Sunday, February 17, 2019

Slip by Pia Guerra

Pia Guerra, Aeon Focus # 5, "Slip," 1997.

I'm putting comics I haven't touched in more than 20 years on my database. That's why I stumbled on the above comic by Pia Guerra. After rereading it I searched for Pia's comics on sale on the Internet. And what did I find? In order to pursue a carreer in comics Pia Guerra was forced to work for the mainstream. I guess one can say she slipped from art comics... 'tis sad indeed! It's another proof that this art form deserves to die!... just sayin'...

PS The same thing happened to Ed Brubaker, if you ask me...

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Deeze says that most things in life aren't right or wrong. He says there's not too much black or white. To his eyes most stuff is like pencil shading. Lots of shades of gray. Mama says it's different. She believes it's either right or wrong. Me? I think they're both wrong. For me it's like a photograph. You have to look close. It looks like shades of gray, but it's really lots and lots of tiny dots of inky black on a perfect page of white[.] 
I guess that's the difference... a good monster sometimes gives somebody a fright because they're weird-looking and fangy... a fact that is beyond their control... But bad monsters are all about CONTROL... They want the whole world to be scared so that BAD MONSTERS can call the shots.
Emil Ferris, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, October 2016. 
The above quotes are enough to make me hate this comic. I know I'm alone in this, but when was I not alone?...

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Sabrina by Nick Drnaso - Coda

A great contextualizing piece by D. T. Max at The New Yorker.

Disclaimer: you may find some similarities between Max's article and what I wrote. These similarities exist only because the primary text is the same. I read The New Yorker's piece after writing my post on the Crib. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Alex Barbier

Alex Barbier, photo by Renaud Monfourny.

Alex Barbier died last January 29. He's not in my canon, but maybe I owe him and his books a second look...

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

Nick Drnaso, "Keith or Steve", Mome #22 (August, 2011).


So, I'm doing something I haven't done in a long while: to review some comics I've read recently.
Which ones, you ask... Well, as I said last October 25,  My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris, Barcazza by  Francesco Cattani, Sabrina by Nick Drnaso, plus, Rey Carbón [king coal - a nice translanguage pun] by Francesc Capdevila (aka Max) and Berlin by Jason Lutes.

I can't write anything about the first two because a) My Favorite Thing Is Monsters hasn't reach the end yet (I never write about unfinished stories) and b) my Barcazza edition is in color (I didn't buy the first black & white version, yet...).

That said I'll add just this: I found My Favorite Thing Is Monsters a bit annoying (facile, I would say; plus: if she's not copying a photo Emil Ferris can't really draw - hands especially - hence the "this is just a little girl's sketchbook" trick); on the other hand Barcazza seemed an Antonioniesque exercise to me, with a weird unexplained (or is it unexplainable?) sequence... In four words: I wasn't particularly impressed. Even so, my taste leans more to the classicism of Barcazza than to the baroque atmosphere of My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. Mainly also because my favorite thing isn't monsters.

On the other hand, Sabrina, Rey Carbón and Berlin are another thing altogether... but Rey Carbón and Berlin will have to stay on hold, for now...

Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

The first time I read a Drnaso story was in Mome #22. As it happens frequently, if a story doesn't impress us enough, and the reasons vary, from distraction, to a lack of connection with the theme, or the art style, or the mood, etc... we forget all about it. This meant that, yes, I forgot all about Drnaso... To put it bluntly: it was all the hubbub around the Man Booker Prize that made me try a Drnaso story again.
According to Anita Singh, at The Telegraph 
The judges praised Drnaso's work as "oblique, subtle, minimal, unmanipulative" and said: "Given the changing shape of fiction it was only a matter of time before a graphic novel was included on the Man Booker longlist. Sabrina makes demands on the reader in precisely the way all good fiction does."
Basically this means that we can't trust comics crits. In which alternative world do comics critics (with their praise for direct, blunt, baroque, manichean stories) find value in obliqueness, subtlety, minimalism, nonmanipulability? If there's one, I want to be there and forget all about the San Diegos and Angoulêmes of this world...

In "Keith or Steve" Drnaso did a couple of things of note: 1) the words (a voiceover, if I may compare comics to film) don't match the images exactly; 2) in the page above he shows an unremarkable character (is he Keith or Steve?, he doesn't know) in the first two tiers and compares him with idealized advertising kitsch; not only that, but we also learn in the captions about a certain woman - whose name he can't remember either - who's in narcotics anonymous).

In Sabrina there are no captions. There are no thought bubbles either. What we see and read in the speech balloons is what we get. Which isn't much, apparently, but what do we see, exactly?

No, it isn't a Tintin or a "Bringing Up Father" comic... but, hey, the continuous equal width lines, the flat colors... yep!, it's a clear line for the 21th century.

1) The art style... the clear line. No other drawing style used in comics, so far, conveys detachment better.

2) The colors:

Nick Drnaso used mostly muted colors. If we look at the "Keith or Steve" page above and notice the above mentioned contrast between a dull existence and an idealized life we can look at the colors in Sabrina in the same way. Only Cici's children's books, and not much else (the beach, and even then, the color shades are more pastel than garish; a shop window, ditto...) have bright colors... Plus: in the above page the layout is united in the first panel, and fragmented in the lower tiers. If we remember that religion means "reconnect," do I need to say more?...

3) The character's eyes:

To show us how alienated the characters are Nick Drnaso drew their eyes as two dots and not much else. The exceptions are few and far between, mostly in the virtual reality of the Internet (see above) or in the frontispiece illo in which Sabrina's portrait is more detailed. Another remarkable exception are Cici's eyes... children, again, are different...

4) Cats:

Aren't cats cool and detached?...

In Sabrina there's some sort of David Lynch effect which is described here by David Foster Wallace:
Lynchian refers to a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s containment within the latter.
In Sabrina the effect is lynchian, with a nuance. Maybe there's no irony, maybe there's just a matter of factness that's even more creepy and reminds us of Annah Arendt's banality of evil. More than that, maybe nothing threatens us and we just fear fear itself in a world of simulacra where reality melted down leaving us in a constant state of detachment and/or paranoia...

Nick Drnaso, Sabrina, May 2018. 

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Ridiculous City

Angoulême is seriously running the risk of becoming one of the most ridiculous cities on earth.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Monthly Stumblings # 16: M. S. Bastian, Isabelle L.

Bastokalypse by M.S. Bastian and Isabelle L.

Is context everything? Maybe not, but it means a lot...

Simply put Bastokalypse is a book depicting genocide and war. So far so good (or not, of course... nothing is simple, as Sempé would put it...), the problem is that the authors, M. S. Bastian and Isabelle L., use the derisive ironic expression typical of comical comics as transformed by the Gary Panter, Mark Beyer ratty line aesthetic school (aka Art Brut).

What's the difference between Bastokalypse and Zbigniew Libera's Lego Concentration Camp art piece, then? (The comparison is not mine: being a orihon, concertina bound book - see below -, Bastokalypse has a long drawn strip on one side and an essay about the iconography of violence by Konrad Tobler on the other; Libera's toys are part of a long list of references summoned by Tobler; more about this later.)

Bastokalypse by M. S. Bastian and Isabelle L., Verlag Scheidegger & Spies, 2010.

 From left to right: Goch Museum director Stephan Mann, Isabelle L., M. S. Bastian, 2010 (Bastokalypse is on display in the background). (See also here.)


Zbigniew Libera's Correcting Device: Lego Concentration Camp (1996).

As a gallery comic Bastokalypse is a continuous sequence of black-and-white paintings: 32 canvases (3 ½ x 5 ½ feet each), forming a continuous 168 feet long drawn strip. The book has 32 action packed double-page spreads in baroque, claustrophobiac, horror vacui, nightmarish, compositions.

Numerous cultural references  collapse the difference between high and low: from Ronald McDonald to Pablo Picasso's Guernica, from Gary Panter's Valise to Jacques Callot's La Pendaison (The Hanging Tree) and Otto Dix's Der Krieg (The War)...

Pablo Picasso, Mark Beyer, Ghost Face, Jack...

Picasso again, José Guadalupe Posada, 9/11.

On the other hand, here's how Stephen C. Feinstein described Zbigniew Libera's Correcting Device: Lego Concentration Camp:
Each unit of the seven-box set contained a different aspect of a concentration camp. The larger boxes showed the entire concentration camp, with buildings, gallows (one showing an inmate being hanged), and inmates behind barbed wire or marching in line in and out of the camp. An entry gate similar to the stylized "Arbeit Macht Frei" entry point at Oswiecim is included, although without the German inscription. The guards, in black shiny uniforms, came from the regular LEGO police sets. The inmates came from LEGO medical or hospital sets. A second box showed a crematoria belching smoke from three chimneys, with sonnderkammando [sic] or other inmates carrying a corpse from the gassing room. The smaller boxes depict a guard bludgeoning an inmate, medical experiments, another hanging, and a commandant, reminiscent of something more from the Soviet Gulag than the Nazi concentration camp system, as he is bedecked with medals and wears a red hat. Some faces on both inmates and guards are slightly manipulated with paint, to make mouth expressions turn down into sadness for the inmates, and upwards in some form of glee for the guards. The last box is one full of possessions, the type of debris painted by other artists and inspired by the vast array of loots collected by the S.S. in the Kanada warehouses at Birkenau.
Libera calls his Pop cum Conceptual Art projects (i. e.: toys) "Correcting Devices" because he supposedly wants to correct the wrong info given to children about the world. José Cardoso did a brilliant analysis of this particular Libera work. He did it using as theoretical framework the visual rhetoric findings of the Belgian Mu group. He basically concludes that, with a few changes (the suppression of the vivid colors, typical of the Lego construction toys, for instance) Libera's Lego Concentration Camp functions in the interpenetration rhetorical mode: two distant spaces meet in a third space where both may co-exist at the same time. This third space is constructed by the viewers according to their interpretation. Said rhetorical mode is often used to provoke laughter, for instance, in Monty Python's famous Greek vs. German philosophers soccer match.

Interpenetration in Bastokalypse exists between all the aforementioned serious historical and cultural references and a tradition of comical caricature dating back to newspaper comics and animation during the first half of the 20th century. This tradition was revived and transformed during the second half of the same century by the underground and alternative movements.

The way in which we represent the Shoah has been a matter of debate for decades, of course. Libera's Correcting Device: Lego Concentration Camp was, as expected, polemical from the beginning. Stephen C. Feinstein:
During May 1997, Libera was invited to display his other pop art pieces in the Polish pavilion at the Venice Biennale, but was asked by Jan Stanislaw Wojciechowski, the curator, not to bring Lego. [...]  He wound up withdrawing from the exhibition.
I don't know the reasons why people found the Lego concentration camp offensive. Maybe they associate a toy with children's puerile pleasure trivializing (and, in a way, mocking) the Holocaust?

Anyway, nothing seems to shock people much these days. In more recent times a set was purchased by the Jewish Museum in New York and  the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw acquired Libera's concentration camp from a Norwegian art collector for $71,800. The consensus seems to be that Libera's piece is a criticism of the manipulation of young people by educative systems. Also, the Lego connection is a criticism of corporate culture.

I'll bring to the table another decisive factor, in my humble opinion, of course: Libera's work is part of a high art tradition that legitimizes it and narrows the set of possible interpretations. In other words: it brings with it all the weight of what French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called cultural capital.

Does Bastokalypse share the same privilege? The publishers and curators who support Isabelle L. and M. S. Bastian's work surely try: galleries in Switzerland (Labo and Papier Gras) specialized in the exhibition and support of the comics avant-garde and graphic art in general function like other more mainstream gallery venues. Konrad Tobler's essay tries to give the work a theoretical frame that includes it among many illustrious and not so illustrious (in a post-modern mish-mash) forefathers.

Do they succeed? I'm not so sure. I, for one, view Bastokalypse as an interesting and impressive effort (ten years in the making), but also as a message that's undermined by its own expression collapsing in the process. Is M. S. Bastian's and Isabelle L.'s irony completely intended? If not, they delude themselves, if it is I can't accept it. Call me square if you will or whatever, but I will say it just the same: in the name of the victims. Comparing Bastokalypse with Francisco de Goya's Los desastres de la guerra (The Disasters of War) or even with Jacques Tardi's C'était la guerre de tranchées (It Was the War of the Trenches) doesn't save it from being inconsistent (the comparison with Art Spiegelman's Maus is more apt though: both books come from the same place; the difference is that Maus' (in)expression is a lot more distanced). To end this post in a positive note: I don't exactly dislike the Posadesque, dance of death, carnivalesque, derisive feel of it all. In the end we're nothing: Bastokalypse blows up our feelings of self-importance. I may not exactly like it, but, with a few exceptions, that's what comics have done best for decades...

Adolph Hitler, Mark Beyer, a mutant Mickey Mouse, and one of Charles Burns' goons (M. S. Bastian and Isabelle L. avoided the controversial depiction of the Shoah).