One of the first pages from Joe Kessler’s Windowpane, published by Breakdown Press, shows a wandering dog searching for food and finally finding a baked pie sitting out on a windowsill. There are splotches of color overlay on some of the blue line art. Welcome to a most experimental work in comics. Kessler covers various themes: childhood trauma, alienation, sexual dysfunction, and religion. Everything is a bit off kilter and on edge. What could be better for this kind of work, right? Well, this kind of work can often fall short and not measure up. But, in this case, there’s a lot to like even if it seems that things don’t always add up as the general reader might expect from the comics medium.
Like any artist, Kessler wants to challenge the reader. For instance, he enjoys the harsh use of basic colors. He also likes tossing his characters from one situation into another. He has them suddenly running away from things. He has them hurting each other. Then, in a fit of petulant bravado, he will take a gob of primary colors and fling them like a bolt of lightning. A blast of these harsh basic colors will blow up some characters to bits. Others will be saved for a proper decapitation. All in a day’s work.
There goes that iguana.
Quieter moments will serve for such scenes as an iguana forcing its way into a sleeping woman’s mouth.
It’s pretty wild stuff. Not for kids. Mature content abounds. All in all, this collection of sordid tales is quite fun, original, and worthwhile.
Windowpane is a 272-page full color soft cover. It collects new and previous work by artist Joe Kessler. You will find here reprints of Windowpane issues 3 and 4. This collection is published by Breakdown Press, based out of London. Visit Breakdown Press right here. And be sure to visit Mr. Kessler 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.
I’ve kept up with Andi Watson‘s work in comics over the years and maybe you have too. It’s upbeat, quirky, and decidedly dry wit. Kate Beaton comes to mind. A number of British sitcoms come to mind too. Anthony Trollope. Yeah, he comes to mind as well. But let’s get back to Andi Watson. Dark Horse Comics has collected in a deluxe edition Watson’s GLISTER series. This book revolves around Glister Butterworth who stumbles upon quite a number of strange things.
Page from Andi Watson’s GLISTER
One of the strangest things is the family estate of Chilblain Hall. Glister and her dad live there, which is all well and fine. But they also have the occasional ghost. And the estate itself is a living entity. Glister is always trying to maintain an upbeat mood. She even encourages the family home. “But,” as Watson writes in one scene, “the doubt had already seeped into the hall’s timbers like cold in an old man’s bones on a winter’s night.” Here is where Glister must really lay on the charm and persuade the old mansion that being rustic is cool!
As a cartoonist, I greatly admire Watson’s direct line. I would not call it “deceptively simple” as is too often said of clean work. It has more to do with a clear purpose. And it’s very important to have a sense of clarity as you have a main character traipsing through a variety of rather arcane terrain. And I wouldn’t necessarily call this book aimed at only girls. Boys can, and need, to be sensitive. They don’t have to say they’re channeling their feminine side if they’re not ready to. Anyway, most boys know that all rough and tumble can get boring. At the end of the day, we are talking here about a certain sensibility. If you like droll humor, you’ll like this book. Come to think of it, doesn’t Harry Potter have a good dose of dry wit?
GLISTER collects four stories which include the arrival of a teapot haunted by a demanding ghost, a crop of new relatives blooming on the family tree, a stubborn house that walks off its land in a huff, and a trip to Faerieland to find Glister’s missing mother. Whimsical, indeed! A contrarian friend of mine egged me on the other day as to why it is that kids read so many comics. It can’t be good for them, right? With GLISTER fresh on my mind, I pointed out that kids get to enjoy a complex plot, playful use of language, and exercise their imagination. The grounding that will stand them in good stead when they go on to read the biting social satire of Anthony Trollope!
GLISTER is a 304-page trade with color tints. This whimsical collection will appeal to all ages, especially ages 8 to 12. It is available as of July 5. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics 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.
What if I told you that there was this one graphic novel that seemed to slip by many a reviewer’s radar last year and it turns out to be one of the most beguiling works in years? Here it is, “Arsene Schrauwen” by Olivier Schrauwen, translated from the original Flemish and published by Fantagraphics Books.
We begin with the author, Olivier Schrauwen, introducing himself byway of his connection to his grandfather. And we are soon on a boat in December of 1947 as Arsene Schrauwen leaves behind his homeland of Belgium on his way to a tropical colony. Once there, Arsene is at the mercy of the hospitality of his eccentric cousin, Roger Desmet.
Arsene meets his cousin, Roger!
Arsene is far from a dashing figure. He looks to be in pudgy middle-age although he is actually still in his twenties. Arsene looks like your typical Chris Ware character: remarkable for being unremarkable. Arsene is all banality, a portrait of grotesque pathos. He falls in love with Marieke, Roger’s wife, also a poster child for sad people. And it all works splendidly since, again like Chris Ware, we have here a multi-layered narrative employing an assortment of visual treats.
This graphic novel brings to my mind Werner Herzog’s film, “Fitzcarraldo,” about a crazed man’s dream to build an opera house in the Peruvian jungle. As it turns out, Desmet gets Arsene caught up in his dream of building a shining city in the jungle that will require a caravan of workers navigating through rugged terrain that includes a roaring stream which ultimately leads to a valley situated between mountains.
Lippens and his obscenely thick lips.
Schrauwen appreciates that, if you can legitimately hold the reader’s attention, time and space recede into the background. In this way, Schrauwen can indulge in such involved scenes as, Lippens, a strange old man with thick lips who leaves Arsene feeling uneasy. As he does with other characters, Schrauwen reduces Lippens down to a cylindrical face with only thick lips. Schrauwen deftly focuses on what matters, blurring backgrounds and reducing people to basic shapes as needed.
Perhaps Marieke will save Arsene.
With Schrauwen, you have definitely entered into an ideal example of the often cryptic and fascinating world of alternative comics. The air is thin at times in this rarefied environment. At intervals, you’ll get a notice requesting that you please wait a week before reading further. The very next page thanks you for waiting. But you cannot stop reading.
You read on about the constant threat of “elephant worms” that give Arsene nightmares about tiny elephants entering his body. Ostrich eggs appear regularly as you see Arsene preparing them for breakfast just as often as he’s throwing them against a wall. And then there’s the leopard men with insatiable sexual desires. Indeed. This is a tour de force of weird fiction full of the fantastical and an unabashed celebration of the human psyche and all bodily functions.
For a graphic novel weighing in at 257 pages, it makes sense to bring in some anchoring devices to keep things on track for the long haul. Schrauwen manages to keep to a steady pace by framing much of the story in a grid-like pattern: most pages hold six panels that oddly resemble playing cards. Ornate details are kept to a minimum. And we get a consistent pitter-patter of our many characters, much like you’d find in a classic comic strip or a silent movie. Arsene, after all, is supposed to be an enigmatic creature from a bygone era. It is in this story that, for a relatively brief time, you get to see him in all his glory, among the shadows and the ghosts, in his true element.
“Arsene Schrauwen” is a 257-page trade paperback. For more details, visit our friends at Fantagraphics Books right here.
Greetings from Central Europe. Did you know that some of the most intriguing comics are made in this region? Consider Polish cartoonist Maciej Sieńczyk and his latest graphic novel, “Adventures on a Desert Island,” published by Centrala. It brings to mind The Beatles’ 1968 animation masterpiece, “Yellow Submarine.” This is quite an oddball journey spiked with cerebral whimsy.
Maciej Sieńczyk offers us an average man, frayed around the edges. We don’t know much about him other than he’s middle-aged, with thinning hair, decidedly unathletic, and timid. We never learn his name. We spend most of our time inside his head. He’s supposed to be on a desert island for most of the story but it’s the internal monologue he is having with himself that is the main attraction.
Our main character is a stranger in a strange land. The strangeness comes to us from various sources including actual Polish history, folk tales, and local stories. There are, for instance, observations made on obscure Poish devices like a primitive military ferry that proved inefficient or an awkward farming implement that proved obsolete. In Sieńczyk’s hands, with his cockeyed ethereal drawings, the familiar and mundane become fanciful things more suited to a dreamy Neverland.
One strange story blends into another with jarring jolts along the way. For instance, there’s the tale of two men who fancied a drink of pine sap. One faired well. The other found his throat sealing up from the sticky sap. In the throes of his last gasps for air, he was miraculously saved by an old village woman who promptly sat on his face and peed into his mouth thus breaking the deadly pine sap seal.
This is also a story about life at middle age. You may still feel young. You may even still look relatively young. But Death is already nipping at your heels. Oh, it’s only little nips. But those nips weren’t there in younger days. Now, life seems more urgent and a greater attempt is made to grasp it in all its complexity and absurdity. That’s what our main character has been up to. He’s realized life for what it is, a bunch of adventures on a desert island.
Originally published in Poland by Lampa in 2012, “Adventures on a Desert Island” is now available from Centrala. Visit our friends at Centrala right here.
Bilal’s Marpada (Wonder Woman?) from “Phantoms of the Louvre”
Bilal is a legendary sci-fi and fantasy artist. He has an uncanny ability to evoke a vast world of suspense and mystery. His villains are utterly macabre. His women are utlra-cool sexy. For his contribution to the NBM ComicsLit Louvre collection, Bilal provides us with twenty-two ghost stories in his graphic novel, “Phantoms of the Louvre.” He focuses on a particular work in the Louvre, photographs it, and then works his magic with acrylic, pastel, and prose. For example, we have the story of Marpada who, it would not be a stretch to say brings to mind Wonder Woman. If you ever wondered what a Bilal Wonder Woman would be like, this has got to be it. Note to DC Comics: Entice Bilal to do a Wonder Woman story!
“Freak Out Squares,” a trippy comic that mixes rock ‘n’ roll with sci-fi, is a fun ride and one more comic that you will find this weekend at Glasgow Comic Con. Artist Garry Mac and writer Harry French are great together on this comic. You can read my review of Mac’s “Gonzo Cosmic” here.