The Minamata Story: An EcoTragedy. Written by Sean Michael Wilson and drawn by Akiko Shimojima. Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 2121. 205pp, $14.95.
The Many Not the Few. Written by Sean Michsel Wilson and drawn by Robert Brown. Oxford and Lancashire: Workable Press, 2019. 200pp, $18.95.
Sean Michael Wilson: Left Comics Sui Generis
A marvelously talented Scottish script writer, Sean Michael Wilson, is notable in the fast-emerging world of the nonfiction graphic novel, with a handful of awards and some twenty graphic novels to his credit. Like the most talented of left-wing film screenwriters from Hollywood to London to Tokyo and far beyond—suffering blacklisting and severe persecution in the Cold War era and not getting many good jobs right up to the present day—Wilson knows how to prepare his work for the next step in production. The writer works behind the scenes, so to speak, and becomes in a sense invisible, all the more so because the artist “adapts” any script, by necessity, to the demands of art and audience.
Gentlemind: Episode 1. written by Juan Díaz Canales and Teresa Valero; art and color by Antonio Lapone. Published by Dargaud (France) Presented by Europe Comics. 2020, 88pp. Digital.
When Print Was King!
Think of Gentlemind as a comics version of Mad Men, set in the 1940s. The hub of activity is New York City, center of media and entertainment. And the specific activity is one woman’s goal of transforming a middling men’s girlie magazine into a platform for social commentary, literary and artistic excellence. Listen to the guys talk in their bullpen at the offices of Gentlemind, circa 1940, and they could be men talking today:
“I’ve seen you doing stand-up in the clubs in the Village, Bert. You have a gift. We want you to write a few jokes for each issue.”
“Written jokes aren’t funny. Either you tell them, or you draw them.”
“Hey, Mosky, how bout drawing something other than women?”
“I can’t draw anything else.”
Another time and place from which we can learn so much.
New York is a funny city, in a lot of ways still championing a dry and sly wit perfected over generations by the trendsetting creatives of the moment. This is a story about what is was like back in the day, in a golden era, when writers and artists of all stripes pushed boundaries while also navigating a world dominated by an elite patriarchal class. Enter Navit, a woman with a self-confidence in all things, intellectual, sexual, and emotional. This is Navit’s journey as she goes from a love affair with a struggling artist to the mistress of a playboy billionaire to the leader of a brash new magazine in the heyday of magazines. Due to a fortuitous set of circumstances, Navit finds herself in charge of an old girlie magazine which she is determined to turn into something worthwhile. Navit begins by having real women express themselves about what they think of men, a refreshing and quite revolutionary idea in 1940.
An old girlie magazine is confronted with opinions from real women.
Written by Juan Díaz Canales (Blacksad) and Teresa Valero, this is an utterly charming, as well as challenging story that will leave the reader wanting more. There’s a whole subplot involving the disparity between rich and poor and the virtue of ethics that really powers the narrative, bringing up many issues. And that’s all a good thing since this is only the first installment. While our heroes, and the setting itself, are thoroughly American, the sense of style and elegance embrace a European sensibility. And that vibe, in turn, is influenced by such American film noir classics as 1945’s Mildred Pierce, about a woman’s struggle to the top. You can also throw into the mix the influence of Seth, a Canadian cartoonist who has perfected his own take on comics noir. The artwork by Antonio Lapone taps into this quirky vision. His characters have an ethereal cartoony quality about them. They are ghosts from another era while also very much alive on the page. This is a wonderful treat for the reader to experience another time and place. A time well before much of what we take for granted. A time when print was king. A time when “men were men; and women were women” but everyone seemed to be very much in the dark as to what the other most desired. It wasn’t always sex. In fact, it was often a higher calling of some kind: a simple desire to be entertained and enlightened by a story. If all this sounds like too much to ask from a graphic novel, then I’m here to tell you it is one of the things that a graphic novel does best: explore the meaning of life. This one does it better than many out there.
Those “Mad Men” from 1940a New York City.
There are numerous exciting titles to explore at Europe Comics, your hub for all sorts of wonderful European comics (translated in English, of course) in a convenient digital format. Visit Europe Comics right here.
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This is one of the most inspired scenarios for a comic that I’ve seen in a while. What if all the great mystery writers of the 193os formed a club–and had amazing adventures? That is exactly what is happening in this totally cool new graphic novel series, The Detection Club, script and art by Jean Harambat, published by Europe Comics. We’re talking about the golden age for mystery writers including G. K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, and Dorothy L. Sayers. This is from the same brilliant talent who created the spy thriller series graphic novels, Operation Copperhead. If you like crisp and witty humor, then this is for you. And, yes, this book is in English. That’s an essential component of Europe Comics, your home for comics from Europe, translated into English.
The Detection Club page excerpt
First off, you need to know that there really was a Detection Club and it must have been something! Just imagine all of these world-class writers meeting on a regular basis, helping each other out with their craft, and even writing books together under the name of the club itself! I don’t think I was aware of this and, if I was, I’d forgotten. So many years and beers ago, you know. But now I’m fully aware of this fact thanks to this wonderful graphic novel series. So, that is the basis in reality for this series but Harambat takes it much further and places a select bunch of our writer heroes in quite a madcap adventure involving a crime-solving robot who may or may not have just committed murder! So, lots of fun for all ages, even for much older kids at heart such as myself.
Panel excerpt: Our main characters all in row.
I really like to showcase panel art. There are so many reasons to do this. The main reason is to simply get a closer look! This makes sense, just as you would focus on a particular passage in any novel. It gives us a moment to savor the process. What is key about Harambat is that he loves to draw. This is quite evident in the above example. Too many young aspiring cartoonists believe that any scrawl that they produce is priceless. That wrongheaded thinking is much too ingrained in the indie comics community. Yes, there is a place for spontaneity and a loose and sketchy style can be quite legitimate. But look at the dazzling results you get from rigorous care in the pursuit of refined essentials. Everything reads as very crisp and clear! You want that kind of clarity!
The Detection Club page excerpt
Harambat is an auteur cartoonist who truly loves to write and draw economically. It is a very functional approach that makes it easier to tackle such an ambitious project that involves characters with formidable back-stories. We’re talking about some of the greatest popular writers of all time–either intimately known by readers or at least recognized to some degree. There are expectations already in place. Many readers coming to this graphic novel already have some notion as to who Agatha Christie was and expect someone unusual and clever–and will expect the same from her contemporaries. Any reader attracted to this book is already curious about the world of mystery and crime fiction and related matters. Harambat is there to deliver on all counts: he fills in the blanks, connects the dots, and thoroughly entertains. All the characters are drawn in a direct and clear way, easy to keep track of, easy to relate with. Then you bring in the villain, an eccentric billionaire living on some secluded tropical island with a huge robot at the center of a murder mystery. Bingo! What a premise to kick off this series!
The Detection Club: Part 1 is an 86-page book, available in digital format on various platforms. For more details, visit Europe Comics, your home for all European comics, all digital, all in English.
Once Upon a Time in France, written by Fabien Nury and illustrated by Sylvain Vallée
Once Upon a Time in France is such a gorgeous book. One of the best ways that I can demonstrate to you the beauty and artistry that you will find in this graphic novel is to show you a sample page, in black & white, next to the same page in color. Once Upon a Time in France, written by Fabien Nury and illustrated by Sylvain Vallée, is published by Dead Reckoning and makes for a most riveting and immersive story like you probably have not read in quite some time. This is the story of Joseph Joanovici, a Romanian Jew who immigrated to France in the 1920s and became one of the richest men in Europe as a scrap-metal magnate. For some, he was a Nazi collaborator villain. For others, he was a French resistance hero. He undoubtedly played both ends against the middle! It makes for a fascinating story. The graphic novel series was an international bestseller with over 1 million copies sold. Thankfully, Dead Reckoning has collected the entire French series in this new English translation omnibus edition.
Sample one in b&w
I just completed some traveling in Europe and so I’m still processing all of that. Of course, World War II looms large, bursting at the seams of history, as you make your way through such places as Paris and London. It can be no other way. The past pulls you in and makes itself present. The past is always present. It seeps its way into the culture and the daily lives of the natives. History is more respected and acknowledged in Europe than it is in the United States. And that’s not so much a criticism as a simple observation. There is a special connection to the past in Europe that encourages readers and thinkers in all strata of society. It is a culture that celebrates books and has a unique love for comics and graphic novels. That’s certainly not to say that thoughtful expansive works in comics are not appreciated in the U.S. but it is to say that an even keener appreciation by large numbers of readers will be found in Europe, without a doubt. That said, I highly recommend to my American friends that they check out a book such as Once Upon a Time in France in order to get a better sense of the appeal of serious works in comics outside of the United States.
Sample two in color
This omnibus edition collects six books of comics. As I’ve mentioned before, I prefer the typical European format of a hardcover book of comics spanning less than 1oo pages. So, this collection is a total of 360 pages, comprising six books of about 60 pages each. And that is a perfect setup. Tell a riveting and expansive tale within the covers of six manageable books! The European culture accepts that format and treats a series of books such as this in the way that Americans treat following a television series. Of course, you see similar efforts in the U.S. with much of it taken up by the big two superhero publishers followed by various other publishers and rounded out by an assortment of micro, indie and self-publishing cartoonists. Speaking of history, we’re right in the thick of a significant time in comics history as the comics medium continues to redefine itself and position itself within the book market in general. And, again, I say that everyone would do well to seek out this wartime thriller as a brilliant example of what is possible within comics!
A thrilling story that won’t quit.
You will be utterly pleased by reading this impressive omnibus edition. It satisfies on many levels: as a brilliant example of the comics medium; as a wonderful taste of European culture; and as a rollicking good thriller! In fact, I can easily see this book adapted into an amazing series at such venues as Hulu, Amazon or Netflix.
An elegant wartime thriller.
Once Upon a Time in France is a 360-page trade paperback, published by Dead Reckoning.
Without any prompting, as natural as can be, Der Spiegel has instantly compared Boris Johnson to Alfred E. Neuman! Europe remains supportive and hip to MAD Magazine. But what about the United States, where Alfred was born? The lights will soon go out on the print run of MAD Magazine as we’ve known it since 1952. No more ongoing original work after that. Everything is being shuttered, closed down. The only thing left will be a perpetual showcase of archived items left to fill the void. Presumably, the archived edition will sputter out in print after a while. Although the official line goes like this: DC Comics, which publishes the magazine, told ABC News in a statement: “After issue #10 this fall there will no longer be new content – except for the end of year specials which will always be new. So starting with issue #11, the magazine will feature classic, best of and nostalgic content from the last 67 years.” That’s something but it pales in comparison. In the long run, perhaps the end result will be back issues living on forever on the web gathering virtual dust. Of course, MAD Magazine will live on in the memories of its devoted fans. What a sad, sad, sad state of affairs. Does Warner Bros. have such little regard and respect for such a time-honored satirical publication? Well, it doesn’t quite fit into someone’s bottom line. It’s a shame to think that Alfred E. Neuman will gradually fade away as a pop culture icon. Perhaps there’s a chance for MAD Magazine to be saved. It happened with Newsweek. Anyway, the Boris Johnson cover of Der Spiegel speaks volumes.
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a very big deal–and deservedly so! It exceeds the expectations of the most diehard fan with a heady mix of style and substance. I am so happy to have seen it and I would gladly go see it again and again. I was hoping for something special. I went in with thoughts that this could be a like a French Star Wars, perhaps divided by Star Trek, and then multiplied by Doctor Who. Something really special–and that it is!
My concern was that there might be some culture clash for some viewers: American tastes at odds with this Euro-movie based upon a Euro-comic book series. But, I conclude, that really is such a non-issue. There is a decidedly offbeat sensibility going on with this movie but isn’t that what we all love about the Star Wars franchise, along with other loopy and irreverent entertainment?
Another worry was that I had heard that this movie was too dependent upon CGI. Well, ahem, there’s nothing wrong with CGI when it works. Just think of “Avatar.” Much like “Avatar,” the CGI in “Valerian” is simply an integral part of the experience. There are so many iconic moments in this movie that are all about the CGI. For instance, the wonderfully elaborate sequence with Valerian (Dane DeHaan) running through a multitude of dimensions. Or Laureline (Cara Delevingne) arguing with some very dim servant creatures. Or, one of my favorite moments, Bubble (Rihanna) and her beautiful dance sequences.
Dane DeHaan, Luc Besson. and Cara Delevingne
There’s a very intriguing thing going on with the dynamic between Valerian and Laureline. The two are lovers but they have a lot of work ahead of them. They are intentionally distant in how they interact with each other, in an other-worldly comic book way. This disconnection between the two lovers leaves the viewer wondering about them. When Valerian repeatedly tells Laureline that he wants to marry her, it comes across as highly ironic. It would be wrong to dismiss the acting as wooden. It is part of what director Luc Besson intentionally wants. It is part of what the script aims for. I think some critics have unfairly expected more natural performances and gleefully found fault where there is none.
Given the surreal and whimsical elements in this movie, it remains a well-built and grounded piece of work. The opening sequence brings to mind the opening scenes to “Wonder Woman” set in the idyllic Themyscira. In this case, it is an ideal world of peaceful beings. The civilization depends upon little creatures who happily produce pearls that power their world. These beings, like the young lovers, Valerian and Laureline, are quite otherly. It is this otherliness that informs this rather sophisticated narrative that gently balances irreverence and idealism. Just the sort of thing you’d expect from the very best comics.
Of course, you can’t please everyone. Americans, in particular, have become quite reliant upon extra bells and whistles, even after they’ve just been presented with a formidable visual feast. No, it doesn’t seem to matter if they’ve just viewed a masterpiece–Where’s the gag reel?! they demand. And, with that in mind, you may love the video below that includes just that sort of bonus content:
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is undoubtedly a joyride of a movie. You will love it. Visit the official Valerian movie website right here.
MACARONI! is a graphic novel involving three generations in conflict. And 11-year-old Romeo is caught in the middle. It seems that Romeo’s father has struggled to get to know his own father. The resolution to years of silence may be found in a week-long summer visit. Romeo’s dad wants him to hang out with his grandfather Ottavio at his rural home out in the countryside. Poor little Romeo reluctantly agrees to do it. MACARONI! is written by Vincent Zabus (Spirou et Fantasio), drawn by Thomas Campi (MAGRITTE), published by Dupuis, and available as a digital comic in French or English at izeno right here.
An agreement between father and son.
Zabus and Campi have collaborated on the one-shot “Les Petites Gens,“ published by Le Lombard, as well as “Les Larmes Du Seigneur Afghan,” written by Vincent Zabus in collaboration with the RTBF (Belgian television) reporter Pascal Bourgaux, published by Dupuis Editions and awarded the Prix Cognito for Best Graphic Novel at the Belgian Book Fair in 2014. For this story about a boy and his grandfather, you can easily sense a close connection between the writer and artist, as if they were one creator. The natural dialogue fits so well into the expressive artwork and vice versa. There’s a spontaneity running throughout, moving the story forward, embracing the reader. You instantly sympathize with Romeo.
“You’ll be fine.”
Romeo’s father assures him that he’ll be fine. And, in little time, Romeo knows visiting his grandfather is the best thing that could have happened to him. It won’t be easy. The old man is gruff and secretive. With a little help from Lucie, a neighbor girl Romeo’s age, Ottavio shares tales of his tumultuous life going all the way back to fighting in World War II. Peppered with insightful facts, the reader cannot help but get caught up in the emotional recollection.
Ottavio has a lifetime to share.
MACARONI! takes on the full breadth of a stage play as three generations come to terms with each other. The reader comes to see just how much of a burden Ottavio has had to bear: from learning why he lost his thumb to seeing what a struggle it was for Italian immigrants to start a new life in Belgium. This is an exceptional narrative that will appeal to any reader of any age.
MACARONI! is a 145-page full color graphic novel. You can read a digital version at izneo right here.
Panel excerpt from “Läskimooses” by Matti Hagelberg
“Läskimooses,” by Matti Hagelberg, has got to be one of the most unusual of comics. It comes out in single issues and the plan is for the complete collected work to be an epic over 1,000 pages. Currently, this art/sci-fi comic book totals around 700 pages, is published 7 issues per year, and is the longest single comics story ever to be produced in Finland.
Hagelberg is best known for his scratchboard technique that he has used in most of his works, published by L’association and Le Dernier Cri in France (Raw Vision 83). It is a wonderfully obsessive vision, part parody and part stream of consciousness. Hagelberg is on an adventure to find the meaning of life and the secrets to the universe byway of conspiracy theories. Only a determined artist like Hagelberg can sustain such a quest. It makes for fascinating results.
Artist Matti Hagelberg
It’s not uncommon for an artist to keep to one theme or one universe in their body of work. Hagelberg has always drawn stories set in the same universe. His epic Läskimooses comics are quite a dramatic example of focused work harkening back to classic comic strips. His theme of exploring the universe is broad enough to sustain a lifetime’s work. The energy and enthusiasm comes across the page. He has set up some fun devices to keep the narrative flowing like an ongoing conversation between characters discussing cosmic subjects. You don’t need to know how to read Finnish to enjoy it either.
I always enjoy writing about comics from outside the United States. Sometimes, I am not sure how to hook into a work and I find it is better to let it simmer and then I come back to it. So is the case with “Läskimooses.” You can now enjoy an issue of the comic book with a handy translation sheet in English. That will certainly clear up any questions about why you’re seeing a bunch of monkeys or what’s going on regarding a volcanic eruption.
Page from Läskimooses #28
Again, let me emphasize that the visuals are pretty stunning all by themselves. Some issues, like #28 above, are only images, no text at all. Basically, all you need to know to begin with is that Läskimooses and Ohto are both planets and figure prominently in the narrative. The two ongoing characters have their own ideas on existential matters that they’re working through. It’s interesting that Hagelberg’s initial idea was to set his story on the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs. He had a spectacle in mind right from the start. Anyway, we’re all working through our own existential issues, right? It’s fun to see an artist with such an unabashed and audacious attitude share with us his vision of the sublime and the profound. I look forward to what develops next with this intriguing and unusual project.
To get an issue of “Läskimooses,” with an English translation sheet included, go to Printed Matter right here.
For a closer look at the artist at work, check out this video right here.
Illustrator and cartoonist Pénélope Bagieu is like any gifted artist: curious, industrious, and someone who welcomes a good obsession. I say that in the best sense of having an obsession since artists need them to spur on their work. Bagieu followed her muse to the music legend Cass Elliot. You can read my review of her graphic novel, “California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas,” published by First Second Books, right here. I had an opportunity to chat with Bagieu. We discuss her book, her thoughts on music, and what lies ahead.
We begin this video interview with my sharing with Pénélope my encountering the hit song and title of her book while I was having lunch. It seemed a bit uncanny to me. Pénélope did not exactly shrug off the observation but quickly acknowledged how ubiquitous that song is. And how powerful. It is every bit a work from the Sixties and yet totally co-exists in a timeless Neverland. Certain songs from that era aimed for such a vibe but precious few attained that quality. And so it was to be with Cass Elliot, one of the few to reach an ethereal and graceful immortality.
CALFORNIA DREAMIN’ by Pénélope Bagieu
Before we started rolling video, Pénélope was telling me about her visiting MoPOP here in Seattle. She said, if she could, she would live in that museum. That sort of sentiment won me over all the more. You can catch more of that thread in the interview when Pénélope responds to my asking her about the power of music.
What I would like to suggest to you is that, if you are going to Emerald City Comicon (and I’d love to hear from you about ECCC either on or off this blog) make sure to visit the First Second Books booth #1602 on the exhibit floor and get yourself an advance copy of “California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas.” For those of you not fortunate enough to visit, I highly recommend that you get a copy at your local comics shop, bookstore, or online.
Pénélope Bagieu is an illustrator and cartoonist worthy of as big a reading audience as possible. CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’ is her second book to come out in an English language edition with First Second Books. Her first book was EXQUISITE CORPSE. Both of these titles, and others, originally were published in France by Gallimard. You can easily find EXQUISITE CORPSE online and I highly recommend that you do so. This is a 128-page full color hardcover. It is a sophisticated comedy about a young woman who becomes involved with an older man who happens to be a famous author. The question is whether she is in over her head or perhaps it is the other way around. There are a number of twists as the story builds. Bagieu has a keen sense of humor and wonderful timing. The main character of 22-year-old Zoe is full of life and quite memorable.
For more details on CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’, visit MacMillan Publishers right here.
Jerome Charyn is one of our great American writers. I had the pleasure to review, “The Magician’s Wife,” a graphic novel illustrated by François Boucq and written by Jerome Charyn. Thanks to Dover Graphic Novels, a number of lost gems are finding their way back into print. For this review, we look at “The Boys of Sheriff Street,” illustrated by Jacques de Loustal and written by Jerome Charyn. This is a beautifully tragic love story–at an exquisitely high level of artistry.
Ida, ready to devour the world.
Graphic novels are not always what some people may expect, not even aspiring cartoonists. One misconception is that they need to be unruly massive things which, outside of manga, is more the exception than the norm. While there are no set rules to this, a book that clocks in at roughly 100 pages is very likely to make for a satisfying experience. And so it is with this book which is 80 pages. That’s perhaps more of a European standard–but it works so well. Consider this work quite the treat with its theatrical and painterly flourish.
The emperor has returned.
Our story revolves around twin brothers Max and Morris. This is New York City’s underworld during the 1930s, on the Lower East Side. And Max and Morris belong to the Sheriff Street gang. Morris is tall and jovial. Max is the brains and the head of the operation. He is shorter and has a hunchback. The dynamic between the two brothers, and the whole gang for that matter, is severely tested when Morris introduces everyone to Ida, his new love and fiancé. This proves to be a fascinating study in character. Is Ida really a femme fatale or is she simply trying to assert her position as best she can?
The size and scope of Charyn’s story leaves me thinking of what a great movie it could make. That said, everything adds up to a perfect graphic novel. Loustal has created a fully realized world that the characters smoothly move through. This all works flawlessly as classic tragedy with a noir bite. At any point, Max, Morris, and even Ida, could prevent the inevitable. But sometimes blood must spill no matter how careful the players.
“The Boys of Sheriff Street,” by Jerome Charyn and Jacques de Loustal
“The Boys of Sheriff Street,” by Jerome Charyn and Jacques de Loustal, is an 80-page full color trade paperback, published by Dover Publications. You can find it at Amazon right here.