youth. That Rose’s mother wears a Bikini Kill t-shirt was unexpectedly characterizing. Rose’s mother isn’t apparently going through something quite deep and distracting until the last portion of the novel. Initially, she just comes off as unpleasant, especially in juxtaposition to the fun father figure. Yet there she is appearing to be a fan of a late grrrrl! punk band. There is a feminist appeal in This One Summer, but more: a definite female appeal to the complexities of the body and the body politic.

this one summerBeing a girl is complicated business, and while boys have their own things going on (which the book alludes to), there is a female-centricity that should be unsurprising and anticipated in a book by two female creators.

A lot of secrets are simmering in This One Summer. And it is a lovely aspect to the novel that not all secrets are revealed before the Summer (and thus the novel) concludes. Even so, Rose has to come to grips with their consequences, even if the consequences indirectly affect her. The novel questions whether we have to know the details to afford someone the grace they need. It questions why we tend to favor one person in a scenario over the other; why do we jump the conclusions we do, side with/defend the people we do. Windy’s confrontations with Rose are beautiful.

The strangeness of This One Summer is the kind of cultural discussions one can arrive at without the book directly engaging the reader in it. The narrator, Rose, introduces us to summer traditions and observable changes and the like, but really we are reading an indie film about a summer vacation at the lake. You can run with the symbolic nature of summer or of a body of water and the female body if you want. But the profound effect of the novel is in the culmination of both the mundane and the emotionally charged moments.

thisonesummer_sm-26

 

The novel needn’t be too heavy to threaten an easy recommendation. This One Summer does not close with a lengthy voice-over by Rose, summarizing her journey in a deeply contemplative gesture, but a clever youthful quip, a ticking of a clock, and a series of images that close a chapter and leaves a pile of symbols on a summer cot once occupied by a young girl-on-the-cusp.

Between the artwork (love the hue of the ink, the dimensions, movements) and the content, This One Summer is one to buy for any adolescent-upwards female in your life.

{images belong to Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki}

amdu150

this read is a part of the “A More Diverse Universe” event.


{book} the colorless

When Tsukuru first hears Haida’s recording of Franz Liszt’s ‘Le mal du pays,’ from the Years of Pilgrimage suite ‘Year 1: Switzerland,” it is described as “a quiet, sorrowful piece that began with a slow, memorable theme played out as single notes, then proceeded into a series of tranquil variations” (68). Tsukuru asks Haida about it. Haida says, ‘Le mal du pays’ is French and is “usually translated ‘homesickness,’ or ‘melancholy’, or as precise a translation as can be managed ‘a groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape’” (69). Tsukuru adds that the piece evokes “a calm sadness without being sentimental.” This section describes Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. Murakami transcribes a quiet sorrowful piece replete with tranquil variations.*

a delightfully well-designed cover.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: a novel

By Haruki Murakami

Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel

Knopf 2014.

In High School Tsukuru Tazaki used to be part of a group comprised of five. He was one of three boys and the only of the five whose name did not include a color. The latter wasn’t the only thing to make him different, but the balance had already been struck. Like the trait that decides 5 fingers make the most harmonious human hand, the five young people found a miraculous society within and between themselves. But perhaps what they had was not as true a harmony as first believed (322).

“I’ve always seen myself as an empty person, lacking color and identity. Maybe that was my role in the group. To be empty.” […] “An empty vessel. A colorless background. With no special defects, nothing outstanding. Maybe that sort of person was necessary to the group.” (179).

Moving away  for college shouldn’t have changed things as dramatically as it had, yet suddenly Tsukuru was shut out. It is a long sixteen years later that Tsukuru is tasked with finding out why.  Murakami writes a deeply compelling mystery—in Tsukuru Tazaki.

The mystery as to what Tsukuru could have done and how all might finally find resolution is the spine and is much like rails drawing the reader along, yet Murakami is building a station with Tsukuru Tazaki that is rife with such beautiful complexity the “colorless” becomes riveting. Murakami must take pleasure in his ability to move readers through the most ordinary sequences of life in pursuit of the most poetic; and he uses the most ordinary of characters to do it.

The novel is one of those places where the figurative can be rendered quite literally, and unreality resides in simultaneity with reality. It is the perfect space, other than the dreaming and memory, for Murakami to explore his preoccupations with the waking, conscious existence of liminal spaces. Can a desire become strong enough to knock on a door an impossible number of miles away? Are evil spirits merely psychic projections? Can a mild-mannered handsome boy harbor a violent, ugly aspect and not recall it? Can he harbor a intimate desire so deep, he could mistake the real for a fantasy (and vice versa)?

Tsukuru Tazaki learns that all number of paradoxes exist, some of which are comforting, others disturbing. We can die and be regenerated inside these vessels that refuse to pass away. A musical score can transport the most vivid recollections into the present, even the presence of persons long lost (258). And we wonder at whether differences between our existence and absences are substantial enough to matter.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki also understands that some explanations are never found, sorrows never redeemed, conflicts never resolved, and there are apologies made that shouldn’t satisfy forgiveness but will—because we cling to life, stupidly, dangerously, and with a profound love for it. A few readers who are going to hate this book.

Murakami can be infuriating in the way he allows characters and storylines to drift off into inexplicable disappearance. But none of it is wasted in its contribution to the whole. His novels are annoyingly coherent. The rewards just come in unexpected ways—which is a reward in and of itself.

Murakami’s genius is in that ending. He draws us out of another one of Tsukuru’s fugue-like states, this one listing among his lovely self-reflections, when he perches us once more on that brink between life and death. Murakami presents us with a character no one should have ever doubted, not even Tsukuru himself. It is quite brutal. It is perfect.

———-

*Here is one variation, when Tsukuru is contemplating his self-characterization of an empty vessel.

“Maybe I am just an empty, futile person, he thought. But it was precisely because there was nothing inside of me that these people could find, if even for a short time, a place where they belonged. Like a nocturnal bird seeks a safe place to rest during the day in a vacant attic. The birds like that empty, dim, silent place. If that were true, then maybe he should be happy he was hollow.” (258)

When Natalya was reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, she found ‘Le mal du pays’ and played it for us. You’ll want to do the same.

RIP IX's Lavinia by Abigail Larson———–

of note: a Reader’s Imbibing Peril (RIP) read, there is mystery, melancholy, and allusions to devilry.


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