et cetera

The Zero by Jess Walter. Harper Perennial, 2006. 9780061189432.

Gene: OK, Sarah, you made me read this book by Jess Walter, your favorite writer. Go!

Sarah: Yeah, and I’ve been sort of rationing his books out because a novelist can only write so fast and I was reluctant to run out of them. Reading this, I realize I need to stop being reluctant and just gobble the rest of them up.

G: What was your favorite? The one where you were in love with the protagonist?

S: Citizen Vince. I was in love with Vince. The Zero is really… I’m going to say it’s different plot-wise, but the stuff that I love about Jess Walter is that he writes the kinds of sentences that make you stop and just appreciate how good they are.

G: Yeah.

S: So I feel like I don’t care what genre he writes in, I don’t care what the plot is, I just want to read his writing. But I am glad that I went into this book without reading the back of it, I didn’t know anything about it except I thought it was a mystery. And it does use bits of the genre — elements of noir and of mystery — but it’s not really in it.

G: You think it was noir? It didn’t feel very noir to me. It was kind of a detective book though. Give me the pitch.

S: The first page, a guy opens his eyes, he sees an empty bottle of booze on its side, and the carpet looks like the treeline of a forest. He starts with this description of what this guy on the floor is seeing and the guy eventually gets that his head hurts and he’s bleeding. He figures out that he shot himself. Possibly on purpose, possibly not. He left a note for himself that said, “et cetera.” This sets the tone of the book. This guy is losing chunks of time.

G: Right, he’s unstuck in his life, like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five.

Continue reading “et cetera”

Struggling comic artist seeks a sense of home

Portugal by Cyril Pedrosa. Color by Pedrosa and Ruby. Translation by Montana Kane. NBM, 2017. 9781681121475. 261pp. Oversized hardcover as the gods of French comics intended.

This autobiographic-ish graphic novel from the creator of the excellent Three Shadows (First Second, 2008) and the more recent Equinoxes (NBM, 2016) is an amazingly colored, somewhat loosely drawn story told in three parts.

(What do I mean by “loosely drawn?” I’m asking myself that. Some of the panels are very sketchy, and much of the rest looks like Pedrosa’s pen or brush was flying along, putting thoughts and impressions directly on the page. There’s energy in the drawings, except in the quiet moments of the story where shading and lines suddenly and subtly create stillness.)

The pitch: Cartoonist Simon is struggling: to buy a house, to teach kids art classes, to get work done. He feels like it’s all a bit pointless. He and his wife want different things, and he doesn’t really feel at home anywhere. Submerging himself in the pool offers him his only moments of peace. Exhibiting at a small comics convention in Portugal, he returns there for the first time in 20 years and enjoys it. He returns home, his wife leaves, and he returns to Portugal with his father for a cousin’s wedding and then stays longer.

This is in some ways a quiet story, but it’s so full of conversations and people that that description doesn’t sit right with me. The second part, “According to Jean” is probably my favorite — I’m a fan of Simon’s dad (he’s afraid to invite his younger girlfriend to the wedding) and all of Simon’s glorious relatives. What a great party! And what a beautiful country — Pedrosa has sold me on visiting the Portuguese countryside. (He’s also published a notebook of sketches of Portugal, and I may need to buy myself a copy next time I order graphic novels from Europe.)

Love in the Time of Snow

Red Winter by Anneli Furmark. Translated by Hanna Strömberg. Drawn & Quarterly, 2018. 9781770463066. 168pp.

Sweden, sometime in the late 1970s. Unhappy mother of two (and Social Democrat) Siv is having a very loving affair with a politically active young Communist, Ulrik. He’d just as soon Siv tell her husband about them and move in, but she’s worried everyone will hate her. Her daughter Marita knows her secret (she’s reading her mom’s journal), and her son Peter may just have seen Siv and her lover together. As the affair continues there are small, subtle consequences for everyone. I felt the most for young Marita, who seems the most innocent and impacted, but who is also the only one who reaches out to a friend for what she needs.

Supporting the quiet, conversational tone of the book, Furmak’s art had a sense of being wonderfully hand-crafted and heartfelt. It makes the story feel important and true because of the time spent making it. The often icy blue and white outdoor scenes, and the glowing electric bulbs inside were a wonderful way to express the climate. I’d just reread Leiber and Rucka’s Whiteout, set in the Antarctic, and it was great to see a different yet no less effective way to bring me into a story in a cold, icy place I’m personally unfamiliar with.

Yellow Dots About Comics

Pigmentation d’un Discours Amoureux by Mai Li Bernard. Dédales Éditions / Collection Détours, 2014. No ISBN in the book, but 9782955060605 found elsewhere. 48pp.

To see images from the book, go to May 2015 in Mai Li Bernard’s Tumblr archive.

Gene: This is a French graphic novel, but it’s wordless. Its title in English would be <Pigmentation of Loving Speech> or <The Color of Loving Conversation> or something like that. I bought it at Stuart Ng Books last time I was in Los Angeles. (I found out about his bookstore via his booth at the San Diego Comic-Con. He sells a lot of art books that are related of the comic scene: sketchbooks, graphic novels, reference books…and one of the things he does is he imports French books based on how beautiful they are. I find things in his showroom that I’d never see anywhere else.)
In this book, everyone’s thought bubbles and word balloons contain colored dots, and they’re more about that character’s mood during the interaction than anything else. Continue reading “Yellow Dots About Comics”