Saturday, 28 March 2015

Book Club Report: A Discussion with Julie Delporte on Everywhere Antennas

It is difficult to understand the toll that a chronic illness can take on someone. The constant uncertainty; the feeling that you are losing a battle against yourself can be overwhelming for many. In Everywhere Antennas, we follow a protagonist who suffers from a disease known as Electromagnetic Hypersensibility or electrosensitivity. We see her struggle with this illness as she tries to adjust to her condition. As crazy as it may seem, and regardless of whether you believe in this disease or not, this is a fascinating book that goes deep beyond the core of chronic illness and the isolation that comes with it.

The Ottawa Comic Book Book Club met this month to discuss Everywhere Antennas. We all enjoyed the book. It is hard not to; it's such a lush package, the colours are fantastic and the use of cursive text to frame the drawings are phenomenal. It's unique and beautiful. Our discussion would have been quite short as we would most likely only talked about how much we enjoyed the book, except that we had the chance to welcome Julie Delporte to discuss her latest English book. She gracefully joined our group for an evening to talk about the book and provide us with perspectives on her process, loneliness, illness, her diary style and the difficulties of being an artist.

In tackling the topic of Electromagnetic Hypersensibility, Julie talks about illness, but also about loneliness. Our modern world encourages connectivity: Wi-Fi, radio, Bluetooth, infinite waves coursing through our homes, through our bodies, linking us instantly to each other. I look outside and I see them, I see these antennas, but I cannot feel them. But what if you were unable to cope with it. If you weren`t able to be in the modern world. Turning away from where you've been your whole life, in a world you can hardly escape, would be unbearable. Modernity being an unescapable reality and the present an unwelcome moment to be in. The future would be bleak. Her protagonist is going through this in a constant state of loneliness, unable to connect or be understood. She goes through an array of friends and acquaintances, never being fully engaged.

This loneliness is also reflected in the form of the book. A diary, a journal, is something one keeps for themselves, not meant to be shared. It is a lonesome endeavor, which, just like the magnetic waves, is something that isn't seen. Delporte's protagonist keeps this diary as she goes through this illness and expresses, day by day, the toll it takes on her and how she copes with it.

Julie was kind enough to talk about the creation of the book. Everywhere Antennas was conceived as part of a "24 hour comics challenge". She came up with the first chapter and liked it enough that she wanted to expand on it. However, the form it was going to take wasn't exactly as clear as she originally thought. Conflicted between the idea of keeping her work in color and doing it in a more standard comic style (black and white, with panels and speech bubbles) she experimened with the form. This experiment eventually became the third chapter of the book. She discovered she preferred to keep the style consistent throughout and finished the book in color. Although the Black & White chapter clashed with style of the rest of the book, she was able to integrate it. It is not, however, an unusual graft. It serves a story purpose. It is the only part of the book that involves a discussion between the protagonist and a friend. It breaks from the diary format, who was colorful and introspective to a black, white and grey, which has a more severe and stern feel to it reflecting the bleakness of human interaction. It is grey because it doesn't come from the self. The final chapters return to a diary format with colours. And something phenomenal also happens as we move through the book. Julie's art gradually evolves. You can actively track her progress as Julie grows into her artistic skill and technique throughout the book. And the most incredible thing is that it fits with the protagonist`s state of mind as she also gets progressively better as time goes by. Julie Delporte may have delivered the best constructed comic our group has read so far.

Why a diary? Because, as Julie Delporte graciously mentioned, the diary form is the closest reflection of reality she can get to. The comic book language works well, but as she tried to illustrate feelings, the traditional comic book style - the speech bubbles, the panels, the grid, all of those - got in the way of what she was trying to express. Panels are not lifelike enough for what she was trying to accomplish. You can hardly express loneliness when your figures are surrounded by lines or narration box. And the colours were needed as they reflected the feelings of her protagonist. They are never completely clear. There are so many shades of blue in the sky, yet if we were to convey it on a page from memory alone, I doubt we would be able to reflect just how many colors that represents. In a sense, the colours become a way to inbue the text with emotions, while trying to reflect both the reality of the protagonist, and the impossibilty of capturing this reality.

We were able to gain a thorough understanding of Julie Delporte's work by the end of our meeting. It was a very humbling and phenomenal experience to meet a comic creator of this caliber. Although I won't proclaim that we all thought Everywhere Antennas was a masterpiece, we all realized we were facing something incredibly unique. We were particularly grateful for the opportunity to discuss it with Julie. We can only hope that our future comics landscape includes her work, whatever shape it may take. I for one am eagerly awaiting her next work.

Merci Julie, nous espérons que ta carrière sois longue et fructueuse et que tu puisse poursuivre les opportunités qui te plaisent.

Follow Julie Delporte on Tumblr or read her blog.
Everywhere Antennas is published by Drawn & Quarterly 

Saturday, 21 March 2015

The Forgotten Past of 1989: Street Heroes 2005: Super Cops with Mustaches

Mustache Power
It's hard to image what the future will look like in 16 years. This is a problem that plagues most narratives taking place in the future. You can only speculate and extrapolate on what the future will look like, you can never know. But you know what you can always count on? Mustaches! Here comes Street Heroes 2005. A real look at the real cops of the future of 2005. I found this comic in a back issue bin at Red River Books n Winnipeg, a surreal used book store with an endless supply of back issue bins.

What's it about? We are in the distant future of 2005. Crime and violence runs rampant. The police forces are doing their best to stop it. One night, American mob bosses prepare to ship illegal weapons to Canadian rebels across the northern border. You heard that right. The police jump in and bust the deal.

Waist high
However, they are ill-equipped for what they find in one of the crates: A Super-Villain! This bad guy was just casually waiting to slice through the police forces, crouched in a crate for who knows how long. He shoots everyone, but one cop, our protagnonist, manages to escape, licks his wounds and vows revenge on the man who killed his squad. If this plot feels familiar, it's only because it's been repeated ad nauseam in every single comic published since the mid 80's. It's a superhero deconstruction, and it's not a classic in any way shape or form.

Anyway, our cop gets assigned a new partner, Wyatt Wolverstone. He likes to be called "Wolverstone Warrior", either because this was his "X-treme" superhero code name or he has low self-esteem and picked a nickname for himself. Forget about skills, this guy seems to be all about posturing

Badass Mustache and weird proportions
They reluctantly agree to team up to hunt the bad guy. But it turns out that the hunters are really the hunted, by the original hunter (the super-villain). Lots of hunting in this book. They eventually fight and, surprisingly, both parties end up in rough shape. Our mustachioed super cops retreat to once again lick their wounds. So much happens in this book. Then the super-villain attacks our main protagonist at his house. I'm hooked!

I'll try to track down the other issues. It shouldn't be too hard, there are only 2 other issues. This was published in 1988 by Eternity Comics, a short-lived comic publisher that was a part of Malibu Comics and active for a few years in the late 80's and early 90's. They eventually folded with Malibu when they were acquired by Marvel. 

The awesome cover was drawn by Bruce Jones, a name I was vaguely familiar with because of his involvement in "The Incredible Hulk" in the early 2000's. I will talk at length about another of his books in a future edition of "The Forgotten Past", where I'll be covering his Marvel Comics Graphic Novel "Arena: Feel the Terror". The cover looks really great, and the colours were done by none other than Bruce Timm, he of Batman: The Animated Series and Black Canary & Zatanna: Fishnets Ahoy!.

Would I recommend this? It's nothing particularly exciting. If you've seen any procedural crime show, you know how this is going to turn out. It's pretty simple. It's a "police seeks revenge story" with superhero elements throw in because, well because comics I guess. The art is standard comics fare. Nothing fancy, experimental or noteworthy about any of it. It's competent, professionnal and a little lifeless. And once again, I can't tell any of the mustached men apart, a problem that also happens whenever I read Satelitte Sam. What's up with those mustached dudes all looking the same? Also, weird choices were made with numbering. On two ocassions, I thought it was a narration box. It's the same lettering and it's overlapping the drawings, even if this is placed near actual narration box.

It's no wonder that it fell victim to the longbox graveyard. I'm not sure it would have even been breaking new ground in 1989. 

My verdict: Come for the Mustaches, stay for the competent work!

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Yoshihiro Tatsumi, A Master

My first Tatsumi book
It was a very powerful moment when I discovered Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work. I mentioned in my review of Lost cat that I discovered Jason’s work at a time when my interest for comic books was waning. I needed something better to read. This medium has so much potential, how can the landscape be littered with only garbage corporate crap? Hey, Wait… may have kickstarted my love of comics, but Yoshihiro Tatsumi cemented it. I was looking for novelty in a pile of sameness when something bold, innovative and touching came right out of the mass to punch me in the face with it’s wonder. I knew I was holding a powerful piece of art.
A filthy city
The Push Man and Other Stories will forever remain amongst the best historical work I’ve read. It was so ahead of it’s time. I have a hard time processing how anyone reading it back then must have felt. I’ve kept it on my bookshelf, periodically revisiting it and always surprised to find such strong and innovative stories. It is fascinating to read these short stories that are so profound and honest yet very bleak and with a dark sense of humour. It will forever stay amongst the best works I’ve read. Yet, I have never gone beyond it. I always knew I should, but I kept pushing it back. Never reading Black Blizzard or Drifting life. I always postponed it until the next day, the next time I`d be at the library, the next bookstore visit. And almost 10 years after being so enthralled with the work, I still haven’t explored Tatsumi’s oeuvre. I will remedy this, sooner rather than later. I will forever be grateful for the place Tatsumi’s work had in rebuilding my appreciation of the medium. Without him, I never would have read Seiichi Hayashi, Gilbert Hernandez, Susumu Katsumata, Shigeru Mizuki, Seth, Joe Sacco. He unlocked the door to so many good stories. He changed the way I read, the way I think. I will recommend to anyone who isn’t familiar with his work to immediately seek it out. Go to your comic shop (the better one in town if there is more than one) and get his book. The shops usually close at 6:00 pm. Or encourage your local library. Get Black Blizzard. Get A drifting Life. Get to know the life of this man, one of the great masters.
I’m reminded of this show from CBC: Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays. It was about Michael, a man with mental health issues, who saw his psychiatrist every Tuesday and Thursday. Michael was a huge fan of Tatsumi and whenever you saw his apartment, he had a Black Blizzard poster in the background. It was referenced once, when his new girlfriend visits his apartment for the first time. He tries to impress her by not looking like a comic book nerd and changes the poster to a boring Paris photofrom IKEA. But try as he might, he couldn't get rid of his Tatsumi poster. She eventually goes to his apartment and is surprised it looks so bland, "You don't even like Paris". He then shows her what he normally has on the wall. She makes a snarky comment “If you're going to have a Tatsumi poster, why'd you go with Black Blizzard? A Drifting Life is a masterpiece”. I was stunned that his work was referenced in such a way. You can watch it here.

My sincerest condolences to his family on his passing last week. He will be missed by his fans and peers. 

Friday, 6 March 2015

Believed Behavior Season One: Poetry, Experiments & Distribution Methods

Onward to the future
What is Believed Behaviour? It's a multimedia comics experience. A collection of short form comics printed on newsprint as well as an online web platform to read the comics the way you want. Once you buy Believed Behavior, you get a copy of the physical object and have access to the full issue online. You can grasp at the ephemeral aspect of the comics in two ways that are completely disposable, newsprint and data. And somehow, this isn't a bad thing. I'll get into this later.
The comics contained don't appear to be tied to any themes, but they are connected by their page structure and an apparent desire and intent to experiment with the panel while maintaining a rigid structure. 12 panels per page, 2 pages per comic, that is all a artist gets. The results are varied and very interesting. We first get Floriculture by Krystal Difronzo, who illustrates her tale with wonderful colours and gruesome details. The majestic life of the flora contrasts brilliantly with the failures of the flesh. Difronzo creates a wonderfully eerie experience as the poetry reminds us that even nature decays with each season. 

We move on to another short comic by Edie Fake in which a demon tries to get into a faceless protagonist's house through the window. We only see the window as a demon teases and slowly infiltrate the house. Each panel acts as a window over time. It's a pretty clever use of the rigid panel structure to do something new. 

The final comic by Andy Burkholder explores a protagonis`s state of mind. It uses an extremely slow action, a water droplet from the condensation of an AC unit falling down on a man's head, and uses it to explore mental health issues (Autism I think). The character's thinking about writing an email to Rose, and uses narration boxes in overdrive to reflect his train of thought. He is constantly forming incomplete sentences and beginning anew with more information before finishing up. It becomes so large that the narration box overwhelms and take up more than half a panel at times. 

This first collection from Believed Behavior is interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Above all else, I liked how they experimented with the distribution process. You can get a surprisingly long preview online and you unlock the full comics of the issue once you buy the book, you also get a newsprint of the comics. Both of the mediums used, newsprint and data, are unreliable and ephemeral. The newspaper pages are flimsy and likely to be destroyed, while the website and data are just as likely to disappear for a variety of reasons. Beyond this elusive longevity, there is something really refreshing about Believed Behavior. Perhaps it is its innovative online platform or it may be that it embraces the disposable aspect of physical comics, which was for a long time a staple of comics themselves. I would recommend it to anyone interested in looking at an experiment in webcomics and publishing. This is a look at possible alternative models in publishing.