Dec. 23, 2011 - Issue #845: Headstones
From Tintin to Maus
A year-end round-up of recent graphic novels
By Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case
240 pp, $27.50
The Homeland Directive
By Robert Venditti and Mike Huddleston
148 pp, $14.95 US
The Adventures of Hergé
By José-Louis Bocquet, Jean-Luc Fromental, and Stanislas Barthélémy
Translated by Helge Dascher
Drawn & Quarterly
72 pp, $19.95
MetaMaus: A Look Inside A Modern Classic, Maus
By Art Spiegelman
300 pp, $40
North American comics—especially superhero books—can be a pop-eyed, over-the-top medium, but graphic novels, usually European-influenced, tend to rein in the graphic-ness, offering more meditative, measured stories. It's especially easy to indulge in lurid details in a story of serial-killing, but Green River Killer approaches its brutal subject—the murders of at least 49 women in Washington State by one man—with artful respect and sobering reflection. The writer, Jeff Jensen, narrates his policeman father's constant investigation of the case over 30 years, culminating in the controversial plea deal that saw Gary Leon Ridgway confess to all the killings and reveal locations of t he bodies in exchange for life in prison (avoiding execution). Jonathan Case's black-and-white panels are powerful in their restraint and silences, avoiding exploitative imagery and using full-page spreads and cinematic zoom-ins to dramatic effect.
Tom Jensen's dogged, quiet dedication—he talks little about the case, hammering his frustrations into constant home repairs instead—and advances in DNA, especially, lead to horrible success. After a tortuous six-month interview, Ridgway's confession meant that mothers knew at last if their children were dead, and where their bodies lay. Jensen's wrenching reaction to the truths dragged from Ridgway, and the "why?" that's never answered, echoes the parents' pain, so unimaginably greater than the detective's. The title, thankfully, is a lie—this book turns us towards one caring detective and the once-living he fights for, shifting the power and attention, victim by victim and woman by woman, away from the killer.
The Homeland Directive starts as a sketch, an outline of a conspiracy that darkens, more plausible with every chapter. Mike Huddleston's quick lines and non-descript backdrops foreground Robert Venditti's story, moving at an action-script pace. At times, the book feels too like a storyboard, though, and could've used more detailed, realistic touches and fewer distractions (changing styles; some odd splashes of colour, including a character's throbbing-red nose). Still, the seed of two Homeland Security chiefs' murderous plot to scare the American public into accepting a stranglehold on its privacy is both cleverly fiendish and frighteningly possible; the story whips along like a car chase on a snaking mountain road.
Chases, narrow escapes and foiled plots were commonplace in the 24 exploits of Tintin, by one of the medium's most influential artists. But the short biographical pursuit of Georges Remi, in The Adventures of Hergé, while lined with some intriguing moments, is a bit of a bumpy ride. Starting off with iconic objects or motifs (the vase from The Blue Lotus, a swastika from the time of Belgium's occupation by the Nazis), episodes burst out from key years in Remi's life. There are flashes of the people who inspired the book's characters. And there are some moments of frustration and complexity when Remi leaves much artwork preparation to an assistant as he downs liquor like Captain Haddock, is haunted by his creation in a deliriously shady dream, and tries to become a serious painter.
But the short text-bios of figures in Remi's life at the end offer more fascinating hints and questions than many of the words and pictures (breezily and warmly rendered, without trying to imitate Hergé) before it do. Hergé's racism (sickeningly colonial in Tintin in the Congo, for instance) isn't raised but only imitated in one cartoonish look at his visit to a Native reserve in the US. Remi's near-assassination over criticism of the Japanese in The Blue Lotus becomes an opaque action-episode here. His fascist leanings under the guiding hand of his first editor are barely explored, while his tangled love-life isn't unspooled too well. Another missed opportunity is the influence of Eastern philosophy—thanks to his long-lost, eventually rediscovered friend Chang ("White is empty, and emptiness is precious")—that comes off rather simply and isn't eerily connected to the striking white landscapes and the senses of loss and absence in Tintin in Tibet.
Loss and absence fill one of the medium's greatest works, one largely responsible for the critical and popular interest in graphic novels today—Art Spiegelman's two-volume Maus: A Survivor's Tale (1986, 1991). MetaMaus, with interviews by Hillary Chute, is an exhaustive, often exhausting, archival companion-piece to Spiegelman's account of his father's time in Auschwitz (and Spiegelman's own fraught relationship with his dad). MetaMaus is invaluable as a deep, layered study of artistic labour—just how much work Spiegelman, over two decades, poured into his crowning achievement (and that crown has weighed heavily). Spiegelman's cynical intelligence, careful artistic choices, and exacting research are reflected in the many notes, sketches, drawings and finished pages, and in the interviews.
There are also interviews with Spiegelman's family, a transcript of the full interview with his father that formed the basis of Maus, a family tree, interviews with his mother's friends, and a DVD-ROM, including a searchable version of Maus. But MetaMaus is also a work—as with any detailed, in-depth study of the Nazis' mass-murder—that tires and saddens, almost beyond endurance, with its sprawling, bleeding darknesses. Ultimately, and disturbingly, MetaMaus makes you better appreciate and respect Maus, if only because it makes you want to return to art, not documented reality, as the window through which to view the historical horror of the Holocaust. vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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