We are ringing in a new year and coasting along a bit during the holidays, getting our bearings as we contemplate doing it all over again. What a treat to have Hurricane Nancy with us to share more of her work. This is what Nancy says about the above artwork: “If only life was this simple. I could dress up and be whatever I want for any occasion. Not get sick or worry about our future. Just dress up and decide to make a great holiday and bright future!”
Visual sensemaking is a method to help you organize thoughts and plans by using simple content. It can be used in so many ways. If you happen to be artistically inclined, it can take you on some very interesting paths but it is there for anyone to use, whether you are an artist or not.
We are nearing the end of another year and it’s time once again for some sort of list of the best work out there in comics and graphic novels. I truly find these lists useful. I know that various things often don’t fit neatly into annual recaps and such. Works are generally years in the making, often coming out in different editions, spilling over into more than one year of promotion. That said, lists are a way to pin things down and are fun to go back to and compare what you thought then with what you think now. I gather some choice titles. Sometimes a Top Ten will suffice. January is a good month to take stock and jump back into last year’s pile (so many titles are latecomers). It works this way: November through February bleeds through a mad rush of marketing into a slower season for contemplation and planning for the new year, a good time for reviewers to pull out a few more titles that were hot during the last year. Here is a Top Twenty-Five list of comics that made it onto my radar during 2022.
Pretending is Lying. Dominique Goblet. translated by Sophie Yanow. New York Review Comics. 2022 paperback edition. 144 pp. $24.95
I follow this book from end to end, with all its shifts in style and experimentation, and the ambiguous title makes more sense to me, maybe even more than the author had intended to express. Truth slips out in unexpected ways. At first, leafing through the pages, I spot the titular scene: a ghostly figure right out of Edvard Munch’s The Scream is yelling (or screming!), “Pretending is Lying!” The scene is as haunting as it could be but what does it mean – or is the meaning meant to be elusive?
This is a comic that is most unusual and noteworthy. It provides food for thought on the theme of overcoming obstacles. Cartoonist Desmond Reed was thrown a curve ball earlier this year when an accident kept him from using his drawing hand. Reed found a positive outcome to this by resorting to using his left hand for his next comics project. Lefty is an experiment that ended up opening up the creative process in very interesting ways.
Draw with your left hand and see what happens.
Mini-comics are already creative experimental labs to begin with. So, yeah, using your left hand to draw with when you’re right-handed sounds like a classic way to get out of your comfort zone. As you can see, Reed made the most of it.
Exploring family connections.
Untethered by the familiar can provide the freedom to be more organic and open to new ideas. For Reed, it set him on course to explore family issues as well as focus on himself and his own issues.
Problem-solving during the creative process.
Ultimately, this exercise with the unfamiliar led Reed down a serious soul-searching path. Fortunately for Reed, his drawing hand was only temporarily impaired so now he’s back to his regular drawing routine, although that much wiser. So, now you can take advantage of his journey, without suffering any accident, and learn from his progress.
Not only that, you can check out an assortment of other work, as well as the upcoming full-length graphic novel, The Cola Pop Creemees (April, 2023), at Bird Cage Bottom Books.
Queen of Snails: A Graphic Memoir. Maureen Burdock. Graphic Mundi. 2022. pp 228. $25.95
Maureen Burdock has a delightful way of casting a spell upon the reader. It’s a slow and gradual process, much like coming from a snail’s point of view inasmuch as it is a refreshing way to see. What better way, really, to examine a life, especially when trying to connect all the dots and many of the dots seem out of reach or are missing. Our guide knows this much: mother/daughter relationships are complicated as it is and, in Burdock’s case, she can trace a hard case of melancholia going back generations: mother and daughter at odds; or separated; or in pain. All of this, mind you, is being drawn, slowly or quickly (we tend to draw faster than we think) and the results bring the reader in. Each page simply left me wanting to know more and more.
Caught in a maternal web.
To have your own mother seemingly working against you. The ultimate betrayal? Well, it doesn’t cut much deeper than that. Burdock tosses and turns trying to figure out her mom because it sure didn’t feel like she was exactly looking out for her. It’s clear that she was distant and that she focused so much of her energy on her fervent devotion to worshiping Jesus. Ah, can you worship Jesus to excess? Was it worship or was it a mania that told Burdock’s mother that nothing else mattered since Jesus would provide? Of course, Burdock seeks answers in a gentle and steady way much like the metaphor of a snail she employs throughout the book. Burdock’s exploration reveals that her mother’s life was far from easy as she experienced her own series of trauma and displacement connected with growing up during World War II and its aftermath.
When one’s life is made so unstable by your parents (Burdock’s father wasn’t much help either) then you go into survivor mode and cultivate a sense of independence pretty young in life. Much of this book is about Burdock finding her way, on her own. During the course of the book, Burdock documents her childhood in Germany and subsequent move with her mother to the United States, to a small town in Wisconsin, only later to return to Germany. It was hardly a match made in heaven. Burdock struggles to fit in and never quite does fit in. Her mother remains as depressed and fervently religious as ever. Burdock provides a very honest and uninhibited portrayal of her coming of age, sexual awakening, and being molested by someone close to her family, which brings to mind the autobiographical work of cartoonist Phoebe Gloeckner.
There’s a moment in the book that seems to sum things up, says so much about inter-generational pain and sheds light on Burdock’s search to know her mother. Burdock cites a UNESCO report that estimated 8 million children were homeless after WWII, many alone and wandering the streets. These “lost children” stood in the cultural imagination for “the obliteration of European civilization, lawlessness and confusion, and unrestricted sexuality.” Burdock quotes writer Alice Bailey: “Those peculiar and wild children of Europe and China to whom the name ‘wolf children’ has been given . . . have known no parental authority; they run in packs like wolves.” In this same two-page sequence, Burdock concludes that her mother has perhaps confused Jesus with Somnus, the Roman god of sleep, and the protection that comes from just closing your eyes. Thankfully, it is Burdock who has chosen to not only keep her eyes open and remain alert but to also report back her findings in this landmark work.
The Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) may bring to mind Ernest Hemingway and his 1940 novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. This is a war that pitted a new leftist government elected in 1936 against Fascist and extreme-right forces. Freedom was on the line, a harbinger of what lay ahead in Europe. Outside of Hemingway, this graphic novel provides a stirring recount of events sure to stay with the reader. It features the true story of Abe Osheroff, a lifelong activist, along with two of his friends, who joined the fight.
The look and feel of the book evokes wholesome family movies from the 1930s, spiked with a decidedly leftist view; or vintage comic books imbued with an earnest propaganda. I think that is a great way to go to get readers into the mindset of that era and especially the players in this drama. The first few pages steadily set the tone. Page One depicts Woody Guthrie singing an activist ballad. This is followed by a few pages with Abe and a couple of his friends helping a neighbor lady who hasn’t paid her rent. They move her belongings back into her apartment after her landlord threw them out. This leads to a scuffle with a brutal local police officer. Followed by Abe falling in love with Caroline, a local activist. In no time, these lads will be fighting Franco in Spain.
The immersive quality of this graphic novel is, as I suggest, due to a compelling narrative (the fictionalized true story) putting to use many of the tricks of the trade employed by the war comics and romance comics of yesteryear. All in all, this method proves to be an excellent educational device. The reader isn’t expected to look for too much in the way of subtext to distract from the prime account. There are some artful flourishes to be found in dialogue, the flow of the narrative, and the overall clever use of the vintage comics format. And there are certainly moments within the comic that feel as lively and relevant as anything today. Lastly, I must point out that the art is dazzling. Timmons isn’t just reworking old comics but she’s channeling them and making them her own. Any student of history will find much to be engaged with. This graphic novel proves to be an excellent portal into a bygone era and makes the case that history is always sitting on a shelf awaiting to be rediscovered.