Archive for the ‘Drawn and Quarterly’ Category

Random review time

August 18, 2010

Children of the Sea Vol. 1. Daisuke Igarashi. Viz, 2009. $14.99, 320 pages.

HP Lovecraft hated fish. No, scratch that — he hated all sea creatures; he was nothing if not an equal-opportunity hater. To Lovecraft, our finny friends were monstrous, alien things; or, as he might have put it himself, they represented an unspeakable horror, a nameless revulsion and were all round just plain icky.  You can find this in various of Lovecraft’s works, but most notably in The Shadow Over Innsmouth  and Dagon.

This sentiment was echoed in manga by Junji Ito’s Gyo (not, incidentally, the only time Ito has echoed Lovecraft — witness the Cyclopean freak-out at the end of Uzumaki). In Gyo, sea creatures are horrors of the id, swelling up from the depths and irrupting into the natural order of things. They’re also, again, just kind of icky.

Children of the Sea represents the complete opposite of this sentiment. This is a manga about the wonders of the sea, and how its mysterious life-forms have their own otherworldly and sublime beauty, a beauty at risk but well worth saving. Igarashi’s art is serviceable at best when it comes to figure work and above the waterline, but below the surface, in the underwater scenes, displays an unpretentious and unobtrusive sense of wonder.

It’s also the most thoroughly YA manga I’ve ever read and, indeed, the most YA comic I’ve read since Chynna Clugston-Major’s Queen Bee. I’m so not the target audience for this; in the end I had a hard time appreciating it because of this. The low-key atmospherics and gentle plot development didn’t grab me enough to make me come back for a second volume, but it’s easy to imagine younger readers glomming onto it.

Recommended? If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably too old to appreciate this manga.

DMZ Vol. 8: Hearts and Minds. Brian Wood, Riccardo Burchielli, Ryan Kelly, Jeremy Cox and Jared K. Fletcher. Vertigo, 2010. $16.99, 192 pages.

There was a bit of debate in the blogosphere, a few months back, about whether the eponymous protagonist of Dan Clowes’ Wilson was unsympathetic; and, as a corollary, whether narrative art requires sympathetic protagonists. I’m in favour of saying no to that latter question — Cerebus, for instance, spent long periods of his comic being pretty unlikeable but the series never suffered for it. (Insert obligatory disclaimer about Dave Sim’s political views).

With DMZ, many readers think we have another example of an unsympathetic protagonist. That is, a lot of people think the series protagonist, Matty Roth, is an unsympathetic, simple-minded douchebag in over his head. They’re wrong: Roth is a sympathetic, simple-minded douchebag well out of his depth.

At least, I thought so until I got to this volume. And now there’s a major plot twist which has me questioning not only whether Roth is still sympathetic but whether I actually want to keep reading a series where the protagonist has done what Roth has done. To keep reading after this, feels like an act of complicity in the darker side of US foreign policy.

Which is an odd sort of conjuring-trick on Wood’s part, since his politics seem to be even further to the left than mine. He’d surely be the first to condemn said darker side. And certainly Wood isn’t condoning Roth’s actions here…even so, I’m not sure I can keep reading a comic book where the lead character has become

[SPOILER]

a war criminal.

[/END SPOILER]

Maybe that’s just my hang-up, man, but if so, then so be it.

Recommended? No.

The Poor Bastard. Joe Matt. Drawn and Quarterly, 2001. $16.95, 176 pages.

Oh hey, speaking of unsympathetic protagonists…well, you can say this much about autobiographer Joe Matt: he’s not afraid to paint himself in the worst possible light. In this collection of stories from Matt’s Peepshow, he depicts himself as a tightwad, a creep, a jerk, a schmuck, a lowlife, a loser, a bum, a deadbeat etc. etc. etc.

And, brother, do I mean “et cetera”.

Seriously, has there been an autobiographical cartoonist since Crumb who has been so devoted to telling us all what a despicable character he really is? This is less “warts and all” than “all warts”.

Recommended? I enjoyed it, but, boy, your mileage sure may vary.

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The aptly named A Drifting Life

April 18, 2010

A Drifting Life. Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Drawn and Quarterly, 2009. $29.95, 840 pages.

So I finally got around to reading Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s massive autobiography A Drifiting Life. And I’ve got to say that, having read it, I find myself baffled by the near-universal critical praise it received when it came out. Tatsumi’s book is practically devoid of theme, character or interest; in their place we get endless detail on the mechanics of his early career creating manga.  If you ever wanted to know precisely how much Tastusmi was paid for, say, (the recently-released in English) Black Blizzard, how long it took him to create, the magazine it which it first appeared, the genesis of that magazine, what other creators were contributing to the magazine, how much they were getting paid, etc. etc. etc. — well, this is the book for you. And so on for 800-odd tedious pages. Anyone looking for the psychological insight or distinctive worldview displayed in Tatsumi’s other works, as previously published by Drawn and Quarterly (such as The Push Man etc.) is advised to look elsewhere.

Worse still is that all this detail about the nuts and bolts of publishing manga in mid-century Japan adds up to exactly nothing. It’s just one damn thing after another. Now that’s certainly how many of us experience our own lives: first this happened, then that happened, then that other thing, without any of it resolving into the sort of grand themes or lessons that autobiographies typically trade in. So it’s a theoretically interesting artistic track to take with your autobiography, to try to replicate the feeling of real life’s lack of insight or narrative drive. That doesn’t work out so well in practice, however, at least not here; sometimes one damn thing after another is just one damn thing after another.

Recommended? Sadly, no.

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu

July 19, 2009

Good-Bye. Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Drawn and Quarterly, 2008. $19.95, 208 pages.

Impotence, death, full-bodied rashes, symbolic exhibitionism. Prostitution, incest, foot fetishism and the exploitation of Hiroshima. Yoshihiro Tatsumi definitely has a singular vision of post-war Japan. It’s a bleak vision, so bleak it makes Chris Ware look like Andy Runton. In Tatsumi’s seedy world, men are perverts, Johns, and/or frustrated in love, sex and work. Women are prostitutes, strippers, and/or frustrated themselves — generally with a good helping of tears.

There’s nothing in Good-Bye that will surprise anyone who’s read either of the two previous volumes of Tatsumi’s work published by Drawn and Quarterly (The Push Man and Abandon the Old in Tokyo). Tatsumi is definitely mining, here, the same vein of deadpan despair as in those earlier volumes.

Still, it’s a rich vein, worth being mined. You couldn’t exactly call it nihilism — that would suggest a sort of editorialising that Tatsumi generally doesn’t bother with. Instead, he simply and plainly lays out the bare facts of these hopeless lives, and has his characters plod on through. Sometimes they yearn, sometimes they cry, but mostly they just endure.

I can’t think of anyone else in comics who makes comics quite like this. Ware is the obvious comparison: Ware too has a pervasive sense of despair. But he also has a sense of humour, which Tatsumi has never betrayed — unless these stories are meant to be funny, in which case Tatsumi has a sense of humour blacker than a black hole. Ware also sometimes indulges in the kitschy sentimentality of miserabilism; his depressing tableaux sometimes verge on tears-of-a-clown material. (Don’t get me wrong; I still think that Ware is one of the greatest cartoonists of all time).

Tatsumi, by contrast, generally doesn’t engage in this kind of thing. You rarely get the sense, which you sometimes get with Ware, that Tatsumi is whispering in your ear, “Look at how sad all this is.” One exception is the story in this volume, “Life is so sad”, which is every bit as (uncharacteristically) unsubtle as it sounds. But for the most part, Tatsumi’s tone is flat, unemotional — “without affect”, a psychiatrist might say.

There a few stumbles in this volume. “Life is so sad” is one of them. Another is the cod-psychoanalysis at the end of “Woman in the Mirror”, which shows Tatsumi’s understanding of queer sexuality as not much more advanced than Osamu Tezuka’s in MW. But on the whole, Good-Bye nicely rounds out a trio of works by a great cartoonist, a chronicler of life at the fringes of society and normality.

Recommended? For those with a strong emotional constitution.