Jun. 27, 2012 - Issue #871: Edmonton 2012
Metamorphosis, Milan and motherhood
A post-solstice round up of current graphic novels
By Matthew Forsythe
Drawn & Quarterly
118 pp, $17.95
By Tom Gauld
Drawn & Quarterly
90 pp, $19.95
Athos in America
Translated by Kim Thompson
196 pp, $24.99
By Gabriella Giandelli
Translated by Kim Thompson
144 pp, $19.99
Are You My Mother?
By Alison Bechdel
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
290 pp, $25.95
Can a medium other than comix present magical metamorphosis so breezily, clashes of perspective so tragically and self-reflection so wrenchingly? From frame to frame and page to page, the medium's seemingly casual but in-your-face nature paints some poignant stories in this season's round-up of graphic novels.
Matthew Forsythe's Jinchalo, riffing off Korean manga and folktales, is also reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away in its tale of a journeying young girl who encounters odd creatures and must chase after Jinchalo, a meddling shapeshifter. The girl, Voguchi, can be vividly selfish in her desires: she gluttonously mows through the food at home and, later, drags the illustrator onto the page to change the dream he's drawn her having. The narrative can sometimes be flitting and unclear, but the shapeshifting trickster-bird adds some intriguing darkness. It's Voguchi's avid expressions of disgruntlement, anger, and frustration—not far from Calvin or Charlie Brown—that make this near-wordless saga such a brisk little delight.
Clashes in scale and size are usually the stuff of comedy, but Tom Gauld uses big and small to quietly tragic effect in Goliath, the story of an underwhelming overdog. Gauld, a Scottish illustrator and cartoonist, reworks the tale of 1 Samuel 17 as the more modern story of a humble, happy-to-go-unnoticed 9-to-5er who's suddenly forced into the spotlight. Here, the colossus of Gath would rather do administrative work in the camp than be a fighter, but his mere size is exploited by a single-minded strategist, who sends Goliath out to face off with any Israelite brave enough to approach him. Silent frames, arid landscapes, and nightfall draw out the sense of a vast, inexplicable fate slowly closing in. In Gauld's minimalist rendering, loneliness and helplessness stretch out between what's giant and what's little: Goliath sits, solitary, on a tall outcrop of rocks; his sword-bearer is dwarfed by the shield he has to carry; one little stone looms deathly large as it hurtles towards the supposed "Champion of the Philistines."
A certain European ennui lingers in the latest book from Norway's Jason, making comics for more than 30 years now. The six stories comprising Athos in America tend to be crime-noir or riffs on literature, all featuring his trademark anthropomorphic animals (usually dogs and cats). There's a rather jaded, male sensibility too, that works beautifully in the first story, "The Smiling Horse," a sparse, cryptic tale of a kidnapping-gone-wrong. It's as much eerie, metaphysical fable as crime-noir. A Bukowski homage is a bit too bitter and self-skewering, as if taken one hangover too far, and another noir tale, "So Long, Mary Ann," feels a little rote, while the title story suffers from too much exposition. At its best, though, sad yearning (of a man desperate to fix the heartbreaking result of a car accident) or fractured glimpses of lonely lives (which come together in "Tom Waits on the Moon") seep from these four-panel pages, where Jason shows an uncanny sense of pace and juxtaposition.
Interiorae, from Italian designer and illustrator Gabriela Giandelli, would be better if it were less word-heavy, too. A little banal dialogue goes a long way, and the many mundane conversations of teens and couples in a Milan apartment complex weigh down an otherwise lulling dreamscape. A floating rabbit, who serves a dream-mining entity underneath the complex, ushers us into a land of sleepy interiors. As the four chapters snowball, grey-black corners, colour-suffused walls, floating reveries, and totemic figures roll up various residents' ghostly pasts, plaintive presents, and subconscious imaginings. (At times, dream-moments echo, in the best way, the surreal figures in David B's Epileptic.) This is a book to be savoured for its atmosphere—the calm limbo that descends with the snow on five late December evenings.
Alison Bechdel's memoir Fun Home, one of the best (and bestselling) comix of the last decade, was profound in its personal-essay-like reflection on Bechdel's own coming-out, even as she learned of her father's homosexuality. Bechdel melded striking, detailed images with literary allusions and post-undergraduate-level introspection. In Are You My Mother?, she looks at her other parent. In Bechdel's densely thoughtful and sharply observant style, she moves from dreams to concerns about her self-absorption to obsessions with psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott to concerns about the distance between mother and child. While she managed her intellectual twists and turns with a certain lightness of image and tenderness of feeling before, this time Bechdel relies on Winnicott's ideas too much, not trusting ironic and poignant moments from her own life to carry more of the story's weight.
The book's as much about female relationships—problems of intimacy with therapists and girlfriends—as it is about her mother, who seems aloof (though Bechdel fondly remembers weeks when her mother wrote her diary for her and her mother's acting career). Memoir and memory—allusive, elusive, anxious, yet always necessary to draw and write and work through—become distinctly female forms here. In one stirring moment, her mother, depressed after her parents' deaths, asks the nine-year-old Alison if she loves her as the repressed emotions of the Edwardian drama The Forsyte Saga play on TV. Bechdel recalls that her response could never have been soothing enough. Solace, comprehension, catharsis... that's what this recalling, this remembering is striving for. Perhaps Are You My Mother? can't wholly satisfy, because, in Bechdel's work of her life, her sense of being her mother's creation never ends. vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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