Friday, 26 September 2014

Jesse Jabobs Young Safari Guide: Humanity, Nature, even the Stars are a Mess

Young Safari Guide is a thing of wonder. In this prequel to Safari Honeymoon (one of my favourite comics of 2014 so far), Jesse Jacobs introduces us to a nightmarish and dangerous jungle. The titular young safari guide shoots a pregnant creature while hunting. It's offspring emerge and attack him before turning on each other. Jacobs creates a violent environment for his protagonist, one he will explore further in Safari Honeymoon. I picked up these two books at TCAF 2014 and will review the other book shortly. 

This jungle is a thing of wonder. The cover of this comic introduces us to the fauna. Creepy crawling or walking monsters with razor-sharp teeth. Impossible insects and weird vagina dentata monster (a recurring motif). The inside cover shows us the flora. It's impossible leaves and bulbous plants are fantastic and innovative. The inside back cover mixes fauna and flora with the young safari guide, not quite at the center of it.

Jacobs` style favours detail and imagination over consistency. I cannot tell which animals/creatures are in the same category. Is this a canine, a feline or what is it? Yet this works to the book`s advantage. The young safari guide is surrounded by a menacing environment, which the reader cannot fully comprehend. We are at the mercy of this violent environment where every new discovery can be deadly. Jacobs` creatures are so foreign and creepy and the amount of detail in his drawing reinforces this foreignness. Each page is a mesmerizing miasma of mouths, tentacles and eyeballs. I also see a ridiculous amount of vagina-shaped monsters, most of which have teeth. Draw your own conclusion.

This book also contains the best depiction of yearning and depression I have ever seen. 
Yearning and Depression

The main theme of this book seems to touch on man's place amongst nature. Not just what position he occupies in the world, but also how he got there. After the offspring attack, the young safari guide contemplates the violent spectacle that ensues. The monsters attack each other, leading the guide to wonder: "How had such a miserable species survived so long in this harsh wilderness?" How do these beasts manage to thrive, and what role does mankind play in an environment like this? "There was no goddamn order to any of it. Even the stars are a mess. Had I had my rifle,  I would have shot down every one of those goddamned stars." Mankind is just as brutal and violent as anything else in nature. We just articulate our violence better, either through guns or simple act of aggression. When the guide kills the birds, we glimpse the barbarity that is inherently part of all nature, including mankind. Nature, mankind and the stars are a mess after all.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Justine Reyes' Planet Claire: Abstraction, Celestial Bodies and Meaning

Ice Cold Planet

I visited San Francisco a few weeks ago and went on a hunt for the best comic book I could find. I was surprised to find a bin of floppies with lots of independent comics at Dog Eared Books. One of the coolest finds was a comic with three different covers called "Planet Claire" by Justine Reyes. Having no knowledge of what this was, I picked up a copy and read it later that night. Then a second time, and a third time. And a few more times the day after. Why did I read it so much and what is Planet Claire?

Planet Claire is a planet, a celestial body with human features. All that can be found on the planet is undeniably humanoid in it's own unique and strange way. Headless or limbless rests atop abstract background. 3-eyed busts are surrounded with stars. Rainbow-summoning Ballerina, naked women and creepy dolls are also present on it's surface. Then, it's over.

What interested me about this short comic, was the realization that I created meaning for myself and upon multiple readings, this meaning changed and evolved. I was consciously making an effort to find a different meaning with every read. As I browsed through the small and unkept bin from Dog Eared Books, I noticed that there were multiple colours for the cover of Planet Claire. I purposefully bought the blue cover. The pink cover seemed too bright and nausea-inducing with a fluorescent shade I just couldn't stomach. There was also a bright fluorescent yellow cover as well. I didn't pick it either as I use that kind of highlighter colour every day at work and am just generally sick of looking at it. So I picked up the blue cover and I can't help but noticing that it affected my reading and understanding of the book. I immediately associated the planet with ice-like qualities; it's human form frozen in its abstraction. A blue that evoked it's skies, it's ocean, and maybe a bit of melancholy. Perhaps I would feel differently had I picked a yellow cover. I may have attributed more warmth and happiness, maybe even some sunny attributes. 

In the end, meaning was established which rendered my questions meaningless. But the process to create meaning out of this book was exhilarating. It wasn't a phenomenal book, but a haunting one.

After all this, I was intrigued. I thought about the process of interpretation I went through (more on that below). I tried finding information on this book online and came up empty-handed. My only lead to know more was the email address at the back of the book. I contacted the artist and she was kind enough to provide some insight on the comic. She was able to explain that "Planet Claire" was a nod to women and girls. Through this book, she played with themes and icons involving females, which was something I didn't realize when reading. It was meant as an empowering comic for women as she explained: "women are not usually represented with such masculinity and power as often as men are."

Not matter what meaning or interpretation one will gain this book, it will be your own, guided through the lens of strange patterns. Check out Justine Reyes's book here.

Gratuitous COPRA plug

The best superhero comic
It's been available for a while now, but I must talk about it. Copra is the best superhero comic out there. I will eventually talk about it at length in one of these posts. In the meantime, I encourage everyone of you to seek out Michel Fiffe's Copra. He posted the first issue of the series on his website right HERE. Copra is a team of former criminals and crooks that now work for the government doing dirty work. A sort of modern Suicide Squad. It is violent, raw, and brilliant. I had the pleasure of discovering the series at Beguiling in Toronto and have been enjoying it ever since. It's apparently coming out now through Diamond Distribution (order code OCT141106) and I'd recommend it in a heartbeat.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Reflections on Guy Delisle's Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

Magnificient city

I brought Guy Delisle's Jerusalem: Chronicle from the Holy City along for my summer vacation in San Francisco. This book was my first exposure to Quebec cartoonist and travelogue master Guy Delisle. I like the style and musings of Delisle who seems interested in writing about dangerous or controversial locations (Pyongyang in Korea, Shenzhen). It makes for riveting literature. 

The basic premise of Jerusalem is that Delisle's wife works for Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders), which is referred throughout the book as MSF. She gets posted in Jerusalem for a year and Guy, her husband, can keep his career as a cartoonist there as well. They are bringing the kids with them and will build their life there for one year. Delisle chronicles through his book the contrast between the Holy and the Secular, the modern and the traditional and also, the private and the political. 

Delisle uses a "Slice of life"  as an easy way to explain the woes of modern day life in Jerusalem. He manages to simply explain the complex environment by relating his experiences there on a very personal level while trying to stay open minded and objective. A profound respect for the city and its inhabitant is found on every single panel (except maybe when he have some petty issues with some residents). 

His presence in Jerusalem manages to raise some interesting questions, such as how to balance family life and career. We see the multiple schedules he has to keep, the distances, and the issues that arise from trying to keep it all going. Traveling in the city on a day-to-day basis becomes the source of many headaches with the blockades always in the back of one`s mind, so are traffic jams and which neighbourhood to visit and when. 

Delisle also forces you to think about how to find compromises when everyone seemingly holds the truth. Jerusalem is a city of many faiths and many beliefs. It is a challenge to determine common grounds, yet Jerusalem`s inhabitants manage to do so every day, which is exceptional. 

Delisle's art remains simple throughout the book. This appears to be his regular style and it works perfectly with the subject of the book. Jerusalem is such a complex city; it's geography, politics and culture are so rich, so dense, that the simple art style creates a welcoming contrast. 

Although this book appears intimidating for both its length and subject matter, I would recommend it in a heartbeat. Delisle crafts a riveting tale of life amidst an incredible, if somewhat complicated, city. Regardless of your faith and opinion on the conflict, everyone can appreciate the author's account. 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

C.F's MERE: Not Reading, Experiencing


I wish I could say I read C.F's Mere. I didn't read it so much as experienced it. One goes through a spectrum of moods, mindsets and emotions while navigating this book. It is unlike anything you have ever seen before.

Mere is a collection of short and mini comics by comic artist and musician C.F. (Christopher Forgues) published in 2012. The now defunct publishing company Picturebox collects 11 comics in this book. Most of them are attempts at genre (Sci-fi, crime, etc.). There are no main characters or storyline, just experiments with form, movement, narrative structure and emotion.

An introduction by Nicole Rudick opens this collection. I have absolutely no idea who she is and no credentials are provided. A Google search directs me to her Linkedin (I hope it's the right person) and it indicates that she is an editor for The Paris Review. Regardless of this confusion, her essay allows the reader to naviguate this storm.

It is followed by shapes and letters made to resemble buildings. There are beds, wells and drippings. It's followed by a short story about a man who is being hunted and is running away from someone. He inhales enough air to blow his pursuant's head clean off.

What am I experiencing? How to combine all of those fragments into a cohesive whole? This becomes interesting as we move away from the realm of comics and into the work of modern art. It's an experiment in developing new ways of seeing genre. It is abstract and the reader must create meaning as it goes. One must transcend what is on the page and the convention of comics. John Berger explains in Ways of Seeing, that the way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe. We are also looking at the relation between things and ourselves. When we get to the section of the book about Comb (a sci-fi police officer) for example, one expects to see certain convention laid out on the page. Yet C.F forces you to reconsider those conventions at every turn.

As one digs deeper, we are treated to various stories (Cyborg, Frel, Crime, Comb, etc.). Mere manages to evade any classification of storytelling and comics. It is in many ways inexplicable; one must experience it to comprehend, and even then, our meanings will all differ.