Archive for the ‘biography’ Category

Happiness is a well-done tribute

Monday, November 26th, 2012

Sure, it’s Cyber Monday, but if you’re into comics at all, today is a far more momentous occasion. Today would have been Charles Schulz’s 90th birthday. The creator of Peanuts… well, I don’t need to say much more than that, do I? But for your edification John Kovalic of Dork Tower fame did a lovely strip talking about the influence that Schulz had on his own work.

There’s a Peanuts movie due in 2015. I was feeling pretty good about this until I saw it was probably going to be CG. I wonder what Schulz would have thought of seeing his work in computer-generated 3D.

An Artist, Who Escapes

Friday, May 18th, 2012

The Holocaust is a subject that’s been covered in comics before, most notably in Art Spiegelman’s Maus, but Lily Renée, Escape Artist is a graphic novel takes a lighter approach, mostly due to the fact that its subject was lucky enough to never be in a concentration camp, though she did suffer her own trials and travails as a result of being Jewish during the time of the Nazi regime.

Lily Renée Wilheim was a teenager when the Nazis invaded Vienna, which meant she was old enough to recall the events clearly, but also young enough to be shipped out as part of Kindertransport, which means the bulk of the biography focuses on events that aren’t often talked about in the greater narrative of Jewish oppression and the Holocaust. We follow Lily’s struggles as a Jewish refugee in England, being classified as an “enemy alien,” and finally her immigrant experience in America, which leads her to her ultimate status as a pioneer in women’s comics.

The book focuses on smaller details and anecdotes in Lily’s journey, like eating too much food on a train or working as a mother’s helper. This makes it easier for younger readers to relate to Lily, but it also leaves the book feeling a bit shallow since it barely touches upon the larger war narrative going on. Lily herself may not have been too concerned with the bigger picture, as she was doing her best to survive, but the book is very much written toward an educational bent, so more historical context would have been helpful in imparting a history lesson to its readers. Most of the heavy-lifting is left to the appendix in the back, which explains some of the finer historical details. In this manner, it reminds me of the American Girl books, except that those novels are definitely intended to focus on their storytelling first and foremost, better to relate to their audience of 10-year-old girls (and sell more dolls). They aren’t sold as educational materials.

The copy on the front and back covers of Lily Renée, Escape Artist seems to be aimed toward promoting a strong female role model, except that the aspect of her they promote—her comics work—is barely touched upon in the book. She doesn’t reach that point until the last few pages of the last chapter, and it really feels like they’re name-checking the titles she worked on. I would have liked to see sample pages from her work, or maybe more audience reactions, or some further indications of how this work changed her life, beyond that it paid for her mother’s operation and that one of the characters “was a fantasy” for her. If her work in comics is being used as a hook to get people to read this book, it should have gotten a lot of more page time. While I enjoyed the book, it ultimately felt unsatisfying.

Lily Renée, Escape Artist
story by Trina Robbins
pencils by Anne Timmons
inks by Mo Oh
published by Graphic Universe (New York, 2011)
ISBN 978-0-7613-8114-3


That is Your Childhood Self

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Yesterday Maurice Sendak died. He was the author and illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, Outside Over There, and many other iconic and iconoclastic children’s books. He was 83. The New York Times has a good write-up on his career.

Today, in response to a request from Neil Gaiman, the New Yorker has unlocked a comic by Art Spiegelman, recounting a conversation Maurice and Art had, way back in 1993. It’s quite lovely and funny, and you can check it out over at their website.

By Art Spiegelman and Maurice Sendak

(via Neil Gaiman)

Steve Jobs and What Was NeXT

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

News has been trickling out over the past month about Caleb Melby’s upcoming 60-page graphic novel, The Zen of Steve Jobs. In it, we get to see parts of Mr. Jobs’ life very few have been able to see before. Specifically, what he went through during the 1980s after he left Apple and was about to start NeXT, the company which was later purchased by Apple and is now the backbone for parts of OS X. Back then, Steve Jobs was in an in-between state and was looking for guidance; he turned to Kobun Chino Otogawa, a Zen Buddhist priest to learn meditation and to uncover design aesthetics that he still uses today.

Forbes is releasing the graphic novel along with the help of JESS3, a creative design company based out of Washington, D.C. The book looks to give fans of Apple, and even casual onlookers, a further view into what makes one of the most important men in the history of computers tick. Caleb Melby states that he put mounds of research and reporting into the graphic novel to try and get it as close to historically accurate as possible while still maintaining a narrative flow. It also informs us all that Buddhist monks enjoy Denny’s.

A release date for the book has yet to be finalized, but Melby says it will be out sometime in the fall. For now, there are five pages released; one here and four more here.

(via The Beat)

Out and About: Brooklyn Book Festival 2011

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

It should be noted that the Brooklyn Book Festival is going on right now over at Brooklyn Borough Hall. The event runs through 6pm, with vendors, panels, and performances. Vendors include Drawn & QuarterlyMcSweeney’s, and Keith Knight.

If you missed the “Sequential Non-fiction” or “Building a Book” panels at MoCCA Fest this past spring,  both Dean Haspiel and Lauren Redniss will be on a panel later today titled “Drawing a Life” with GB Tran. The panel starts at 4pm, so there’s still plenty of time to head over there and check it out.

4:00 P.M. Drawing a Life. How do you draw someone else’s memories? Eisner nominated Dean Haspiel (Cuba: My Revolution) illustrated the memoir of revolutionary turned refugee Inverna Lockpez. Pulitzer nominee Lauren Redniss (Radioactive: A Tale of Love and Fallout) blends research and imagination in a haunting portrait of Marie Curie and rising star artist GB Tran (Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey) turns to his own family’s history to portray a war-torn, transnational generation. Moderated by Hillary Chute, author of Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics.

Laika Lives!

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Laika may have been the first animal to orbit the Earth, but there was no way to bring her back down safely, which also makes her the first to die in space—meaning that Nick Abadzis’ graphic novel account of her life doesn’t have a happy ending, upsetting a great deal of people. Some, including filmmakers, have questioned if the book needed to end that way, if there wasn’t some way to make the ending less depressing:

Filmmakers often get in touch, wondering whether there might be a way of presenting a version with a more positive spin to it. Well, of course there is, but then you’d be changing history, or at least blunting the truth of what took place that day in 1957, and unfortunately, you can’t change history, not one line.

Though history can’t be changed and the book will stay true to events, Abadzis is willing to play a game of “what if?” with Laika, honoring the 25th anniversary of Big Planet Comics in Washington, DC with a series of alternate endings dubbed “The Alternate Endings to Laika Show.”

So far two strips have been put up, both presenting stories that aren’t entirely implausible, but still vary widely from the truth in ensuring that little Laika survives.

(via The Beat)

You Are Cordially Invited

Friday, June 17th, 2011

I have no plans to get married any time soon, but the trials and travails chronicled in Adrian Tomine’s Scenes from an Impending Marriage make me think that simply eloping is a good idea. Guest lists, music, food, registries, party favors—all the little details that go into planning a “proper” wedding are detailed here in short comic vignettes starring Adrian and his fianceé as they attempt to plan their own real-life wedding.

The book is cute with simple and lively illustrations, arranged in a nine-panel configuration on most pages with the occasional Family Circus one-panel homage. It’s easy to sympathize with the couple—weddings can be a complicated minefield of familial politics, for one thing—but the book doesn’t go into any of these issues in detail, and is over so quickly. But we should be grateful to even have the opportunity to read this graphic memoir at all, as the book was originally created as a party favor for the wedding guests—a fact that is chronicled in the book, and the Drawn & Quarterly version of it includes an epilogue chronicling the aftermath of the reception, in all its tired and awestruck glory.

Scenes from an Impending Marriage
by Adrian Tomine
published by Drawn & Quarterly (Montreal, 2011)
ISBN 978-770460-34-8

Not Very Fun at All

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Alison Bechdel is arguably the most famous lesbian in the comics industry, as the creator of the seminal comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, but for all the criticism and commentary she included in the strip over its twenty-five-year history, it wasn’t as personal as her graphic memoir Fun Home, which chronicled her own childhood, sexual orientation, and her complex relationship with her father.

That relationship certainly was complex; as we’re told early on, shortly before his death but after Alison had come out to her parents, she found out that her father had had relationships with other men. With so little time to talk to him before she died, Alison is left to figure out his sexuality on her own, examining old memories and re-contextualizing them with this new information.

The whole book is about context and subtext, looking at incidents and bits of dialog and asking, “What does this mean?” It’s almost similar to the kind of literary analysis that takes place in classrooms and book clubs, which makes it appropriate that the book is heavy in literary references. Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and a voracious reader, so Alison is constantly comparing his life to the books he loved, from the works of Fitzgerald and Camus to James Joyce’s Ulysses and Homer’s Odyssey. But while an English student will be asked how the events of an author’s life will influence their work, Alison is asking how their work influenced her father’s life.

The memoir is very dense in allusions and references, but not to the point of incomprehensibility to the average reader. I still found myself looking up the occasional word or fact, more out of curiosity than confusion. Fun Home is definitely a book that could benefit from an annotated edition.

As a narrative the book is not straightforward or chronological. Instead, it takes the format of human memory, Alison remembering certain incidents and laying out the circumstances surrounding them, then taking the future knowledge of his queer identity and his death and factoring that into each situation. This happens almost every chapter, with memories repeated and reiterated to the point where it feels like Bruce Bechdel dies not once, but again and again, brought back to life at the start of every chapter so a new incident can be re-examined. Knowing what will happen just feels like we’re circling a drain, going around and around until we finally fall in.

Fun Home is full of detail and heart, and it’s never boring. Alison Bechdel has a good mind for detail (as we learn, she’s been keeping a daily diary since she was 10) and each scene is loaded with nostalgia, inspiring me to think back on the shadows of my own childhood. But at the same time, her childhood is much darker and enigmatic, an emotional drain mitigated only by the choice of making the last chapter more positive. This is where Alison talks about those few incidents where her and her father found common ground, most notably through literature. While drawing on facts presented earlier in the book, it still feels off-kilter as we reach the conclusion, a hurried attempt to find meaning before the last page is turned. Perhaps this is how we should feel, to better reflect real life: unsatisfied and confused, but hopeful.

Fun Home
by Alison Bechdel
published by Mariner Books (New York, 2007)
ISBN 978-0-618-87171-1

Tintin, Communist Spy?

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

The movie trailer for The Adventures of Tintin has hit the ‘net, and while Tintin is a cultural icon abroad, his success in the United States has been middling at best. That should definitely change with this new movie, mostly due to it’s incredibly exciting pedigree—produced by Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings trilogy), written by Steven Moffat (Doctor Who) and Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Paul), starring Daniel Craig, Cary Elwes, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost… and oh yeah, directed by a guy named Steven Spielberg.

Check out the trailer:

Looking good so far.

Also causing a stir, but for far different reasons, is Lawrence Colonnier’s new graphic biography of Tintin’s creator Georges Prosper Remi, pen name Hergé. Even if you don’t speak French, the title is certainly revealing: Georges & Tchang: Une histoire d’amour au XXème siècle. It details the romantic relationship between Hergé and Chang Chong-jen, who was the basis for the character of Chang Chong-Chen who first appeared in The Blue Lotus. Suddenly the story of Tintin in Tibet, where Tintin scours the Himalayas looking for Chang after a fatal plane crash, gains a whole new subtext.

But that shouldn’t be enough to give potential publishers pause, so much as the fact that it also depicts Hergé as being a communist spy. Hergé is a beloved cultural figure—he even has his own museum—and the Francophone comics scene might not take too kindly to anything that depicts the man in anything but the most positive light. But man, does that totally add new subtext to the boy reporter’s adventures.

(via Bleeding Cool)

Cats Are Weird

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Today I came across this silly-yet-scary comic strip by Natasha Allegri that I feel deserves sharing. As someone who has owned pets for most of his life, I can relate to the sometimes-creepy behavior they can bring to the table. This did also remind me why I’m more of a dog person than a cat person: they have much less going on behind their eyes. Cats always seem like they’re plotting the next part of their diabolical scheme. This reinforces that belief.

You can read the full strip as well as others about Pancake, soon to be world emperor, at Natasha Allegri’s Tumblr.

(via Warren Ellis)