Cyril Pedrosa is an ideal cartoonist: very observant, with a compulsive need to comment on what he observes, along with a compulsive need to collect and process everything he may need to depict and comment upon in his work. Pedrosa must take it all in. He has a true cartoonist’s need to absorb, like a sponge, like an overstimulated genius infant still fresh and new. Ah, this is just the way to come at such an ambitious work as “Equinoxes,” published by NBM Graphic Novels. With this graphic novel, the master cartoonist lays it all bare.
A true cartoonist’s need to collect and process everything around him.
Pedrosa is living and breathing what he’s setting down on paper at a delicious level. He has an extensive background in animation, which certainly helps, but he takes it even further. He knows how to speed up work. He knows when he can ease up on the details and when to add an extra coat of polish. And to do that well with both his artwork and his writing is definitely remarkable.
We all need a good recurring motif.
This book is comparable in America to, for example, “Asterios Polyp,” by David Mazzucchelli. Other examples of this type of commentary in comics are the work of Gabrielle Bell and Tom Hart, both of who will take part in panels during Pedrosa’s North American tour. For the Europeans, there’s more of a tradition for expansive work like this exploring the meaning of life and such things. Even within that milieu, Pedrosa rises to the top, among the best. Something unique that Pedrosa is doing here is to so effortlessly depict a world according to the author in all its glorious detail. A pretty tall order any way you look at it.
“Equinoxes” by Cyril Pedrosa
Divided into the four seasons, we follow the lives of various characters, all searching for answers, crossing each other’s paths in odd and random ways. The question arises as to whether or not there is any order or purpose for any of them. Perhaps everyone is just making it up as they go.
EQUINOXES by Cyril Pedrosa is a 336-page hardcover in full color, published by NBM Graphic Novels. Visit NBM, for more details, right here. You can also find the book at Amazon right here.
Pedrosa will be making the following appearances during his North American tour:
Drawn & Quarterly Bookstore
211 Rue Bernard O, Montréal, QC
September 7th, 7:00 PM
Albertine Bookstore at the French Cultural Services
972 5th Avenue, New York
September 12th, 7:00 PM
Talk with Gabrielle Bell moderated by Bill Kartolopoulos
Small Press Expo (SPX)
September 17th 11:00 AM – 7:00 PM
Special Guest; signing at our booth #W51-52
• 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
• 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Brooklyn Book Festival
209 Joralemon St, Brooklyn, NY
September 18th, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Guest of the show; signing at our booth, #135
Panel: 3:00pm Can You Draw the Meaning of Life?
Location: Brooklyn Historical Society Auditorium (128 Pierrepont St.)
Three comics creators take on big questions–philosophical, scientific, spiritual. Lauren Redniss (Thunder & Lightning) explores the past, present, and controversial future of our world through weather phenomenons. Best-selling French creator Cyril Pedrosa (Equinoxes) reflects on the connections made between people over time and space. And Tom Hart (Rosalie Lightning) asks in a tragic yet beautiful memoir about his young daughter’s death: can you capture the meaning of a life, as you mourn its loss? Moderated by cartoonist and choreographer Kriota Willberg ((No) Pain!).
Evoking a quiet moment is one of the most natural and satisfying things to do as a cartoonist. A story takes shape. A conflict. A conversation. Before long, a compelling story unfolds like Cyril Pedrosa’s “Portugal,” published by Europe Comics. Sometimes what is not said is as important as what is said. Pedrosa plays with the spaces in between words. This is the story of Simon, a young man struggling to find his place in the world despite the fact it would appear that he has everything in place: a loving mate to share a life with, a promising future in his chosen career, and the potential for lifelong stability. But Simon does not see it that way at all.
A conflict. Simon is a man who still feels he is only a boy–or a young man with much to learn. Simon is at that age when life has taken root from all directions but he is not ready to settle down. He must either break free or reassess his current state–do something instead of just vacillate. Pedrosa has created a perfect depiction of a Peter Pan syndrome: Simon refuses to grow up. Of course, Simon must grow up in some sense since he’s miserable. Claire, his longtime girlfriend, has been beyond patient with him. The clock is ticking but nothing is moving forward for Simon. Not the most inspiring or likable of main characters, right? Ah, but this is the stuff of life. This is a compelling story told in words and pictures by a master cartoonist. It also happens to be loosely based upon the author’s own self-journey. In 2006, at age 33, Pedrosa had his own reassessing to do.
A conversation. And then another. Pedrosa does a beautiful job of exploring Simon’s struggle even when his main character is the least cooperative, either hovering or drowning. There seems to always be someone open to pursuing a conversation with him not the least of which is Claire, Simon’s beautiful but beleaguered girlfriend. Nothing seems to get through to Simon. In one scene, Claire literally spells it out for Simon. If only he were to say that he wishes her to stay, she would stay with him. Simon has perfected his way of coping with the world: as little movement as possible; as few words as possible. In this case, with Claire, he chooses to remain silent. It is a moment that rings so true during the process of a breakup. Sometimes, one must read between the lines–or no lines.
Another conversation. And then another. If there is one thing Simon needs most, it is to talk and Pedrosa throws his main character into numerous opportunities to do just that. In fact, Simon, stumbles upon what will save him during a visit to a comics festival in Lisbon, Portugal. It is an chance for Simon to socialize with his fellow cartoonists as well as with the public. The interaction invigorates Simon.
PORTUGAL by Cyril Pedrosa
It takes Simon a while to put two and two together. The reason that his Portugal visit enlivened him was that it gave him time to consider his Portuguese roots on his father’s side of the family. The third act to this graphic novel finds Simon finally turning to family after having remained in his own isolated bubble for so many years. While being around family alone won’t solve his problems, and may cause new ones, it does help Simon find some answers. With some luck and a new will to live, Simon may very well find himself no longer the boy in the bubble. Pedrosa provides you with an exquisitely paced narrative able to pause for quiet moments and sustain the delicate rhythms of human interaction.
Here is a trailer for the book:
Sometimes, as Pedrosa puts it, a story’s journey must go through a labyrinth. Pedrosa, in his own words, shares the process of making the book:
If you are going to the Small Press Expo in Maryland, the Brooklyn Book Festival, or are in New York City, be sure to catch Cyril Pedrosa during his North American book tour in support of PORTUGAL, published by Europe Comics, and EQUINOXES, published by NBM. On Monday, September 12th, you can see Pedrosa in conversation with Bill Kartalopoulos and Gabrielle Bell at Albertine bookstore. For details, click the image below:
U.S. Book Tour for Cyril Pedrosa
PORTUGAL by Cyril Pedrosa is a 261-page hardcover in full color. For more details, visit Europe Comics right here. You can also find PORTUGAL at Amazon right here.
As I stated in my previous review for “The Outside Circle,” about an Aboriginal’s journey, you get to that point in the process where you say your work is more like A than B or C. In the case of the comics anthology, “Kramers Ergot,” it is, without a doubt, totally in the fine arts camp. This is where anything goes with subversion ruling the day. The shifts can be jarring but the payoffs can be great too.
It’s perfect timing for me to start off with the first entry to the latest KE, volume 9. We can do a little bit of comparing to my previous review dealing with Aboriginal people. “The Outside Circle” is a very sincere work with more of an earnest tone. Its goal is clarity of purpose and to deliver compelling facts much like a documentary. Steven Weissman has a different take in keeping with the goals of Kramers Ergot. In his story, the Native American character seems to have been stripped of any significance. He feels more like just a guy and flawed in a low-key sort of way. No great drama. This guy is a little jerk (a favorite comics trope): basically selfish and inconsiderate. The simplicity and Zen-like quality to this comic can be deceiving too. As we see, he might be on a quest, per se. But he is petty narrow-minded and that kills off any mystery. In the end, the animals will eventually pull rank on him. He is no hero but the story itself is magical. There is plenty of irony in this short work as opposed to a more earnest approach with the last book I reviewed.
Panels from Michael DeForge’s “Computer”
For something more in line with pushing the limits as far as you can go, we can turn to Michael DeForge‘s totally ironic, “Computer.” This is a commentary on gorging on the internet and too much social media. The computer and college student love each other and they engage in unabashed sex. The acts they engage in are joyous and depicted in a relatively tasteful manner. It is what it is. That’s the limits that DeForge seems most interested in pushing. And, sure enough, it will offend some readers and helps to place this book in a teen and up category. The artwork is spare and crisp. Each reader will need to make their own value judgment on this one. Is it too crass? But, then again, hasn’t the internet made us all more crass or crass-tolerant?
Panel from Gabrielle Bell’s “Windows”
Among the excerpts on display to works-in-progress are pages from “Windows” by Gabrielle Bell. And, all I can say here is that Bell keeps getting better and better. If someone could get Bell to take her comics and adapt them into a series on HBO, that would be something! Certainly, Bell loves the medium she’s working in already. But, I’m just saying. What makes Bell’s work resonate? I’d say it is all about its honesty and consistent vision. For those of you unfamiliar with Gabrielle Bell’s work, you can think of it as autobio with a touch of magical realism. In the case of “Windows,” we follow Bell and her mom as they shop for a tiny house. You know, a tiny house, they’re all the rage. And pretty darn inexpensive. I’d love a tiny house of my own! Well, imagine a really good episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and then tweak in more dry wit and there you have it. Bell’s drawing style is as droll as her writing and that is no easy feat.
Page from Dash Shaw’s “Discipline”
“Discipline,” by Dash Shaw, is another notable excerpt included here. Shaw and Bell, along with a number of other artists in this book, belong to the same tribe, as Peter Schjeldahl has put it regarding certain artists from a certain time and place. And, what I say about Bell, also holds true for Shaw albeit in a different sort of way special to him. I admire Dash Shaw’s uninhibited process, as I see it. He’s the kind of artist who will draw, and draw, and draw. And the sheer power of persistence will carry him over to a higher level. He’s imaginative, brave, and always interesting. From looking at the pages from “Discipline,” I like how the ambiguity keeps the reader at some distance. And I really like the more refined handling of the artwork compared to some work in the past. And, whatever Shaw is up to with a Civil War theme is okay by me!
Panel from Anya Davidson’s “Hypatia’s Last Hours”
Another challenging work is “Hypatia’s Last Hours,” by Anya Davidson, which could be disturbing for some readers but is certainly one of the most compelling pieces here. It is Alexandria, Egypt, circa 415 CE. We find Hypatia, a young woman who is trying her best to tutor Anaxis, a wayward and lusty young man. She leaves him frustrated and in a rush to present a lecture on the algebraic equations of Diophantus. But, before she gets too far, she is forcefully detained. She has been sentenced to death for crimes against the bishop. I admire Davidson’s simple rather geometric drawing style, and her use of bold primary colors. This is a story that quickly builds up to its dramatic and abrupt ending.
Panel from Matthew Thurber’s “Kill Thurber”
One piece that comes across as quite refreshing, so full of a joie de vivre, is Matthew Thurber‘s “Kill Thurber,” a hilarious time travel jaunt. Yes, Matthew Thurber is sick and tired of being associated with James Thurber. Sure, it was cute at first, but it’s really a drag when you find yourself on sort of a similar career path. Then it really sucks! Why did there ever have to be a James Thurber in the first place?! And then, as fate would have it, Matthew Thurber stumbles upon a plot by the writers who once held court at the fabled Algonquin Round Table. You know the bunch. People like Dorothy Parker and S. J. Perelman. Well, they would all like to see Thurber dead too! Utterly hilarious and drawn in a wry and witty style. Hooray for Matthew Thurber, no relation to James Thurber.
Panels from John Pham’s “Scared Silly”
Another piece with a playful vibe is John Pham‘s “Scared Silly.” This piece follows two young friends, Kay and Jay, as they search for Kay’s “baby,” Bacne. It seems that the little one got lost in Holy Lake Cemetery. This is an excellent immersive narrative playing off more traditional comics storytelling. While invested with a lighthearted and whimsical quality, in the same spirit as the best comics of yesteryear, a dark wisdom prevails.
Panel from Lale Westvind’s “The Kanibul Ball”
We come full circle with “The Kanibul Ball,” by Lale Westvind, with a decidedly existential bent. This is neither earnest or ironic. It’s a fantastical hybrid. Really, quite beautiful. We follow a woman who seems, at first, of no significance, more like a kook who would use tin foil to pick up signals from Mars. But the kooks shall inherit the Earth, right? It turns out that she has tapped into something cosmic. We then jump to the frantic anticipation of a huge animal gathering that will result in an orgy of feasting upon each other’s flesh. Our main character, in turn, is engaging in a gathering of beings from various interstellar origins. They are all gathered to feast upon each other, mind, body, and soul. The goal is to share in each other’s pain. It is a goal beyond our heroine’s understanding. However, the animals seem to understand these dark secrets all too well.
Kramers Ergot 9
This is a book full of A-list cartoonists. These are the sort of comics artists for whom it is a point of pride to be squarely in the alternative comics camp. That means comics that are an alternative to genre, especially the superhero genre. Would they be at all interested in a corporate gig? No, not in general but do give them a call. They are mostly interested in the art. For these cartoonists, I dare say, they can take the art for art’s sake credo as far, even further, than some other artists in other art forms are willing to go. It’s a fascinating time to be part of comics at this level as the whole shooting match, comics as art and comics art criticism, is still so relatively new and in flux. A lot of these cartoonists are willing to only ask for some legitimacy and maybe even a taste of immortality. That is where a book such as Kramers Ergot gains its strength and integrity.
“Kramers Ergot 9” is a 288-page hardcover, compiled by cartoonist Sammy Harkham, with black and white and full color pages. It is published by Fantagraphics Books.
“Truth is Fragmentary” is the name of Gabrielle Bell’s latest comics memoir collection and it says it all. Think about it. Truth is indeed fragmentary. You can point out honest, even blunt, bits of truth all you want. People will process it however they choose. Some will deny what you said. Some will misunderstand. Some will have never even come close to getting it. Maybe a few will completely see it your way. It’s a carnival we live in. Thankfully, we have astute and witty observers like Gabrielle Bell. If you’re new to her work, or if you happen to enjoy sly humor, then this is the book for you.
Gabrielle Bell is one of the most consistently interesting cartoonists out there with a distinctive style and wit. Here is a brief interview with the creator of “Lucky.”
HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: I’m so pleased to be able to go and read your comics on your site, gabriellebell.com. I don’t regularly gravitate to webcomics. I know I can rely on yours to have an authentic voice and be thoughtfully constructed. I think that has something to do with the fact that you began with having your work in printed form. Do you think that’s true? Do you think you add another layer to your work since you’re not conditioned to think in terms of digital shortcuts?
GABRIELLE BELL: Thank you. I don’t know if that is true about printed comics or not. I do love comics best in print, hands down. But I also like the instantaneous connection with the reader the internet provides. I like not having to wait for and negotiate with publishers, printers, book sellers, editors, etc. It’s given me the chance to earn the reputation of that thoughtful construction and authentic voice. But I am glad to have my comics packaged in a book! I think any cartoonist ultimately wants that, web or no.
HC: Can you walk us through your process? Maybe you could take a recent post and describe how it came to be or describe your working methods.
GB: The hardest part is writing. It takes me ages and I am tortured by self-doubt. Then I use a lightbox to turn my scratchy, messy thumbnails into drawings, then I do that again. Then I fill in all the black splotches. Then I scan it and manipulate it a lot on photoshop. Then color it, then I read it over, then I throw it on the internet.
HC: You have conquered autobio comics, in a way, I think, by never being obvious and always keeping a certain level of mystery. People are left to wonder what is true and what is not and finally let all that go and enjoy the storytelling. Is this something you set out to do, if I’m right? At least I think I’m pretty right. If falls in line with the best writing.
GB: Thank you, that is nice to hear. I hope I can continue to live up to it! I didn’t set out to do that. I have a compulsion to do diary comics, it’s like some nervous tic. I try to stop sometimes, and then I start again. There’s something psychologically gratifying about it. But I don’t want to offend people with my self-indulgence, so I’ve tried to make it work so that other people could get something out of it too. And that is the pain of it.
HC: What’s a good Charlie Rose type question to ask you? Comics, ah yes, were you always attracted to comics? What is it about comics that suits your needs as an artist?
GB: I think most artists are attracted to comics. I’m always hearing of writers and artists giving a shout-out to some comics. I just finished “Just Kids,” by Patti Smith, and she talks about sitting in her room in the Chelsea Hotel for days reading Little Lulu comics. There’s something very special about comics that are still not really recognized, in spite of this “graphic novel” phenomenon. As for me, it suits me because my two favorite things are writing and drawing.
HC: Please tell us about your more recent mini comics. What can you tell us about your “Diary” mini comics and the latest one, “July Diary”?
GB: “July Diary” is a collection of 31 comics I did last year in July, when I did a page a day that month. There’s also some scrawley sketchy outtakes. I’m told it is my funniest work. The “Diary” mini comics are collections from my blog, “Lucky.”
HC: Feel free to give us a pitch for your new book, “The Voyeurs.”
GB: “The Voyeurs” is a collections of the “Diary” minis, plus a lot more stuff, and all in color. I am told it is a handsome volume.
HC: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
GB: I’m going to be going on tour, doing lots of slideshows, with some great cartoonists, which should be very entertaining. There’s an events page on my website. Please come out and see me perform my comics if I come to your town.
If you have not already, check out what Gabrielle Bell is up to with her on-going comic strip, Lucky. With its journal entry quality, Lucky fits right in as a blog. If you are new to it, you are in for a treat. If you are already a fan, then you will love it. The blog is updated every Sunday and you can find it at the Lucky site. This latest installment is in color and is also featured on the Vice magazine site.