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‘The Last Musketeer’: a comic review

September 20, 2012 Leave a comment

I was at a point where I was trying to find new things to read that were interesting in comics. I looked specifically by publisher and stumbled upon Jason (the link has nothing to do with the creator and is only meant for fun). Jason’s The Last Musketeer stood out quickly with its quirky cover. It details said musketeer’s journey into space as he encounters robots and aliens.

As you can probably tell just by that short description, The Last Musketeer is full of weird things. It’s less about the meaning and depth of the adventure, but about how exciting and fun that adventure is. And Jason certainly captures that feeling. This book is just fun to read.

Jason’s art is definitely the big draw for the work (this seems to be a trend I have in what I read). The figures and backgrounds are simplistic. Everything is given a nice sense of lightness to it that helps create the fun read. The addition of colors by Hubert is excellent. They’re vibrant and really add to that feeling of lightness and fun.

If I had to find one fault with the work it’d be its length. One could finish this book in about one bus commute. I do recommend this though if you’re into quirky adventure comics that are just about being fun. The art is really fun to look at too. Because of its length I suggest checking it out from your local library, especially since it runs over $10. Regardless of how you read it, it’s a fun story with fun art to match.

The Last Musketeer is owned by Jason, who serves as writer and artist. Hubert is the colorist. It’s published by Fantagraphics.

Safe Area Goražde – a review

August 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Along with Palestine, Safe Area Goražde (pronounced go-raj-DUH) is considered the epitome of Joe Sacco’s comic journalism work. It chronicles Sacco’s time spent in Goražde (in eastern Bosnia) during the Bosnian War. There is a mixture of Sacco’s time there and the stories and experiences of those that Sacco met. Sacco uses Goražde as a case study for the whole Bosnian conflict, with a unique flavor of the region’s inhabitants and society. It’s an ambitious project and is incredibly successful.

I’ll get straight to the point; Safe Area Goražde is an amazing piece of not only graphic and journalistic work, but great-period. It’s a complex collection of narratives that shows the complexity and emotionally heaviness that make up the history and social structure of Bosnia. Sacco guides the reader from the lighter moments of everyday life, the political and military details of the conflict, very personal stories of those living through the war, and the grim specifics on the process of ethnic cleansing. The tone shifts very naturally between its different types of material. I never questioned the order and placement of the segments. The whole piece is incredibly informative and intimate in its emotions. There are moments that are hard to read. I personally almost started crying in the middle of reading this. Saying that Safe Area Goražde is intense would be a understatement.

As a piece of journalism, the piece is more subjective than it is objective. There is a far greater attention to the citizens of Goražde, primarily Bozniaks and Croats, than there is on Serbs. As such, one may be disappointed in that they won’t see a complete dissection of the Bosnian conflict. However, the fact that there is greater attention to a specific group allows Sacco to collect and show a focused collection of stories and experiences. The subjectivity of the piece works for the greater advantage.

Safe Area Goražde‘s art is strong throughout. Landscapes and the city of Goražde are all very detailed. Sacco himself is the only ‘cartoony’ bit of the art. (Sacco said in an interview that this was deliberate and something that carried over from his earlier, ‘more cartoony,’ Palestine.) The art coupled with the emotional stories of those Sacco make for a powerful combination. It is often difficult to work through a particular section of the book due either to graphic content or the strong emotions carried by the narrative (not mutually exclusive). Safe Area Goražde is incredibly successful in the ways it employs its art.

This whole review has essentially been an understatement itself. Safe Area Goražde is easily one of my favorite graphic works, as well as one of my favorite books I own. I found it more powerful than Sacco’s earlier Palestine (though Palestine is also really good). The narrative is intense, informative, and emotional all at once. The art fits the narrative and largely enhances the narrative. I find it impossible not to recommend Safe Area Goražde to anyone interested in what comics can do. Safe Area Goražde is an amazing piece and something I won’t forget.

 

 

Safe Area Goražde is written and drawn by Joe Sacco. It is published by Fantagraphic Books.

Note: Safe Area Goražde has both graphic violence and emotionally intense moments and may not be suitable for younger audiences.

There is also a special edition of Safe Area Goraždethat includes notes, photos, and interviews regarding the production of Safe Area Goražde that offer a lot of insight. I highly recommend shelling a little extra just for this.

A Quick Guide to Comic Journalism

June 12, 2012 3 comments

This last weekend, I went out to Fantagraphics Bookstore in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle to see Joe Sacco discuss journalism in the comic form (and for him to sign my copy of Palestine). Undoubtedly, Sacco is a pioneer of the comics journalism form, something that has existed since the early ’90s with Sacco’s works Palestine and Safe Area Gorzade (about common people suffering from the Bosnian War), but has really begun to take off in the past few years. It’s also something that I’ve been increasingly interested in.

The self-depiction of Joe Sacco

Essentially, comic journalism is a synthesis of the sequential medium of comics and journalism. It’s actually not surprising to see journalism leap into the sequential form. It can be argued that comic journalism is a descendant of photojournalism. Photojournalism is a visual form of journalism that became credible and the same is happening today with comic journalism. Both forms use a primary visual image to detail their works and have some sort of reliance on narration to accompany the image (comic journalism relies much more on this). In this regard, comic journalism is somewhere between pure written journalism and the almost-purely visual photojournalism. Comic journalism has also become respectable among many reporters, as Sacco claimed, in that many co-journalists don’t find it unusual or less worthy to pursue journalism in a comics form.

Synthesis of image and narration

The medium has its advantages and disadvantages according to Sacco and other panels from comic journalists I’ve seen. There are two clear disadvantages in comic journalism, as mentioned more by Sacco than other creators I’ve met. First, there is a greater spatial constraint in comics journalism than there is with written journalism. It’s essentially impossible to cover the same amount of material in the same amount of pages in comics as it is in written form. Because of this comic journalists are more stressed to convey what they need to in a set number of pages. The second great disadvantage is that sense of respectability from outside sources. While other journalists have respect, most likely stemming from centuries of political and social cartoons, those being interviewed or used as subjects may not have that same respect. Many people look at sequential mediums as an inferior medium (something every comic fan has heard from somebody at least once in their life).

An example of Shannon Wheeler’s from ‘Oil and Water’

But the form has its advantages as well. While respectability may be seen as a disadvantage, it can also be manipulated into an advantage. In the creation of Oil and Water the illustrators mentioned that had far easier access to drawing subjects close-up than they would if they had a camera. The presence of a pencil and sketch pad comes off far less threatening than a camera does. Drawing a subject for a journalistic piece isn’t taken as seriously, but can also yield a greater sense of access than more traditional forms of journalism would normally yield. The second great advantage of comic journalism is the strong presence of visuals in the work. Readers of journalistic works are drawn to visuals as they intake the information. It’s an essential catalyst for digesting information. This is a reason why photojournalism is so popular. But comics have an even greater advantage to photography-the exaggeration of image. A journalist-cartoonist can use bodily proportions, color changes, and other visual changes that differ from reality to coincide with the narrative progress of the piece. Reading Sacco’s Palestine one encounters this on many occasions. Comic journalism is a flexible medium, something becoming more real too as the spread of digital comic journalism is beginning to spread.

The ‘Cartoon Movement’ has been a vital point of spreading the medium digitally

Comic journalism is definitely a medium that has a limited appeal in the comics community. For readers who stick to mainstream superhero or independent pulp comics, they are bound to be not interested or completely miss the medium. But as access and growth of independent comics continues, exposure to the medium grows. As the growth of the medium in the past few years attests to, it’s something people are interested in and will most likely expand and continue.

 

If you’re interested in the subject or the medium here’s a couple of recommendations:

Joe Sacco’s work is a must in this field. Anything from him is a good place to start.

The whole Cartoon Movement is an excellent place to find a wide variety of political cartoons and comics on diverse subjects. Many of these individuals putting work on that site are also good sources (such as Sarah Glidden).

A 2001 interview with Joe Sacco on Footnotes in Gaza and comic journalism.

Like A Sniper Lining Up For His Shot: A Review

May 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Like A Sniper Lining Up For His Shot (I’m going to start abbreviating this as LASLUFHS) is French crime comic by Jacques Tardi and based on a crime novel by French writer Jean-Patrick Manchette. I’ve always heard good things about Tardi’s works and so I decided to pick this up at the Fantagraphics booth at Emerald City Comic Con. When reading LASLUFHS (even the abbreviation is convoluted) I wasn’t quite sure what I experienced. But when reading it I knew I was experiencing something.

In many ways, LASLUFHS lived up to its description of a crime story. However, I wasn’t quite sure what sort of crime story it was trying to tell. It has the feel of the Bourne-esque films where there are a lot of twists and turns in the narrative. Unlike the Bourne films where there were 3 films to tell one long story, LASLUFHS is only over 100 pages long telling what feels like a complex story. The twists and the action comes at the reader very suddenly and it can be hard to keep up with. When reading it I really wasn’t sure if I was enjoying it or not. However, I did find myself becoming engaged in all the action and had a hard time putting it down while reading. So, I guess I did enjoy it. And I definitely feel more this way after thinking about it in hindsight.

Tardi’s art falls into the style of many European comics. In that the backgrounds for panels tend to be very detailed (unless they’re in an enclosed space) with character models are given less attention, but still enough to notice distinguishable characteristics about each individual. The one large exception to this particular work is when things are shot or explode or hit, etc. In those cases the item “damaged” explodes in blood and other bodily parts and organs. It is fairly graphic and so I caution those squeamish to pass on this one because of the depiction of graphic violence.

I’m not really what I think about Like A Sniper Lining Up For His Shot in the end. I’m a fan or the European style of drawing comics, and I wasn’t too bothered by the graphic violence of the art. The narrative was a bit confusing, but I found myself hooked on the action and all the twists of events. So, I guess in the end I did like it. And I would suggest it to those who like crime or European comics. It definitely left me with curiosity for more of Jacques Tardi’s work, so expect another review someday.

Like A Sniper Lining Up For His Shot is written and drawn by Jacques Tardi. It is based off the work of Jean-Patrick Manchette. Both Tardi and Manchette are owners for their respective adaptations. It is distributed by Fantagraphics.

Oil and Water: A Review

March 21, 2012 Leave a comment

In 2010, the worst ecological disaster in the United States occurred in the Gulf of Mexico when British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil station exploded causing approximately 210 million gallons of oil to seep into the Gulf. It damaged not only the ecosystems of the region, but the local economies as well. The spill affected almost 500 miles of Gulf coastline. Now, while this is a serious matter, why would I be talking about it? Well, that same year a group of journalists, cartoonists, environmentalists, and other concerned citizens from the Portland, Oregon area went to Louisiana to see the damage for themselves and the affect the spill had on the people there. Again, why would I be talking about this? Well, two of those who went on the pilgrimage, journalist Steve Duin (from The Oregonian) and cartoonist Shannon Wheeler, documented their experiences of their pilgrimage and created a graphic novel from that. The collection is titled Oil and Water and it documents their trip and the stories of those they met down in Louisiana. I decided to take a look at it. That’s why this is here.

The art in the collection is very rough. Not in terms of its tones used, but that it feels more like sketches than it does a more polished piece. It gives the work a more organic feel than a more polished piece would. It does lend itself well into moments in the work, but I feel that the work could’ve used some more polish. There were several times where I had trouble distinguishing people from one another. Wheeler definitely does a better job at illustrating inanimate objects, or even animals, but can struggle with people here and there. Given the fact that Wheeler’s works primarily as a cartoonist, not a graphic artist, penciler, etc., the style makes sense. On the whole, I feel like the sketchy style of presentation is effective at parts, but it would’ve probably been more effective if it had been given more time or a more detailed feel.

Oil and Water art sample

In the case of Oil and Water the art is intended only as the vehicle of the piece, it’s a supplement to the journalism of the piece. The intent of the project is the documentation of the effects of the Deepwater spill on the environment, both in terms of the local ecology and human population. And this is present within the work. There are short blurbs between segments that include some information regarding the spill and related issues. There are also several encounters with local victims of the spill met in the course of the work. Some of these stories shared are actually quite touching. However, there’s one huge flaw I believe to be in Oil and Water. While I said this was intended as a journalistic piece, it has far too much linear narrative to be journalism. There are journalistic-like pieces such as Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil that successfully use a narrative structure, but it was so because it did something that Oil and Water didn’t do. It talks far less about the subject matter than it does the people viewing the subject matter. And that doesn’t work for me. As a piece supposed to be about the tragedy of the oil spill and the victims it shouldn’t be about those perceiving it and themselves. It should be about the tragedy. There is a time and a place for this, but not when the intent of your project is like this.

I really wanted to like Oil and Water far more than I did. The art accomplishes its goal, though at times could use a bit more polish. While I did complain a bit about the subject tone of the narrative, I found more good with it than bad. I was just sorely disappointed in the piece missing its intended goal. There is definitely an interested market for these kinds of works and I’m glad that pieces like this exist, however, I do hope they can become more refined in the future.

Oil and Water is written by Steve Duin with art by Shannon Wheeler. It’s distributed through Fantagraphics Books.