Tag Archives: Surrealism

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: MIGHTY STAR AND THE CASTLE OF THE CANCATERVATER

Mighty-Star-Koyama-Press

Alex Degen is working in a place that many cartoonists want to be working in. It’s a place of wonder and experimentation. He’s definitely someone I’d love to sit down and have a long talk with over tea, beer, whatever. What he does in this collection of comics hits close to home since it’s the sort of comics I like to create. I feel that I know a goodly amount about this as I’ve studied numerous similar work over the years and I know several cartoonists in a similar boat. That said, this is a pretty specific way of working.

Some label this type of cartooning as “dream logic” or “psychedelic.” What they mean is that the work evokes an anything-goes quality or follows a stream-of-consciousness narrative. This is seemingly loose work. But that doesn’t mean it’s a free pass to get sloppy. Instead, you want to be pretty clean and precise with your presentation in order to go to some weird places and have it read properly. All this Degen does quite well.

This book collects six parts of previous webcomics which add up to one wild journey. Each part ends with a “to be continued” and it provides an essential pause. I say this because that may help break things down a bit for you, if you’re totally new. What you’ll initially find is a world where it seems as if anything is liable to explode or melt or some such surreal craziness. Let’s get one thing straight, the definition of “cancatervater.” It means, “to heap into a pile.” Does that help? Well, does it? Okay, think of this Cancatervater as a most sinister force plotting to take over the world. Now, add Mighty Star, our superhero, to the mix.

A-Degen-Koyama-Press

What happens is, well, a little of everything. It’s science fiction, fantasy, manga, and bit of a bodice ripper. Twice, we have two pretty young women suddenly bare breasted. One is Bijoux, a typical manga type in skin-tight clothes. The other is far less obvious, an aerialist, Zoe Trala. In both cases, it seems that a certain amount of tension, made up of pent-up hormones and angst, has reached a point of no return. The women’s clothes are not ripped off of them. They simply find themselves without tops. So, needless to say, this book has mature content, more for older teens and above. In the end, this book is more cerebral than titillating.

It’s after this second incident with Zoe Trala’s missing top that more nudity is included but it has purpose. It’s always of a rather understated nature, not offensive or particularly gratuitous. And it leads us to one of the most compelling scenes in the narrative. Mighty Star’s journey leads him to a forest. And hanging from the trees are numerous naked bodies of both men and women. They aren’t hung dead bodies. No, instead, they fall from the trees just like apples. In fact, they each have a big apple stem where each head should be. This is the most explicit symbol of the forbidden knowledge that Mighty Star has been confronting all along.

Alex-Degen-comics

All the characters here are elusive and enigmatic. Moreover, the superhero motif is not obviously vigorous but mysterious. In a setting for action there is farce and ambiguity. The style here is a somewhat rougher version of King City’s Brandon Graham. Offbeat. Off–kilter. Dialed back to just the right frequency. When you expect conflict, you may end up with a muffled sedate response. Sex. Violence. Superheroes. Leave it to a cartoonist like Alex Degen to balance all that with such a wry and ironic sensibility.

Yes, Alex, I’ll be waiting with tea, beer, or whatever. I’m sure we’d have one hell of a good talk.

MIGHTY STAR AND THE CASTLE OF THE CANCATERVATER is a 172-page, black & white, trade paperback, priced at $15.00, published by Koyama Press. For more details, visit our friends at Koyama Press right here.

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Filed under Alex Degen, Brandon Graham, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Koyama Press, Webcomics

Review: THIS IS Dalí, published by Laurence King Publishing

This-is-Salvador-Dali

Salvador Dalí is another artist that we feel we know. We can think of one of his paintings of melting time pieces in the desert and instantly identify with Surrealism. Dalí is a prime example of an artist superstar. Much in the same vein as Warhol, his persona was a formidable brand. Unlike Warhol, the antics of Dalí could often cloud the actual work. If you pore over a number of Dalí paintings, then you see something deservedly ranked at the top. Without a doubt, there was both Dalí, the eccentric, and Dalí, the master artist.

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In “This is Dalí,” we get another wonderful pairing of scholarly and lively writing by Catherine Ingram and compelling illustrations by Andrew Rae.

Learn more about this fun and informative new artist series by visiting our friends at Laurence King Publishing right here.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Laurence King Publishing, Salvador Dalí, Surrealism

Review: GENESIS by Nathan Edmondson and Alison Sampson

Genesis-Nathan-Edmondson-Image-Comics

“Genesis,” published by Image Comics, is quite a remarkable one-shot with a dreamy quality to both script and artwork. It is written by Nathan Edmondson (WHO IS JAKE ELLS, The Punisher, Black Widow) and debut artist Alison Sampson. Right from the start, you are swept away by this unconventional story. With both a casual and precise style, Sampson brings to mind many of the great cartoonists that give their work a improvisational quality, from Sergio Toppi to Howard Chaykin. The whole premise to this story feels quite spontaneous: here’s a man, Adam, who has the ability to literally change the world, everything and everyone, from tractor trailers, to shopping malls, to even his own wife, Lillian.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Image Comics

Review: PACHYDERME by Frederik Peeters, published by SelfMadeHero

Frederik-Peeters-Pachyderme

An elegant young woman struggles her way out of a horrific accident and finds herself in a strange world. Thus begins the new graphic novel by Frederik Peeters, “Pachyderme,” published by SelfMadeHero. Peeters borrows from David Lynch’s dreamlike narrative style, specifically his landmark film, “Mulholland Drive,” and creates something wholly original and worthy of comparison. It’s not your typical reference. It’s more of a tapping into a similar wavelength or molding from the same clay.

Carice in "Pachyderme" by Frederik Peeters

Carice in “Pachyderme” by Frederik Peeters

Laura Harring as Rita in David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive"

Laura Harring as Rita in David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive”

In “Pachyderme,” Peeters starts with a similar jumping off point to “Mulholland Drive.” Peteers’s female character is caught in a traffic jam caused by the death of an elephant. Lynch’s female character is in a limo, about to be shot by some mobsters, when some joyriders crash onto the scene.

Peeters plays with the role of the main character by giving it over to this woman while Lynch sets his sights more askew. Peeters has his character, Carice, take over the journey that lays ahead while Lynch has his similar character, Rita, step back and let another character dominate. Peteer’s Carice bears a striking resemblance to Lynch’s Rita and that adds to the sense of everything emerging from a dream.

Carice has far more control over her life than Rita and, as we proceed, we see her will tested to its limits. Carice has a clear goal in mind: to find her husband who is in hospital after suffering an accident of his own. We don’t know exactly what happened to him except that Carice is trying to reach him. Due to the traffic jam caused by the elephant, it takes Carice a while to reach the hospital on foot. And, once there, her nightmare begins. Just recall your last hospital visit and then add noir intrigue and the surreal and you have entered the world of “Pachyderme.”

Pachyderme-Frederik-Peeters-2013

There is a satisfying bite to this story immersed in the fevered Cold War. Is the man in the little top hat and trench coat, with the penis-shaped nose, to be trusted at all? That is the sort of question that Carice must confront. She must also confront a number of other characters, including herself, all in fear of something yet unformed.

If you gave one hundred cartoonists the assignment of somehow riffing on David Lynch and going on to create their own mesmerizing work, you would get a lot of interesting results, no doubt. Let “Pachyderme” lead the way. This 88-page full color graphic novel is a keeper you’ll enjoy with every new read.

Drawn in a very confident and fluid style, the artwork of Frederik Peeters is a joy to behold. He is truly a remarkable artist/writer. It was a real treat to review his “Sandcastle” recently. You can read that here. And you can visit him here. “Pachyderme” is available starting in October, 2013. Visit our dear friends at SelfMadeHero here.

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Filed under Comics, Frederik Peeters, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, SelfMadeHero

Review: Everybody Gets It Wrong! And Other Stories: David Chelsea’s 24-Hour Comics Volume 1

Everybody-Gets-It-Wrong-David-Chelsea-Dark-Horse-Comics-2013

David Chelsea is the sort of cartoonist who can create precise work while also keeping it very fluid. He has mastered his art and he has a wicked sense of humor. Nice combination, don’t you think? If you’re new to his work, you’ll definitely want to check out his new collection that brings together his first six 24-Hour Comics projects. Here’s the deal with these 24-Hour Comics projects, they are just as the name implies, not for the faint of heart: 24 pages of comics within 24 hours.

The site of the 2006 24-Hour Comics at David Chelsea's studio, photo by Tom Lechner

The site of the 2006 24-Hour Comics at David Chelsea’s studio, photo by Tom Lechner

There is something absurd going on at any given time. It could be a cat climbing a skyscraper in order to deflect a mouse, hired by Donald Trump, to sabotage Harold Lloyd’s efforts to climb to the top of that same skyscraper.

Hmmm, what now? How does that work? How do you get such complexity and absurdity? It’s part magic is what it is. If you follow the rules to a 24-Hour Comics project, as created by comics theoretician Scott McCloud, you can definitely think about what you’d like to do but you can’t script anything beforehand. You can only rely on what’s brewing in your noggin.

Harold-Lloyd-Safety-Last

What Chelsea does is go in with an idea of what he wants to accomplish and then, throughout the night, he’ll pull out images from out of a sack and use them to guide the story along. So, it could start with a photo of Harold Lloyd.

Donald-Trump

Then Donald Trump emerges as a villain.

Mouse

A mouse gets thrown into the mix.

Tabby-Cat

And a cat gets to help save the day.

David Chelsea is modest about “The Harold Project” and describes it as “goofy and insubstantial but no more so than a lot of other things I spent more time on.” Of course, its “insubstantial” quality is what is so beautiful about it, as if out of a dream.

Ironic as it sounds, if there is one thing these sleep-depriving endeavors share, it is a dreamlike quality. Let the tomatoes fight the kangaroos over raspberries! Anything is possible in a 24 Hour Comic. Any takers? Chelsea has been at it to where he’s likely reached an unbeatable status as having achieved the most 24 Hour Comics gigs at 16 and counting.

Nat Gertler, the founder of the annual 24-Hour Comics Day, believes that Chelsea keeps going for the sheer thrill of it. For a cartoonist of Chelsea’s caliber, what could be better than to let loose, like jazz, and float away in a whirlwind of improvisation?

The 24-Hour Comic is the perfect venue for Chelsea to declare that, “Everybody gets it wrong!” and then go about showing up each and everyone one of us for all our wrongness!

EVERYBODY GETS IT WRONG! the first volume of David Chelsea 24-Hour Comics, is a 152-page hardcover, 6″x9″, $14.99, published by Dark Horse Comics and available as of June 5. Visit our friends at Dark Horse Comics here.

And check out the recent Comics Grinder interview with David Chelsea here.

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Filed under 24 Hour Comics, 24 Hour Comics Day, Comics, Comics Reviews, David Chelsea, Scott McCloud

24 Hour Comics Interview: DAVID CHELSEA

David-Chelsea-Interview-Comics-Grinder-17-March-2013

If you’re new to the work of cartoonist David Chelsea, then you’ve got to watch, or read, “Are You Being Watched?” and you’ll become an instant fan. Watch, view, and read it here. It all becomes more clear to you now, I would imagine. The lighter than air, seemingly effortless, style and the ever so quirky humor all coming together in a comic that was created in the span of 24 hours. It’s a surreal tale about a guy with a coffee mug for a head who is in love with a rather fickle woman who is obsessed with reality TV. How can poor Mugg attract Mandy? By becoming a reality TV sensation! And that’s a taste of what you’ll find from one of America’s leading cartoonists and illustrators, Mr. David Chelsea.

But not so fast, why 24 hours? That’s a good question. Well, that’s how it’s done in certain cartoonist circles. It goes back to cartoonist Scott McCloud’s challenge to all cartoonists to create a work in the span of 24 hours. And this has led to an official international observance on the first weekend in October known as 24-Hour Comics Day. Of course, you can put on a 24 Hour Comic at any time of the year and some diehard fans do just that. And you’d be hard pressed to find a more diehard fan of this unique activity than David Chelsea.

Panel from "Are You Being Watched?" by David Chelsea

Panel from “Are You Being Watched?” by David Chelsea

“Are You Being Watched” was David Chelsea’s 15th 24 Hour Comic, drawn March 2-3, 2013, at Theater For The New City, in New York City. And he’s embarking on his 16th this weekend, May 18-19, at Things From Another World, in Portland, Oregon. This is a man who loves to draw comics and is a professional in every way, well regarded and respected in the industry.

Everybody-Gets-It-Wrong-David-Chelsea-Dark-Horse-Comics-2013

Having a chance to pose some questions to him, I am pleased to report back to all of you that Mr. Chelsea and I arrived at a successful interview via e-mail on Friday, May 17, 2013. The following is our exchange. It should prove most enjoyable and informative. Not only does it get published on the weekend of his latest 24-Hour comics adventure but it also anticipates a wonderful upcoming book published by Dark Horse Comics, “Everybody Gets It Wrong! And Other Stories,” a 152-page hard cover that collects Mr. Chelsea’s first six 24-Hour Comics, available June 5, 2013. Find more details by visiting our friends at Dark Horse Comics here.

Enjoy the interview!

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Filed under 24 Hour Comics, 24 Hour Comics Day, Comics, Dark Horse Comics, David Chelsea, Humor, Scott McCloud, Surrealism