Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
You'll Never Know, Book One
David Small's Stitches
Fangoria on the Dylan Dog movie
Surrogates, Vol. 2
The Dungeon Saga
A little about Boulet
Stuck Rubber Baby
Recent Books of Interest
The Dylan Dog Case Files written by Tiziano Sclavi (mostly), art by various collaborators Dark Horse
This was my introduction to paranormal-investigator Dylan Dog, who has been a hit in Europe for awhile
now -- originating as an Italian comic, though he hangs his hat, mostly, in London. The artwork in this thick,
bang-for-your buck compendium is in B&W (thus, DD's trademark red shirt is only visible on the cover!),
giving the art the feel of old "Modesty Blaise" comic strips. Which ain't a bad thing, really. Each
"graphic novella" usually has The Dog getting the girl, though usually with a twist that leaves things
anything-but-neatly wrapped up. And of course, some of the humans he encounters are equally monstrous. If
his sidekick, Felix, looks almost exactly like Groucho Marx, you're right -- in the originals, he's
named "Groucho" -- apparently, a traumatized Groucho impersonator caught permanently in his "manque," to
mangle a little Euro-talk here. American licensing wouldn't allow the direct transfer of personas, but
the oddness of the pairing somehow works. A film adaptation is currently being shot. Set in New Orleans,
the questions remains whether it can remain true to the elliptical plotting of the intriguing and
entertaining source material.
The Surrogates, Vol. 2: Flesh & Bone by Robert Venditti (script) and Brett Weldele (art) (Top Shelf)
A prequel to the popular Blade Runner-y first book -- itself slated for film adaptation!, this is a
mid-century detective yarn, and by "mid-century," I mean the 2050s. Oddly, things are surprisingly
familiar in such a milieu, given the likely privations ahead from shifting weather and imploding economies,
but what is different is the use of well, "surrogates" -- not quite "Replicants," but not exactly
dissimilar -- in/through which your consciousness can have "experiences" in another shell. An
ambulatory human body-like shell. Think of video games a few more iterations forward. Clearly Venditti
and Weldele have, though here, they show us the "start" of the Surrogate trend, and the early abuse
of same, which veers on tense urban race politics very familiar to anyone who came of age in the
previous "mid-century," or later. A deft blend of gritty sf and city cop tale-- as if Philip K. Dick
had lived and joined the writing staff of The Wire. All this, plus some of the densest supplemental
narrative material this side of Watchmen.
Dungeon Zenith, Vol. 3 "Back In Style" by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim (script) and Boulet (art) (NBM)
If Howard the Duck had European roots, it
might've looked like this. I am new to the Dungeon series with
this volume, but in this translation of the complex sword-and-sorcery adventures of, well, Herbert the
duck and his various anthropocentric fowl and dragon-y cohorts, well known fantasy tropes are (mostly
gently) sent up in a good natured way. The continuity of the series threw me in the first story, but by
the second tale, where they return to Herbert's native village, the combination of genre familiarity
and general good humor made for a very amiable read. And Boulet's art is terrific -- like a mash up
of Tintin as filtered through Bodé.
The first time I became truly aware that one could make art directly out of one's life -- unfiltered by
fictionalization -- was probably back in college, in that long-ago era when the hapless Carter years were
giving way to the malignant Reagan ones. I had a Work-Study job in television production (most of our portable
equipment used open reel B&W recording, and the coming of portable, VHS cassettes was the Big New Thing), and
one of my co-workers, Bob Kaputof, was a graduate art student who used the equipment, during off-hours, for
various video projects.
Copyright © 2009 Mark London Williams
"Kap," as we knew him (he's since gone on to become a professor of "Kinetic Imaging" in the art dept. of a
well-regarded Southeastern college) would often keep things remarkably simple: Sitting in a chair in his
backyard recording monologues about life, his parents, or past loves, or intercutting narratives with objects
like school film strips, interviews with former girlfriends, visits to previous "locations" one had lived,
or loved, in, etc.
(That we once did a spoof on 50s robot films as well might be more germane to SF Site, but beyond the
purview of this particular discussion!)
Nonetheless, that was probably the first time that it occurred to me that direct reportage of one's life
could in fact, be art. This was separate from straight autobiography, which was also a kind of reportage on
one's life, though often, or traditionally, a recitation of the "actual facts" -- as my late grandfather
would call them. But it was those videos that allowed me to consider that you could take those same facts
and make something that was simultaneously objective and subjective --"factual" and impressionistic -- all at once.
As a young playwright, I knew that Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams, say, were taking the "truths" of
their lives and writing plays about them, through the remove of fictionalized characters, but Bob was being
himself in his videos, and his life was being channeled directly into his art.
I was mulling all this recently -- even before I knew that tag-teamer Rick Klaw would be writing, in
overview, about "non-fiction" comics in his last column -- with the arrival of two, well, they're not graphic
novels, really, are they?
Graphic memoirs, perhaps, but more akin to something like Bob's videos than prose-based autobiography, taking
"true" incidents -- letting them speak, stand as facts -- yet assembling them in ways that are
ultimately -- once again -- "subjective," in the same way our lives, despite being strewn with "verifiable"
incidents and circumstances -- are lived.
The two memoirs were Stitches, written and drawn by illustrator David Small (due out soon from W.W. Norton)
and You'll Never Know, by C. Tyler (from Fantagraphics) which bills itself directly as a "graphic memoir."
Both reminded me of Kap's early videos, in that they were taking memory, and stories, and using an innately
visual medium to recount their respective tales. In the case of Stitches, this tale was about Small's
emotionally austere 60s-era upbringing in Detroit, by a distant doctor dad, and a hostile mom-with-a-secret.
As for You'll Never Know, Tyler recounts the process of getting her World War II vet dad to try and speak
about the battles this "good and decent man" (as the subtitle goes) kept silent witness to, decade after decade.
But Tyler's memoir -- and Small's, too -- both operate on a "meta narrative" level as well, where they call
attention to themselves as narrators, or as active compilers of these stories, interjecting themselves so
that the process of telling the story becomes part of the story.
Comics are particularly well-suited to this -- as was video -- with the ability of frame and panel to comment
on action that occurs in non-sequential, or non-chronological, manner.
This is different than the current explosion of You Tube-y video, where everything is relentlessly documented
and disseminated. Little of it, however, is filtered or redacted (the "subjective" part) in any way -- it's
all raw news feed.
And certainly much of our lives unfold like that, but if it becomes something we can all "art" -- the
cartoonist's, the storyteller's -- it is the ability to assemble events with hindsight that allows the
respective author/artists to comment on them.
Comics have done this before, of course -- Rick mentioned Maus last time out, which is as much about Art
Spiegelman trying to get the story of the Holocaust out of his dad, as it is about his dad's particular
endurance and survival of the Shoah -- and I remember the impression that Howard Cruse's Stuck Rubber Baby
made on me when I first read it: His recounting of growing up gay in the 60s south was as indelibly good
as an indie film (I thought at the time when, as a showbiz journalist, I was writing about a lot
of 90s-era indie films).
What is interesting to speculate on is where the trend of comics memoir might be headed: Is it all so new
that any life that can be rendered artfully into panels deserves full publication? Or is the filter simply
whether that life belongs to someone with the skill to create a comic?
In other words, does subject matter need to "rise" to a certain level before it gets our attention? Or is
Small's recounting of running down his physician dad's hospital corridors -- and the
metaphorical "medical specimen" he finds there -- enough to rivet us, especially given the eventual pay-off
that a return trip to the hospital has for him?
As for Tyler's book, my main frustration is that this is only "Book One" -- so this is mostly the tale of
how she approaches finding the tale (her father's), and whatever his big emotional reveal is -- and whatever
the war did to traumatize him -- we won't know till the next edition.
And I'm not sure I'm growing more patient with age!
More seriously, though, her book -- broken up into "traditional" comic panels, and notebook-page like
reproductions -- becomes a meditation on how the "art" of our lives, its story, is found all around us, if
we but pay attention (Small, on the other hand, may be speaking more to how one "survives" a bad emotional
hand, and can touch down safely later).
That, I think, is what Kap's videos gave me: a realization that your own story was already happening, no
matter how (or whether) you chose to notice it.
And yet, in the age of the Tweet and the blog post, there is still the "deep breath" of taking to the easel
(or the editing room, or the draft revision) that also gives our lives, those triumphal and heatrbreaking
events, large and small, a chance to "speak back" to us.
It's important to know what the story is trying to tell us, too. Even if the story is one we think we "know,"
because we lived it.
Both books are recommended. Even if neither is perfect (the "ending" in Small's, for example, feels a bit
rushed), both are illuminating. And not about the authors' lives, really. But about yours. And mine.
Mark London Williams writes the Danger Boy time travel series,
which is currently being developed for large and small screens.
He also works as a journalist covering both entertainment and politics,for the Hollywood
trade paper Below the Line. He's known to get Twittery @mlondonwmz