Tag Archives: Existentialism

Review: ‘Ville avoisinant la Terre’ by Jorj A. Mhaya

Our hero

Taking a global view, there’s isn’t a hotter book right now than “Ville avoisinant la Terre,” by Jorj A. Mhaya. It was originally published in Arabic in 2011 by Dar Onboz. And it has been recently translated into French by Éditions Denoël. This is a gorgeous book and it is only a matter of time before there is an English translation. In the meantime, I would encourage you to seek it out now and get ahead of the pack. If you enjoy the convenience of Amazon, you can find it right here. Let’s take a closer look.

The setting: Beirut, Lebanon

Over years, I’ve enjoyed a number of comics in languages I don’t know well or at all. For example, you don’t have to know French to enjoy the artwork of Blutch or Tardi. And so it is with the artwork of Mhaya. He has a wonderfully sensitive and expressive line punctuated by his use of China black ink wash.

A map for some context.

You will get much of the gist of the narrative by simply following along our main character, Farid Tawill, a typical office worker from Beirut. It may be evident from what you see but, just in case, this man’s world has been turned upside down. On his way home from the office, he finds that the apartment building where he lives with his family has disappeared. Further along his search, he finds his whole city as become alien to him. Like a character out of Kafka, or from an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” our hero appears to be in an alternate reality.

Front cover of “Ville avoisinant la Terre” by Jorj A. Mhaya

Alienation is a favorite subject in art. Edvard Munch’s “Scream” series, first begun in 1893, is the most famous example. And it comes as no surprise that, over a hundred years later, we find Munch quite relevant–feel compelled to add more to the discourse on disconnection–and see how the world has forged some pretty heavy links. It’s not lost on Mhaya from his vantage point in Beirut.

Back cover of “Ville avoisinant la Terre” by Jorj A. Mhaya

Mhaya wants you to feel the surreal quality to his homeland. He has stated that he gained a lot of insight from the photojournalism he grew up with: the urgent black & white news photos during the Beirut civil war in the ’70s and ’80s help to inform his moody ink wash artwork.

Page excerpt from VLAT

How much more absurd can life seem to be than to live in a perpetual war zone? No wonder Mhaya has an obese Batman character chasing our hero down the streets.

Page excerpt from VLAT

What Mhaya has done with this book is set up a vehicle upon which to comment upon the absurdity of life, weaving back and forth from the specifics (his own experiences, views, and concepts) and the general human condition. This is what any great novelist, filmmaker, painter, etc. does on some level: set the stage and then perform. It is certainly a process well suited for a graphic novelist.

Page excerpt from VLAT

So, you can see that you can do very well from just reading the images. Yes, you do want the text. In fact, you do need the text. But we can live with just the images. We see the little hooks that motivate the artist: everything from a close-up of a mangy dog to a close-up of a woman’s pretty feet. This or that panel do not just appear out of nowhere. The dog is a symbol of isolation. The feet are a symbol of release.

Page excerpt from VLAT

It appears that our hero is forced to confront his life in every which way possible: philosophical, emotional, sexual, intellectual. He is not just in an alternate reality. He is in a place that forces him to experience a heightened sense of reality. His choices, what he learns, what he survives, will determine his fate.

“Ville avoisinant la Terre” by Jorj A. Mhaya

And here I am commenting up a storm and I’m only relying upon the pictures! Well, it makes total sense that this book went first with a French translation in order to make the natural progression to being part of the prestigious Angoulême Comics Festival. And now English readers can’t wait to join in. The loose translation in English to this book is “City Neighboring the Earth.” I look forward to that title in the near future.

“Ville avoisinant la Terre,” by Jorj A. Mhaya, is an 88-page hardcover, black & white with tones, translated into French by Éditions Denoël. Find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Angoulême, Angoulême Comics Festival, Éditions Denoël, Beirut, Comics, France, Franz Kafka, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jorj A. Mhaya, Lebanon, Middle East

Review: THE STRANGER by Jacques Ferrandez

Meursault and Raymond Sintes entered into an ill-fated friendship.

Meursault and Raymond Sintes entered into an ill-fated friendship.

It has been a number of years since I read the 1942 classic, “The Stranger,” by Albert Camus. Reading Jacques Ferrandez’s graphic novel adaptation, I was struck by all the details I had forgotten. It also helped me to appreciate the parts to this story that can be considered existential and the rest that falls more into philosophy of the absurd. The main character in “The Stranger” is a young and indifferent man, Meursault. He is in the tradition of such characters as Kafka’s meek Gregor Samsa or Melville’s nebbish Bartleby. For Meursault, there are no rules to follow and nothing really matters. That’s not to say one can’t make their way in the world and be decent about it. But there’s nothing in Meursault’s mode of living to motivate him to make any great effort. And then a calamitous chain of events deliver him his comeuppance. Ferrandez brings all this to life in a way that adds to the reading of the original novel.

A young man with plenty on his mind.

A young man with plenty on his mind.

Ferrandez favors a more painterly and economical approach to creating graphic novels. Throughout the book, he has paintings floating behind the panels. Elements of the watercolor artwork are mirrored back in the panels. The drawings are quick and simplified, kept light, while also providing substance. I see a lot of interesting play with character development. Marie Cardona, Meursault’s girlfriend is depicted as lovely and ethereal but also warm and concerned about Meursault. Then there’s Raymond Sintes, the unsavory fellow who leads Meursault astray. And, finally, there’s Meursault who Ferrandez is careful to depict with just the right mix of arrogance, vacancy, and idealism. Originally published in French by Gallimard in 2013, this new 2016 edition is published by Pegasus Books. The English translation by Sandra Smith is completely in sync and offers a smooth connection to the artwork.

Jacques Ferrandez's "The Stranger," published by Pegasus Books

Jacques Ferrandez’s “The Stranger,” published by Pegasus Books

After a good long while of playing with words and pictures, a cartoonist knows how to conjure up what matters most. It is remarkable to see how Jacques Ferrandez has made this landmark novel his own, confronting its ambiguity. There’s an added sense of effortless spontaneity running throughout which is, certainly, a result of a great deal of planning and foresight. I have to hand it to him for consistently finding ways to combine his desire for pure painting, and uninterrupted imagery, within the comics narrative framework of panels. You really do need panels and/or some way to keep the story coherent. Ferrandez makes the process look easy and natural. And, again I must stress, he provides a refreshing take on our lost soul, Meursault. It is a pleasure to behold.

“The Stranger” is a 144-page full color hardcover, published by Pegasus Books.

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Filed under Albert Camus, Comics, Existentialism, French Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jacques Ferrandez, Pegasus Books

Review and Interview: Koren Shadmi, creator of THE ABADDON

THE ABADDON by Koren Shadmi

THE ABADDON by Koren Shadmi

Koren-Shadmi-The-Abaddon

“I’m going to smile, and my smile will sink down into your pupils, and heaven knows what it will become.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit

THE ABADDON is a very popular webcomic and is due out as a collected work on November 12th from Z2 Comics. It’s my pleasure to share with you some observations on the work and to share with you an interview with its creator, Koren Shadmi.

You’re this young guy in a new city who is desperately looking for a room to rent. You just happen to find what looks like the best deal you could hope for: cool roomies, one a potential romantic interest, a spacious loft, and you can pay what you want on rent. Huh? How does that work? Before Ter can ask too many questions, he’s voted into the group. Little does he realize he forgot to check if he hasn’t just made the worst mistake of his life. And so begins Koren Shadmi’s very quirky graphic novel, THE ABADDON. It is loosely based on Jean-Paul Sartre’s play, NO EXIT, and is due out November 12th from Z2 Comics.

The-Abaddon-Koren-Shadmi

I took notice of Koren Shadmi’s artwork with the recent graphic novel, MIKE’s PLACE: A TRUE STORY OF LOVE, BLUES AND TERROR IN TEL AVIV, published by First Second Books. You can read my review here. Shadmi has a very appealing style that truly brings each character to life. In the case of the character-driven THE ABADDON, he runs the spectrum of personalities, all of which are quite dysfunctional. Poor Ter never had a chance, although he may beg to differ. Shadmi does a masterful job of taking us on Ter’s surreal journey. Even if he were to escape his roomies, does he seriously think he can escape The Abaddon?

The-Abaddon-Z2-Comics

Shadmi is the sort of artist/writer who is at home with asking the big questions. With a cartoonist’s instinct for concise and precise communication, he distills those big ideas into accessible and entertaining content. He’s not taking anything away from the integrity of the subject at hand; even existential matters are fair game for comics. In fact, what better subject to tackle in the comics medium that questions of why and how we exist? The Abaddon proves to be a highly satisfying read.

Z2-Comics-Koren-Shadmi

In our interview, we touch upon existential matters, what led to the creation of The Abaddon, and what lies ahead for this up and coming illustrator and cartoonist.

GOD by Koren Shadmi

GOD by Koren Shadmi

I begin by asking him about one of his most compelling illustrations: a museum exhibit with a display for God. It’s one of the illustrations that you can purchase through his website right here. Click below to listen to the podcast interview below:

THE ABADDON is available starting November 12th from Z2 Comics. You can also find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Cartooning, Comics, Existentialism, Illustration, Koren Shadmi, School of Visual Arts, Webcomics, Z2 Comics

Movie Review: ‘Irrational Man’

Joaquin-Phoenix-Emma-Stone

Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone confront some startling existential questions in Woody Allen’s latest film, “Irrational Man.” Mr. Allen has, without fail, created a new film each year since his 1965 comedy “What’s New Pussycat?” Among his best are such films as 1986’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” and 2011’s “Midnight in Paris,” both Oscar winners. Will “Irrational Man” garner any award nominations? The funny thing is, the film is very sound and, depending on the roll of the dice, it could come in for some Academy Award recognition. Let’s take a closer look.

Emma Stone has proven to be an exceptional leading lady for Allen with her mesmerizing role as a clairvoyant pursuing Colin Firth in 2014’s “Magic in the Moonlight.” Wow, and that was only last year. Given such a solid performance in that, Stone takes it further with her latest Allen film. As Jill, she must decide between her college boyfriend, Roy (played by Jamie Blackley) or the mysterious visiting professor, Abe Lucas (played by Joaquin Phoenix). However, Abe is nuts. It takes an “existential act” for this tormented philosophy professor to find a will to live. Just a little too heavy-duty for our ingenue. She may find herself with no clear way out once she’s under Abe’s spell.

Irrational-Man-Woody-Allen-2015

Joaquin Phoenix is perfect as the charismatic, and dangerous, prof. He fills in for Allen’s self-absorbed intellectual on a highly dubious spiritual quest. Here is where you can spin it as Allen back to true form or Allen back to his old tricks. The compromise view, and more to the point, is that here we have another variation on a theme, another gem from the master storyteller. You’ll love seeing all the characters put through the wringer. It’s a fun farce. You can kick Allen around or praise him, but he is hardly someone to take for granted.

As with any Allen film, it gives back bit by bit as little seeds take root and blossom. The surprise treasure in this case is Parker Posey as Rita, the more substantial love interest for Abe. She plays a sexy and easy-going faculty member who proves to be a good match for the mercurial Abe. If all he seems capable of offering at first is brooding, scotch, and endless ranting about Heidegger, she can work with that. While, on the other hand, such a high-strung person as Abe may drive Emma Stone’s Jill up the wall and then some. Yes, this is Woody Allen in his element. Time to get over it and enjoy it.

This is a pleasing Woody Allen film with what some may think features all the usual suspects and themes. For a fan, this is nirvana. And, even for a most casual viewer, this will be a fun romp and thriller to boot. Allen has more screenwriting Academy Award nominations than any other writer and he has tied for third with seven Best Director nominations. While “Irrational Man” may be too close to what we’ve seen before, it’s anybody’s guess as to how that adds up come Oscar time. You can find some early Oscar speculation for 2016 right here. Whatever the fate of his latest film, Woody Allen has created another quality work uniquely his own.

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Filed under Movie Reviews, movies, philosophy, Woody Allen