Tag Archives: Philosophy

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

Tacoma Focus: Joey Kirkpatrick and Flora C. Mace at the Museum of Glass

Museum of Glass, Tacoma, Washington

Museum of Glass, Tacoma, Washington

You can steam bend pieces of alder wood to create beautiful and haunting images. The artist team of Joey Kirkpatrick and Flora C. Mace offer various compelling examples such as enigmatic birds. Their outline frames are positioned so the light casts intriguing double shadows. They beg you to ask endless existential questions. We were so lucky to view them and a wide assortment of other artworks reviewing the careers of Kirkpatrick and Mace. This show is on display through September 6, 2016 at Tacoma’s Museum of Glass.

Birds formed out of Alder Wood

Birds formed out of Alder Wood

“Joey Kirkpatrick and Flora C. Mace: Every Soil Bears Not Everything” exemplifies what the Museum of Glass is all about. Kirkpatrick and Mace met as students at the Pilchuck Glass School in 1979, at the height of the studio glass movement, and have been creating compelling work ever since. Known for their oversized fruit and vegetable glass sculptures, examples of these begin the show. We then move on to works utilizing various unconventional, or understated, materials such as alder wood.

Oversized Fruit Sculpture by Kirkpatrick and Mace

Oversized Fruit Sculpture by Kirkpatrick and Mace

There is an overall calming and introspective nature to this show. I don’t know that being calm is as essential a prerequisite for an artist as making daring use of unusual materials. I will say that, while glass can certainly be shattered, and we can definitely get cut by glass, the overwhelming quality of glass, the quality we seem to seek out the most in glass art, has to do with states of serenity and quiet contemplation.

Alphabet Animals

Alphabet Animals

Kirkpatrick and Mace consistently invite us to enter a meditative state. Whatever the medium, each piece seems to raise more questions than provide answers. Or perhaps the overriding answer is that we can only see so much. Nature will only reveal itself so much. We are left to understand as best we can. And, through art, we can attempt to express our limits.

The limits of our vision to understand nature.

The limits of our means to process nature.

The Limits of Expression

The limits of our means of expression.

The Museum of Glass is located at 1801 Dock St., in the heart of Tacoma’s Museum District. For more information, visit the website right here.

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Filed under Dale Chihuly, Museum of Glass, Museums, Tacoma, Travel

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

On Isaiah Berlin’s ‘The Hedgehog and the Fox’

Isaiah-Berlin-The-Hedgehog-and-the-Fox

Roy and I were just hanging out at the offices of Comics Grinder when we began to consider the current crisis in the Middle East. I had told Roy that Hillary Clinton was talking, actually warning, about the possibility of an Islamist state emerging from Syria and Iraq. This brought to Roy’s mind an essay by Isaiah Berlin, “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” The Hedgehog represents Plato and Big Ideas. The Fox represents Aristotle and Small Ideas. It is a classic that explains the virtues of knowing many small things as opposed to knowing, embracing, being blinded by, only one big thing.

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Filed under Essays, Geopolitics, politics

EAST and WEST: The Significance of Plot Without Conflict

Western narrative, from Still Eating Oranges

Western narrative, from Still Eating Oranges

How do we change the world? It can be as simple as how we see the world. There are numerous influences we need to consider. One is as simple as how we tell stories. In the West, for example, there is a rigidly ingrained method for storytelling, and for communication in general. It has conflict built in that must be confronted and resolved. While it may sound like an overstatement, this method embraces aggression, and violence. Why not try another method and see what results?

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Filed under China, Comics, Japan, Kishōtenketsu, Manga, philosophy, Yonkoma