Tag Archives: Gothic

Review: LAID WASTE by Julia Gfrörer

LAID WASTE by Julia Gfrörer

LAID WASTE by Julia Gfrörer

Julia Gfrörer‘s ethereal comics are a perfect counterbalance to our world of memes and jittery nonsense. There are certainly a number of notable artists and writers who have carved out for themselves an intriguing landscape, an answer or a retreat from the everyday. Julia Gfrörer is one such person. What she does astonishes and resonates: those blank stares from eyes without pupils; all the delicious longing and despair; and that distinctive haunting feeling running throughout. Well, if you dig that, then you are going to be head over heels for her latest work, “Laid Waste,” published by Fantagraphics Books.

Like many a great cartoonist, Gfrörer takes what she does seriously, takes it to heart. I dare say that we see her inhabit her own comics more often than not. And that’s perfectly fine. When one undertakes a longer work, even a short piece, one needs to establish some hooks. Nothing is more natural than to include one’s self. So, that said, I suspect that Gfrörer is Agnès, our main character, a young woman at odds with circumstance and fate. She is in a medieval hamlet as she watches everyone around her succumb to the plague. She has supernatural powers but seems at a loss as to what to do with them.

Panels from LAID WASTE

Panels from LAID WASTE

Gfrörer has established herself over a relatively short time as a masterful storyteller with a distinctive gothic style. I have followed her work with great admiration. She is following in the footsteps of a select group of cartoonists with similar sensibilities. Edward Gorey comes to mind. A contemporary for Gfrörer would be the equally bookish visionary, Kate Beaton.

Along with a gothic vision, Gfrörer is quick to emphasize the theme of pain. In her new book, Agnès suffers greatly. She only sees gloom ahead. Only a brief sexual respite provides some relief. It is one of the more compelling unions I’ve seen in a good while. It is not explicit, per se. We only see the tip of a penis. There is room to explore and she strikes the right balance: a heady mix of passion and angst. For that moment, all the surrounding darkness can just go to hell. Afterwards, once alone again, the pain returns.

This book has been categorized as a “graphic novella.” Sure, you can call it that. The page count of about 80 pages would safely keep it within the range of a proper “graphic novel,” especially by European standards. What takes place within this story might have it qualify more as a vignette than a full-bodied narrative. It is certainly possible to pull together decades of activity, bring in generations of characters, from far-flung locales–all within 80 pages–and have that more in line with the idea of a graphic novel. In the case of this story, we are concentrating on a very special character with remarkable traits in a severe and desolate place with questions of life and death before her. Sounds like a great story no matter what category you place it in. For my money, go ahead and call it a graphic novel, for God’s sake.

Page from LAID WASTE

Page from LAID WASTE

Julia Gfrörer has poised Agnès, who I am suggesting is her alter-ego, in the position of a saint, or at least a heroine. It’s a gutsy move. But the risk is worth taking. As a cartoonist myself, I can fully appreciate the desire to take control of the hero’s journey. Let the cartoonist be the hero! Why not? I see it as a totally organic process. If it works, you go with it. In this story, while seeming to be modest in scope, we find a main character engaged in a full arc of growth. It is, at times cryptic, and, to be sure, heroic.

There is a relentless energy to Gfrörer’s light line work. It is delicate, determined and well-balanced. She keeps to a steady pace. She aspires to poetic heights and reaches them. The narrative does well within a four panel grid per page. This consistent framework complements the story and has a way of catching subtle shifts. There are moments like an abrupt appearance by Death that get a extra magical pop from taking place within this four panel system that can act as a stage. Gfrörer’s work can be called dramatic but it is never merely theatrical. That said, I would surely welcome a play, or maybe a set design, by Julia Gfrörer.

“Laid Waste” is an 80-page trade paperback, published by Fantagraphics Books, available as of November 1st. You can pre-order now at Fantagraphics Books right here. You can also find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Julia Gfrörer

Review: DISORDERS OF MAGNITUDE by Jason V Brock

Frankenstein reads. Art by Henry Chamberlain

Frankenstein reads. Art by Henry Chamberlain

First, you need to know how cool this book is. Imagine your favorite late night college radio show. And the deejay is Jason V Brock, the author of this book, “Disorders of Magnitude.” You rely upon Jason to provide insights and intriguing facts as he connects the dots. Good, so far? Well, it gets even better. We’re talking about a multitude of connections, some from on high and some from on low. It’s not easy to categorize it all but Brock manages to collect a lot of essential wisdom and in a very accessible presentation. The college radio analogy is fitting since “Disorders of Magnitude” falls under an academic book category. It is right at home as part of a college course. But it is also the perfect companion for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of where we are today in terms of the entertainment we consume, particularly dark fantasy.

Divided into six parts, with a wide scope of offerings within, the intent is to give order to what might seem at first, like an ooey gooey disorder. How do you reconcile great literature alongside B-movies? In fact, there’s a certain frenetic energy running throughout as Brock maintains a sense of urgency to his prose. And, of course, the numerous chapters here invite picking subjects at random to dive into, with each concise chapter running a few pages. One excellent point of entry is Chapter 14 in Part Three which discusses the formation and evolution of The Group, the science fiction writers in Los Angeles during the ’50s and ’60s that would go on to create work in novels, film, and television, including the iconic and culturally significant, “The Twilight Zone,” television series. This one article alone proves to be an exemplary example of the book as a whole as it navigates through various eras and aspects of culture and entertainment.

“In the beginning is the dream,” states Brock in reference to The Group. They begin, like any band of pioneers, with “the crazy notion that they are somehow different–that they can leave a permanent mark on society, make a difference in the world.” It is this bravado and deep yearning that sustains men like Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, William F. Nolan, George Clayton Johnson, and many others. They look up to two men who lead the way: Ray Bradbury, who is already established; and the firebrand Charles Beaumont destined upon his own unique path. And we keep coming back to The Group as Brock revels in chronicling their lives and provides here many interviews with the key figures on the scene.

Heading back from whence we came, Brock sets the stage with the opening article. “Frankenstein” was published anonymously in 1818 and, with that, the monster of horror and science fiction was unequivocally unleashed. Brock is great with setting up a mood to a time and place. He describes in detail the utterly strange weather conditions that, in no small way, gave rise to “Frankenstein” and other melancholic and moody art and writing. This all came about from a volcano in Indonesia. Its eruption in 1815, the largest ever witnessed in recorded human history, sent plumes of volcanic ash into the skies above around the globe for over a year forever altering life, and artistic sensibility, down below.

We steadily move to another chapter and other great writers in the gothic tradition: Poe, Stevenson, Stoker. Then we jump to another chapter and the next wave exemplified by H.P. Lovecraft and his evocation of the “fear of the unknown.” And after that, we take a significant turn with a chapter devoted to Forrest J Ackerman (1916-2008). Like the activities of The Group, Ackerman figures heavily in Brock’s studies of pop culture. And it only stands to reason given Ackerman’s pivotal role in the scheme of things that, you must keep in mind, touches upon virtually every aspect of pop culture as we know it today: movies, games, television, comics, music, novels, the internet, and our own precious sensibilities.

Ackerman is, indeed, another circle of influence too large to hold in just one chapter and he, like other persons and movements, overlaps into other chapters. Ackerman did quite a lot in his day, including work as a literary agent to some of the greatest writers in science fiction. Taking it all into a whole, you can say that his main achievement was to assign value to, archive, and make accessible the very things so many held dear: the horror movies of childhood; the dazzling science fiction of yesteryear; the growing world of fandom as we’ve come to know it today. It was Ackerman’s comprehensive and energetic role in legitimizing a myriad of elements that contributed to a more egalitarian view on culture in general.

In a very real sense, Brock has taken on the mantle of Forry Ackerman. It is that heartfelt dedication to the things he loves that you will find in this collection of his writings.

“Disorders of Magnitude” is a 336-page hardcover, priced at $80.00, and published by Rowman & Littlefield. You find it here, here, and here. Visit Jason V Brock here.

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Filed under Comics, Dark Fantasy, fantasy, Forrest J Ackerman, Gothic, Horror, Jason V. Brock, pop culture, science fiction, Supernatural