Tag Archives: Death

Book Review: THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK by Jonathan Santlofer

THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK

Jonathan Santlofer is a successful artist and novelist. I had the privilege of hearing him read recently as he shared the stage with two other distinguished writers, Neal Thompson and Wendy C. Ortiz, at a panel on memoir writing at Hugo House in Seattle. Later, in person, I asked Mr. Santlofer if he ever considered doing a graphic novel, given his facility with words and images, and he said he’d love to do it! He’s on my radar right now. His book, The Widower’s Notebook, is quite a page-turner. I went to the Tin Table for a late dinner and couldn’t put it down. The waitress even said I could stay as long as I wanted. After making some time for the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings, I kept reading the next day and finished in another sitting. What I got from this book is a riveting narrative covering a heart-wrenching time in the author’s life.

Mr. Santlofer has an uncanny observational style: you believe you’re with him. His writing is vivid and carries you along even when he’s writing about not feeling up to doing anything at all. It’s the mark of not only a good writer but an excellent writer to allow you into a life without you being aware of any of the effort involved. This is a story of a most significant loss, the death of one’s life partner. Santlofer achieves a level of the sublime by simply being in the moment. He does with his writing what he does with his drawings: evoke a sense of the hyperreal. You are really there with the author as he finds his wife, Joy, dying before his eyes, the subsequent rush to the hospital, and the frenetic tripping through memories.

We follow along as Santlofer reflects upon a grand life beginning with a young bohemian couple, just married, in Brooklyn, circa 1967. We progress in a stream of consciousness fashion from the birth of Dorie, his beloved daughter, to the recent death of Joy to the building up of a new life. The act of drawing helps with the act of mourning–drawings work when words seem to fail or seem to be not enough. There’s a touch of magic to art-making and it seems most explicit when examining an intimate and intricately crafted drawing. The excerpt below speaks to this process:

“I am able to draw my wife because drawing is abstract, because you can’t really draw something until you stop identifying it. You can’t think: this is an eye, or a nose, or lips, or you will not be able to draw them; an eye, a nose, lips are all the same, simply marks on a page.

Drawing has made it possible for me to stay close to Joy when she in no longer here. It is a way to create a picture of her without feeling weird or maudlin. I am not sitting in a dark room crying over a photo of my dead wife; I am at my drawing table, working.

Grief is chaotic; art is order. Ironic, as most people think art is all about feeling and emotion, when in fact the artist needs to be ordered and conscious to create art that will, in turn, stir feelings and emotion in others.”

A drawing is a complicated thing.

Santlofer’s book is about dying and about living. It is as much about mourning as it is about relationships, family, and the creative process. Indeed, art can save your life and Santlofer’s book eloquently and passionately speaks to perseverance and purpose.

The Widower’s Notebook is a 272-page paperback with illustrations, published by Penguin Random House.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Death, Death and Dying, Hugo House, Jonathan Santlofer, Memoir, New York City, Penguin Random House, Seattle, writers, writing

Review: ROSALIE LIGHTNING: A Graphic Memoir by Tom Hart

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A basic truth about good art is that it comes from an artist who is compelled to create it. I have followed the work of cartoonist Tom Hart for many years and I consider him a friend. I can see that his latest book, the graphic memoir, “Rosalie Lightning,” brings out the best in him and what he can do as an artist. This is a story about grieving. Tom and his wife, the cartoonist Leela Corman, suffered the loss of their daughter, Rosalie Lightning, a few years ago. She was nearly two years old. The process of grieving has no set amount of time. It can very well go on forever. However, for the sake of one’s own life, and one’s loved ones, there is also a process of acceptance and renewal. In his book, Hart explores all of this with great insight.

The comics medium can offer the reader entry into the mind of a cartoonist in a very distinct way. This often happens with a work from an independent creator who both writes and draws the work. If it is a personal work, and the creator is up to the task, the reader will be swept into a myriad of observations made all the more tangible by the elastic and concise nature of comics. The words must be more condensed, providing a sharper impact. And then you add the immediacy and the intimacy of the drawings coming from the very same author’s hand. Tom Hart is in a unique position, as an experienced storyteller with a highly expressive style, to tell this story.

Tom Hart Rosalie Lightning

One thing I’ve always admired about Tom Hart is his ability and willingness to open himself up to his readers. He is alright with presenting himself as a regular guy struggling with life in much the same way as we all do. Now, imagine a gifted storyteller like Hart dealing with the death of his baby girl. Is this a story he can even begin to tell? Is it one he wants to tell? You sense right from the beginning that he followed his instincts and chose to continue to share about his life through his comics. There was no set plan. The observations were intermittent posts on his blog. Organically, a narrative took root. And, I believe, the theme of exploring grieving naturally emerged. You find it throughout the book, first in moving recollections and later in greater detail as two parents walk in the wilderness and search for answers.

Aside from the medical reasons, are there any answers as to why a beautiful toddler would die? That is the question that Tom and Leela struggle with. Was it somehow preordained? Both parents torment themselves by repeatedly posing that question. The thing about Hart’s comics is, by their very nature, they are direct and are brimming with immediacy. There’s an interesting tension created by a story following a circuitous and ambiguous path which is punctuated with sharp and forceful drawings. Hart combats a need to contemplate, and recede into the background, with a strong will to tell his story and keep moving forward in his life. Of course, the goal was never to forget but to find balance. Hart’s book proves to be an excellent work of self-discovery and of keeping the memory alive of a dear soul.

Rosalie Lightning Tom Hart

“Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir” is a 272-page hardcover published by St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers. For more details, visit our friends at Macmillan Publishers right here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Macmillan Publishers, Tom Hart

Review: MERCY: SHAKE THE WORLD

Mercy-Shake-The-World-Dover-2015

A man of means, with everything to live for, finds himself in a coma. At 54, he’s had a stroke that has left him in limbo. He floats along, out of his body, amused and perplexed by all the fuss still being made over him in hospital. While in limbo, he becomes ever more familiar with an entity of great power. He observes. He gives it a sex and a name, Mercy. He concludes that Mercy is fully self-contained and yet she repeatedly ventures back down to Earth to help. It’s totally altruistic. But why do it?

Written by J.M. DeMatteis, and artwork by Paul Johnson, “Mercy: Shake the World” is the sort of graphic novel that Will Eisner would have appreciated. As was his understanding, since life really begins after 50, many a graphic novel will be created with a more mature and worldly reader in mind. This is just that kind of work. “Mercy” is unafraid to let it all hang out when it comes to asking the big questions and not caring so much for the answers. It’s like we’re somehow past that, so beyond just seeking wisdom here.

Our main character is totally free to see as much of the big picture as he chooses. He doesn’t gorge himself on insight. He’s along for the ride, has all the time in the world. Enlightenment is inevitable. So, he takes it slow and easy. He’ll take Mercy any way it comes.

This is a beautifully rendered work. Johnson’s artwork is in touch with the ethereal just as much as DeMatteis’s script. Nothingness. Emptiness. You can go anywhere from there. From nothing to everything. Graphic novels are a perfect venue with which to ponder and expound upon the metaphysical. And here you have a fine example of just that. Our Everyman, with one foot in our world and the other in the netherworld, is neither hero nor villain. He’s just trying, before too long, to find out what all the fuss is about.

“Mercy: Shake the World,” a 128-page trade paperback in full color, with extras, is published by Dover Publications, and available as of June 17, 2015. Visit our friends at Dover Publications right here. And you can also find “Mercy: Shake the World” at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, Dover Publications, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Will Eisner

Review: ‘An Enchantment’ (Louvre Collection)

Enchantment-Christian-Durieux

Christian Durieux states that he sought to create comic book poetry with his graphic novel, “An Enchantment.” He definitely succeeds in doing just that. The collaboration between the Louvre and NBM ComicsLit to co-edit books inspired by the Louvre results in such wonderful works of comics. This one is pure magic. It’s like watching a dance sequence with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The comic flows so well that it glides. It could easily have been wordless but the dialogue is so charming.

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Filed under Bande Dessinée, Comics, ComicsLit, France, French Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, NBM

Interview: David Ury and ‘Everybody Dies: A Children’s Book For Grown-Ups’

David Ury and "Everybody Dies: A Children’s Book For Grown-Ups"

David Ury and “Everybody Dies: A Children’s Book For Grown-Ups”

Daivd Ury is really onto something. Who is David Ury? you may ask. Most likely, you’ve seen him around, getting throttled, axed, murdered, or most notably, having an ATM fall on him in AMC’s critically-acclaimed “Breaking Bad.” Yes, he’s one of those character actors that you like but might not know unless you’re looking in the right places. Ury has definitely been working hard. You can catch his hilarious collaboration with his alter-ego, Kevin Tanaka, right here:

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Filed under Books, Children's Books, Comic-Con, Comic-Con 2014, Death, Illustration, Interviews

Review: ‘When David Lost His Voice’ by Judith Vanistendael

When-David-Lost-His-Voice-Judith-Vanistendael-2013

Currently on the shelves is a book with a bright orange cover and a powerful story about coping and understanding death and loss. Our lives can become so routine: work, eat, sleep, rinse, repeat. Ironically, the closer we come to death, the more we appreciate life. Just like they say, our lives flash before our eyes at a time of crisis. It can unnerve us. Americans, for example, have been thought to not deal too well with death. However, given the popularity of zombies, that overall outlook seems to be improving. And there are some cultures who appear to be more in touch with death. “When David Lost His Voice,” the new graphic novel by Judith Vanistendael, published by SelfMadeHero, gives us a story that shows how life and death can come to terms. It’s a story not without a healthy dose of good cheer.

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I recently viewed Julie Delpy’s “2 Days in New York,” a comedy about what happens when relatives from France descend upon a couple’s New York apartment for the weekend. In the movie, you see just how crude, or earthy, depending on your taste, these French folks can be. The humor itself felt French too, embracing the absurdity in life more than your typical American comedy. It seems to be a matter of dropping any inhibitions and yet done with a certain style. In that regard, I find a similar sensibility running throughout this graphic novel. It is the story of David, who discovers he has developed a cancer in his throat. He is an older gent who has a full-grown daughter, Miriam, as well as a 9-year-old daughter, Tamar, from a recent marriage to Paula. And Miriam has recently given birth herself to Louise. It is quite a premise: all these women are a vital part of David’s life and the prospects for his future don’t look so good.

When-David-Lost-His-Voice-Vanistendael-2013

David is a special man who is well loved. He’s a man of few words. He prefers to let his actions speak for him. He owns a bookshop so he deals in words every day but, for seeking deeper meaning, he can make good use of silence. It is these qualities that are on display as he does his part to console Tamar, about the possibility he may not be around for much longer. He’s there for her. He’s attentive to her child’s viewpoint.

David and his wife, Paula, tirelessly work together to keep their daughter calm, even if it requires adhering to an elaborate scheme to make it look like it’s possible to send mail back and forth attached to balloons. It’s almost easier for David to attend to little Tamar’s needs than it is to attend to the needs of anyone else. Miriam keeps seeing him as a ghost. Paula, an artist, reconstructs him from x-rays.

When-David-Judith-Vanistendael-SelfMadeHero-2013

Interestingly enough, it’s Paula who becomes very vocal and loses control a bit over all the quiet surrounding David. It’s bad enough that David won’t talk about it. But no one else is capable of articulating what’s happening either. Or does it just seem that way? Balance is gained when a child’s perspective, that sense of lightness, can be brought into play. Maybe mermaids, magic, and notes sent on balloons can help make things better.

As long as everyone believes in hope and compassion, then the end need not be harsh and bitter. In a story that floats with such delicate ease, Judith Vanistendael does a beautiful job of evoking what is involved when all parties manage to transcend a crisis and create something new.

“When David Lost His Voice” is a remarkable graphic novel by Judith Vanistendael. She is a Belgian author of graphic novels and an illustrator. She is known for “Dance by the Light of the Moon,” two volume work also published by SelfMadeHero. You can find out more about purchasing your own copy of this book here.

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Filed under Comics, Death, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Judith Vanistendael, SelfMadeHero

Documentary Review: KEVORKIAN

Jack Kevorkian 2013 documentary

KEVORKIAN is an in-depth look at Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the infamous right-to-die advocate. Filmmaker Matthew Galkin explores the full man as he follows the doctor on his last quest, a 2008 run for a seat in Congress, and goes back over a life that will leave a lasting impression on generations to come. Dr. Kevorkian died in 2011, at the age of 83. This film will be available as a VOD starting on January 15, 2013.

The take away from this documentary is to know when you’ve won. Jack Kevorkian reached a point in his career where he could legally perform assisted suicides. He claimed to have helped end the suffering of upwards to 130 individuals. However, that was not good enough for Dr. Kevorkian. He wanted to officially settle the right-to-die issue once and for all by taking it all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. In his view, the only way to do that was to get himself convicted of murder.

We follow Jack Kevorkian on his road to self-destruction with his push to get convicted for murder. From 1990 through 1998, Kevorkian had achieved numerous acquittals thanks to his attorney, Geoffrey Fieger. But, for his trial in 1999, he abandoned his attorney when he needed him most in favor of defending himself. While a brilliant mind, Kevorkian was completely out of his league in a court room. He recited Thomas Jefferson and Cicero and made an eccentric and histrionic plea that earned him 9 years in prison. He was not let out on bail, as he had planned. His case was not heard before the Supreme Court, as he had planned. He went to prison, as he had not planned.

What we ultimately see in Jack Kevorkian is a man that, despite himself, had a worthy cause and was willing to sacrifice himself in the process of supporting his cause. As Jack Lessenberry, a journalist with the Detroit Metro News describes in the documentary, “To see Jack Kevorkian in action is to see an Old Testament prophet, very disagreeable, not someone you’d want over for dinner. But he was willing to discuss death, a subject that we, as a society, are in denial over.”

This documentary, and its subject, so inextricably linked with death, ironically provide some interesting life lessons. Of all the people who could have taken up the right-to-die issue, it had to be Jack Kevorkian, a most persistent but often disagreeable sort. But he was also a very sensitive and complicated man. We get to see how the theme of death haunted him and spurred him into action. He gained his nickname, “Dr Death,” long before he became involved with euthanasia. He was the one to discover how to best tell the time of death of a patient, which is crucial when harvesting organs for transplants. You simply need to examine the eyes. He was a lifelong celibate and, in his case, he cuts a rather lonely figure. What did he do for fun? Well, for one thing, he created paintings about death. Had a better adjusted person taken on the cause of the right to die would that person have made as big of an impact as Dr. Jack Kevorkian? Finally, with his death, his legacy has a chance to live on.

KEVORKIAN is released by Virgil Films.
Available on Digital Download starting January 15, 2013

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Filed under Constitutional Rights, Death and Dying, Documentaries, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, Movie Reviews, Right To Die

ART: DIA DE LOS MUERTOS

In keeping with the season, here is a work I did inspired by Dia de los Muertos. The original is ink on paper, 32×40.

If you happen to be in L.A., Day of the Dead is on November 1 -2 this year and you may want to check out the party at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. This one will be especially interesting if you believe in the Mayan calendar’s prediction of the end of the world in 2012.

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Filed under Art, Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos