Persepolis – The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2 – the Story of a Return

By Marjane Satrapi translated by Anjali Singh (Jonathan Cape/Vintage)
ISBN: 978-0-22406-440-8 (volume 1 HB); 978-0-22407-440-7 (volume 2 HB); 978-0-0-9952-399-4 (TPB)

No comics celebration of non-fictional women could be complete without acknowledging Marjane Satrapi’s astounding breakout memoirs, so let’s revisit her Persepolis books (also available in a complete paperback edition released to coincide with an animated movie of the tale)…

The imagery of a child, their unrefined stylings and shaded remembrances all possess captivating power to enthral adults. Marjane Satrapi grew up during the Fundamentalist revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran and replaced him with an Islamic theocracy.

For cartoon reminiscence Persepolis – The Story of a Childhood, she opted to relate key incidents from her life with the stark direct drawings and sharp, unleavened voice and perceptions of the young girl she was. This simple, direct reportage owes as much to Anne Frank as Art Spiegleman whilst she relates the incidents that shaped her life and her identity as a free-thinking female in a society that increasing frowned on that sort of thing…

Persepolis is the kind of graphic novel that casual and intellectual readers love, focusing on the content of the message and decrying or at best ignoring the technical skill and craft of the medium that conveys it. Yet graphic narrative is as much an art form of craft and thought as it is the dustbin of sophomoric genre stereotypes that many critics relegate it to. Satrapi created a work that is powerful and engaging, but in a sorry twist of reality, it is one that comics fans, and not the general public, still have to be convinced to read.

In the sequel Persepolis – The Story of a Return, the primitivist reminiscences of a girl whose childhood spanned the fall of the Shah and the rise of Iran’s Fundamentalist theocracy, Satrapi continues sharing her personal history, but now concentrates more fully on the little girl growing into a woman.

This idiosyncratic maturation unfortunately acts to somewhat diminish the power of simple, unvarnished observation that was such a devastating lens into the political iniquities that shaped her life, but does transform the author into a fully concrete person, as many of her experiences more closely mirror those of an audience which hasn’t grown up under a cloud of physical, political, spiritual and sexual oppression.

The story recommences in 1984 where 15-year old Marjane is sent to Vienna to (ostensibly) pursue an education. In distressingly short order, the all-but-asylum-seeker is rapidly bounced from home to home: billeted with Nuns; distanced acquaintances of her family; a bed-sit in the house of an apparent madwoman and eventually is reduced to living on the streets, in a catastrophic spiral of decline before returning to Iran in four years later. It is now 1988.

Her observations on the admittedly outré counter-culture European students, and her own actions as she grows to full womanhood seem to indicate that even the most excessive and extreme past experience can still offer a dangerously seductive nostalgia when faced with the bizarre concept of too much freedom too soon.

When she returns to her homeland, her adult life under the regime of the Ayatollah is still a surprisingly less-than-total condemnation than we westerners and our agenda-slanted news media would probably expect. The book concludes with her decision to move permanently to Europe in 1994…

The burgeoning field of autobiographical graphic novels is a valuable outreach resource for an industry desperately seeking to entice new audiences to convert to our product. As long as subject matter doesn’t overpower content and style, and we can offer examples such as Persepolis to the seekers, we should be making real headway.
© Marjane Satrapi 2004. Translation © 2004 Anjali Singh.

Cancer Vixen

By Marisa Acocella Marchetto (Knopf Publishing/Pantheon)
ISBN: 978-0-30726-357-5 (US HB) 978-0-37571-474-0 (UK PB)

The comics medium is incredibly powerful and versatile: easily able to convey different levels of information and shades of meaning in a variety of highly individualistic and personal manners and styles and on any subject imaginable.

Although primarily used as a medium of entertainment, the sequential image is also a devastating tool for instruction and revelation as in this superb encapsulation of one woman’s knock-down drag-out tussle with the “Big C”…

Born in1962, Marisa Acocella studied painting at the Pratt Institute and the School of Visual Arts in New York City before becoming an Art Director for a major Madison Avenue ad agency. After a meteoric career in the field, in 1993 she turned to cartooning.

Acocella concocted the quasi-autobiographical fashion cartoon She which debuted in Mirabella Magazine before transferring to Elle in 1996. The feature was collected as Just Who the Hell Is She, Anyway? The Autobiography of She and the character was optioned for a show by HBO television.

The frenetic scribbler was subsequently head-hunted by Robert Mankoff – Cartoon Editor for iconic periodical The New Yorker – and soon after, with her work regularly appearing in Glamour (where she crafted the series Glamour Girls), Advertising Age, Talk, Modern Bride and ESPN magazine, she created ‘The Strip’ for the New York Times Sunday Styles section. It was that prestigious paper’s first ever continuing comics feature.

In 2004, at the top of her game and three weeks before her marriage to a dashing and highly successful restaurateur, seemingly with the world at her stylishly shod feet (there’s a great deal of attention paid to women’s shoes here, but at least it’s an apparently hereditary fetish: Marisa’s simply overwhelming mother Violetta Acocella was a designer for the Delman Shoe Company), the artist noticed a lump in her breast…

How the sometimes flighty, occasionally self-absorbed but ultimately tough and determinedly resolute Style-Zombie Fashionista cartoonist took control of her life and her situation to beat cancer makes for an utterly engrossing and ferociously vital read…

Told in overlapping flashbacks Cancer Vixen – because the artist loathed the term “Cancer Victim” – documents her emotional pilgrimage through denial, oppressive terror, turbulent anticipations, financial heebie-jeebies, desperate metaphysical bargaining, exploration of outrageous alternative therapies, grudging acceptance and onerous fight-back through her interactions with friends and family – especially that formidably overbearing ‘(S)Mother’ and man-in-a-billion husband-to-be Silvano Marchetto

As Marisa reveals the day-by-day, moment-to-moment journey from suspicion to diagnosis, through surgery and the horrifying post-op chemo-therapy with profound passion, daunting honesty and beguiling self-deprecating humour, what strikes the reader most is the cruelly unnecessary extra anguish caused by a silly mistake which might have cost the artist her life…

Even though thoroughly in-touch, on the go and in command of her life, this modern Ms. had accidentally let her Health Insurance lapse…

Coming from a country where – despite the best efforts of our current government to gut and sell off the National Health Service and neuter the social support and benefits net – nobody has to die from insufficient funds or endure ill-health because of their bank balance, the most gob-smacking strand of this graphic reportage is the cost-counting exercise which periodically tots up the dollars spent at crucial stages of treatment and the realisation that many of her potential care-givers are actually bidding against each other rather than working together to treat their patients customers…

Thankfully Glamour magazine nobly commissioned Marisa to turn her regular strip into a cartoon account of her illness and recovery (with the strip Cancer Vixen launching as a 6-page strip in the April 2005 issue), whilst bravely marrying Silvano – in defiance of her very real dread that he might be a widower before their first anniversary – at least got Marisa belatedly onto his insurance policy…

As a result of her experiences, Marisa Acocella-Marchetto apportioned a percentage of the book’s profits to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation and to underprivileged women at the St. Vincent’s Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center in Manhattan, where she also established The Cancer Vixen Fund, dedicated to help uninsured women get the best breast care available.

Delivered in a chatty, snazzy blend of styles and bright, bold colours, this relentlessly factual book – and thus truly scary because of it – combines a gripping true report of terror and resilience with a glorious love story and inspiring celebration of family and friendship under the worst of all circumstances.

Whilst not the escapist fantasy fiction which is our medium’s speciality, this human drama and faithfully impassioned but funny memoir – with a happy ending to boot – is the kind of comic to enthral and elate real-world fans and devotees of the medium; and indeed, everyone who reads it.
© 2006 Marisa Acocella Marchetto. All rights reserved.

Death Threat

By Vivek Shraya & Ness Lee (Arsenal Pulp Press Vancouver)
ISBN: 978-1-55152-750-5

Vivek Shraya is a poet, musician, educator, writer and performer of immense creativity, as can be appreciated in books such as God Loves Hair, even this page is white, The Boy & the Bindi, I’m Afraid of Men and She of the Mountains or her many albums and films.

On her 35th birthday Shraya publicly announced her status as Trans and requested that she be henceforward addressed with female pronouns. That seems inoffensive enough to me and you, and nobody’s business but hers, but sadly it inspired the by-now pro forma response from certain quarters: a tirade of vitriol and harassment from nasty busybodies hiding behind and tainting social media…

Unevolved old jerks like me just get angry and hunger to respond in kind – with vituperative counterattacks – but happily, civilised people find better ways. This book is perhaps the best, as, in collaboration with Toronto-based artist and designer Ness Lee, Shraya transformed fear and disappointment into art with a heavy helping of surreal, satirical soul searching.

The liberating act of turning those unsolicited, unreasoning email assaults – couched in offensive terms by people who hide behind religions whose fundamental tenets they happily cherry pick – into a gloriously incisive and witty exploration of the inexplicable mindless aggression debasing so much of modern society is eyepopping and mind-blowing.

Unlike those who cower behind the supposed anonymity of their keyboards and phones, Shraya and Lee have proudly appended their names to this vibrant voyage, which details how the bile of ignorant bullies (you won’t believe just how dumb some bigots are until you see the hate mail here!) inspired beautiful images and empowering inclusivity.

My generation’s parents told us to ignore bullies or strike back, but today’s ostracised, oppressed and unfairly targeted have found a far better way: turn their hate into beauty and take ownership of it.
Death Threat: Text © 2019 Vivek Shraya. Illustrations © 2019 Ness Lee. All rights reserved.

Willie and Joe: The WWII Years

By Bill Mauldin, edited by Todd DePastino (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-439-9 (PB)

During World War II a talented, ambitious young man named William Henry “Bill” Mauldin (29/10/1921 – 22/01/2003) fought “Over There” with the 45th Division of the United States Infantry as well as many other fine units of the army. He learned to hate war and love his brother soldiers – and the American fighting man loved him back. During his time in the service he produced civilian cartoons for the Oklahoma City Times and The Oklahoman, and devastatingly, intimately effective and authentic material for his Company periodical, 45th Division News. He also produced work for Yank and Stars and Stripes; the US Armed Forces newspapers. Soon after, his cartoons were being reproduced in newspapers across Europe and America.

They mostly featured two slovenly “dogfaces” – a term he popularised – offering their trenchant and laconic view of the war from the muddied tip of the sharpest of Sharp Ends…

Willie and Joe, much to the dismay of the brassbound, spit-and-polish military martinets and diplomatic doctrinaires, became the unshakable, everlasting image of the American soldier: continually exposing in all ways and manners the stuff upper echelons of the army would prefer remained top secret. Not war secrets, but how the men at arms lived, felt and died.

Willie and Joe even became the subject of two films (Up Front -1951 and Back at the Front – 1952) whilst Willie made the cover of Time magazine in 1945, when 23-year old Mauldin won his first Pulitzer Prize.

In 1945, a collection of his drawings, accompanied by a powerfully understated and heartfelt documentary essay, was published by Henry Holt and Co. Up Front was a sensation, telling the American public about the experiences of their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands in a way no historian would or did. A biography, Back Home, followed in 1947.

Mauldin’s anti-war, anti-Idiots-in-Charge-of-War views became increasingly unpopular during the Cold War and, despite being a certified War Hero, Mauldin’s increasingly political cartoon work fell out of favour (those efforts are the subject companion volume Willie & Joe: Back Home). Mauldin left the increasing hostile and oversight-ridden business to become a journalist and illustrator.

He was a film actor for a while (appearing, amongst other movies, in Red Badge of Courage with veteran war hero Audie Murphy); a war correspondent during the Korean War and – after an unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 1956 – finally returned to newspaper cartooning in 1958.

He retired in 1991 after a long, glittering and award-studded career. He only drew Willie and Joe four times in that entire period (for an article on the “New Army” in Life magazine; for the funerals of “Soldier’s Generals” Omar Bradley and George C. Marshall; and to eulogize Milton Caniff). His fondest wish had been to kill the iconic dogfaces off on the final day of World War II, but Stars and Stripes vetoed it.

The Willie and Joe cartoons and characters are some of the most enduring and honest symbols of all military history. Every Veterans Day in Peanuts from 1969 to 1999, fellow veteran Charles Schulz had Snoopy turn up at Mauldin’s house to drink root beers and tell war stories with an old pal. When you read Sgt. Rock you’re looking at Mauldin’s legacy, and Archie Goodwin drafted the shabby professionals for a couple of classy guest-shots in Star-Spangled War Stories (see Showcase Presents the Unknown Soldier).

This immense, mostly monochrome (with some very rare colour and sepia items) softcover compendium comes in at 704 pages, (229 x 178mm for the physical copy or any size you want if you get the digital edition): assembling all his known wartime cartoons – as originally released in two hardback editions in 2008. It features not only the iconic dog-face duo, but also the drawings, illustrations, sketches and gags that led, over 8 years of army life, to their creation.

Mauldin produced most of his work for Regimental and Company newspapers whilst under fire: perfectly capturing the life and context of fellow soldiers – also under battlefield conditions – and shared a glimpse of that unique and bizarre existence to their families and civilians at large, despite constant military censorship and even face-to-face confrontations with Generals. George Patton was perennially incensed at the image the cartoonist presented to the world, but fortunately Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, if not a fan, knew the strategic and morale value of Mauldin’s Star Spangled Banter and Up Front features with those indomitable everymen Willie and Joe

This far removed in time, many of the pieces here might need historical context for modern readers and such is comprehensively provided by the notes section to the rear of the volume. Also included are unpublished pieces and pages, early cartoon works, and rare notes, drafts and sketches.

Most strips, composites and full-page gags, however, are sublimely transparent in their message and meaning: lampooning entrenched stupidity and cupidity, administrative inefficiency and sheer military bloody-mindedness. They highlight equally the miraculous perseverance and unquenchable determination of ordinary guys to get the job done while defending their only inalienable right – to gripe and goof off whenever the brass weren’t around…

Most importantly, Mauldin never patronised civilians or demonised the enemy: the German and Italians are usually in the same dismal boat as “Our Boys” and only the war and its brass-bound conductors are worthy of his inky ire…

Alternating crushing cynicism, moral outrage, gallows humour, absurdist observation, shared miseries, staggering sentimentality and the total shock and awe of still being alive every morning, this cartoon catalogue of the Last Just War is a truly breathtaking collection that no fan, art-lover, historian or humanitarian can afford to miss.

…And it will make you cry and laugh out loud too.

With a fascinating biography of Mauldin that is as compelling as his art, the mordant wit and desperate camaraderie of his work is more important than ever in an age where increasingly cold and distant brass-hats and politicians send ever-more innocent lambs to further foreign fields for slaughter. With this volume and the aforementioned Willie & Joe: Back Home, we should finally be able to restore the man and his works to the forefront of graphic consciousness, because tragically, it looks like his message is never going to be outdated… or learned from by the idiots in charge who most need to hear it…
© 2011 the Estate of William Mauldin. All right reserved.

Desolation Wilderness

By Claire Scully (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-45-5 (PB)

The most magical thing about comics is the sheer versality of potential results. In terms of narrative, exposition, mood-setting and information dissemination, nothing can come close, and the range of visualisation spans near-abstract construction to hyper-realism. If the end-consumer is particularly receptive, the author can even dial back on the narrative and let a succession of carefully-applied images make a story unique to each reader. It’s like jazz for your eyes…

In a way, we’re all still monkeys clinging to rocks: we cannot help but respond viscerally to our environments: cowed or elated by stony heights, drawn to and pacified by pools and gardens, inexplicably moved to fear or joy by forests. It’s in our blood and bones: Nobody stands on a mountaintop or looks down into the Grand Canyon and says “meh”…

We may have left the caves and trees but we now mimic those ancient sanctuary havens in our dwellings. We climb high and burrow deep and our architecture has visceral, compulsive, instinctive power over us – just walk by a Victorian school, across a Roman viaduct or study the oppressive triumphalism of Nazi-built buildings or battle emplacements – we’re all still part of the wild and nature is in our bones too.

When someone really talented and truly invested channels those primal responses, the fires of creativity can push right into the hindbrain to our inner primitive. Desolation Wilderness does that.

Described as “a sequence of events occurring over a period of time in the search for a location in space” this tiny paperback handbook is a purely visual experience enhanced by the rough tactile textures of the card it’s printed on: part of an on-going project examining the relationship of Landscape and Memory.

Creator Claire Scully has inscribed and sequenced compelling scenes of rocks and trees and waters through different seasons and times of day in such a fashion that you must look and pause and ponder. It is a graphic missile targeting recollection and imagination; one that hits with serenely devastating impact.

If you are still human it will make you think: you won’t be able to help yourself…

© 2019 Claire Scully. All rights reserved.
Desolation Wilderness is scheduled for publication on June 3rd 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns

By Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson (Limerance/Oni Press)
ISBN: 978-1-62010-499-6 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-62010-500-9

Comic strips have long been acknowledged as an incredibly powerful tool to educate, rendering tricky or complex issues easily accessible. They also have an overwhelming ability to affect and change behaviour and have been used for centuries by politicians, religions, the military and commercial concerns to modify how we live our lives.

Here’s a splendid example of the art form using its great powers for good…

Despite what the old adage might say, words are not only harmful, but also shape how people react to or regard… well, everything.

Semantic shading is prevalent in all aspects of human communication, and predisposes us to respond in certain manners; frequently in contradiction to all other data. I still have a scar on my finger from when I was nine and picked up a cute, cuddly, playfully welcoming kitten, clearly in a manner it found inappropriate and uncomfortable.

In the social contract we all live under, every person (and almost all of the animals and some complex machinery) should expect to be treated with courtesy and in terms they find comfortable and acceptable. I have used nine different pen-names in a long and undistinguished creative career and respond to them equally, as readily as my own name (no matter how badly mangled it might be by people I don’t expect to possess any facility or familiarity with the Eastern European pronunciation or syntax it stems from).

I don’t even care if people call me “madam” or late for dinner.

I’m somewhat less sanguine about rude or aggressive people using “oi, mate”, “baldy” or “hey you”. I have no patience at all for those who smugly tell me I’m saying my own name wrong…

At least I’m fortunate enough to fall into a broad category of cisgendered folk who unthinkingly share appropriately-gendered pronouns. That’s not a situation everybody enjoys, but is one that can and should be rectified. Misgendering (intentional or otherwise) is arrogant, lazy, impolite and selfish: It’s 2019 and we should all be accepted on our own terms by now.

All it takes is willingness and a little effort… and – if these concepts are new to you – this extremely engaging little paperback guide, crafted by two lifelong friends addressing the issue from the most different of positions.

Archie Bongiovanni is non-binary: identifying as a genderqueer artist who feels “Him” and “Her” are not pronouns that apply or are relevant. As part of a widely diverse and continually diversifying society, they (that was me doing the gender pronoun thing, there) feel those terms can – and should – be supplemented by other, neutral words: in this specific case “They” or “Them”.

Tristan Jimerson is a cisgendered man who works as a copywriter and runs a restaurant. As part of an inherited social majority he had no choice in originally defining, he is keen to adjust the way he refers to people so as be inclusive, polite and non-discriminatory.

The book they created together is inexpensive, informative, great fun and available in physical and digital editions (so you should get loads of copies and start giving them to everybody you know).

It also means the only terms you’re getting for free here are the aforementioned Non-Binary – meaning someone who does not identify as either male or female – and Cisgender – which translates as a person who agrees and accepts the gender they were assigned at birth. If you need clarification on terms like “gender” or “pronoun” that’s what books and search engines are for; and check back to what I just said about being lazy…

As well as simple, affable explanations, tips and hints, you’ll find here cartoon reference charts and lists clarifying what to say, to whom and when, with examples and suggestions for why you should rethink your viewpoint if you’re feeling reluctant, or recalcitrant. Readers will be gently introduced to concepts such as ‘YOLO’, ‘Why Pronouns Matter’ and ‘How to use They/Them pronouns in Everyday life: A Practical Guide!’ as well as profiting from sections ‘For Folks Identifying with Alternative Pronouns’ and much more…

A handy guide to simple courtesy and common human decency, this is a marvellous attempt to help us all get along a little more easily. Maybe we should find an equivalent publication dealing with climate change, commercial expediency and political short-termism…?
A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns ™ & © 2018 Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson. All rights reserved.

I Am Going to Be Small

By Jeffrey Brown (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-891830-86-0 (PB)

If you’re a fan of Jeffrey Brown’s cartoon exploits you might understandably admit to a small degree of confusion. In 2012 he scored his first global best-seller with a hilarious spin on the nurturing side of the Jedi experience in Darth Vader and Son, following up with equally charming and hilarious sequels such as Vader’s Little Princess, Star Wars: Jedi Academy and others. He added contributions to the expanded Star Wars franchise’s dramatic comics canon and has directed music videos, created film posters, worked for public radio and co-written the feature film Save the Date.

Before that another Jeffrey Brown was the sharply sparkling wit who had crafted slyly satirical all-ages funny stuff for The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror, Marvel’s Strange Tales, Incredible Change-Bots and similar visual venues. His current big thing is the Lucy & Andy Neanderthal series of books.

There is yet another Jeffrey Brown: instigator and frequent star and stooge of such quirkily irresistible autobiographical Indy comics classics as Bighead, Little Things, Funny, Misshapen Body, Undeleted Scenes and the 4-volume “Girlfriend Trilogy” comprising Clumsy, Unlikely, AEIOU and Every Girl is the End of the World for Me

Whichever Brown’s your preferred choice, he’s a cartoonist of rare insight and unflinching integrity who still makes you laugh out loud when not prompting you to offer a big consoling hug. That’s what this landscape landmark (available in paperback and eBook editions) is about – “a collection of gag and humour cartoons 1997-2006”…

Brown was raised in Michigan; relocating to Chicago in 2000 to attend the School of the Arts Institute and study painting. Before graduating he had switched to drawing comics and in 2002 Clumsy was released. A poignant and uncompromising dissection of a long-distance relationship, it quickly became a surprise hit with fans and critics alike. A little later – and in the same vein – he produced Unlikely (or How I Lost My Virginity) a True Love Story: “250+ pages of young love, sex, drugs, heartbreak & comedy” involving the long and agonisingly extended process of “becoming a Man”….

Here, those evergreen themes are constantly revisited and expanded upon: a succession of painful torments, frustrations and moments of unparalleled joy, but rubbing pimply shoulders with straight-up whimsy, surreal and gross-out gags, observational comedy and anything the swiftly-developing cartoonist deemed worthy of his brief attention. The result is painfully funny…

Here you will find uplifting homilies gone awry, college days captured in all their bleakness, sports – and sportsmen – dissected, movies reviewed and trashed, faux ads and products, the magic of boxes, religion, excess and guilt, god and Jesus, animal crackers, food, dining, unicorns, atrocious puns, the wonder of toys, war and the military, ex-girlfriends, babies, torture and mutilation and lots of observations on the dating arena.

There, at the rear end of the book, is a selection of anthropomorphic yet sophisticated mishaps featuring of a bunch of animals – Bunny, Bear, Bird and Cat – enduring the torment of interspecies attraction (and repulsion), all gathered together under the umbrella title ‘Cuticle’

The material is both delicious and agonising in its forthright simplicity: brimming with shameful glee and subversive wit, this a fabulous voyage of graphic and comedic self-indulgence for everybody who has passed the raging hormones stage of existence and is happy to enjoy the plight of others still suffering…

It is to laugh…
© 2006 Jeffrey Brown.

The Initiates – A Comic Artist And a Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs

By Étienne Davodeau, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM/Comics Lit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-703-4 (HB)

Throughout 2010 Bande Dessinée author/artist Étienne Davodeau (Friends of Saltiel, Lulu femme Nue, Un monde si tranquille, The Poor People: A History of Activists), noted for both brilliant fiction and moving factual comicbook novels, participated in a fascinating life (or perhaps vocation) swap experiment.

The artist, writer and designer was born in 1965 and, whilst studying art at the University of Rennes, founded Psurde Studios with fellow comics creators Jean-Luc Simon and Marc Le Grand, AKA “Joub”. His first album The Man Who Did Not Like Trees was released in 1992.  He is a leader and integral part of the modern graphic auteur movement in French and Belgian comics.

Released as Les Ignorants in October 2011, this lyrical and beguiling cartoon documentary reveals the year when the artist and independent specialist wine-maker Richard Leroy shared the secrets and mundane realities of each other’s insular, introspective and fearsomely philosophical solitary professions.

Davodeau knew absolutely nothing of the ferocious demands of the elite, experimental grape-growing game nor the oenophilic secrets and mysteries of tasting wine, but similarly the bluff, irascible son of the soil had barely read a comic in his entire life. The journal of discovery opens with ‘To Pruning, Then (Plus One Belgian Printing)’ as the artist is put to work in icy winds on the terroir of Montbenault, cutting and shaping the lianas which hold such glorious potential. Then Leroy is taken on an eye-opening tour of a Belgian print-works where Davodeau is summoned to sign off his latest album…

In ‘Wood’ a trip to a cooperage dissects the role of barrels in the slow fermentation process, as the new friends discuss the imponderables of judgement. It’s hard to define, but in their own fields each knows right and wrong, good and bad and most especially “not perfect yet”…

Leroy’s extra-curricular work includes reading lots of comics and graphic novels, as well as being introduced to the peripheral joys such as signings, collectors fads and so forth, but when he is introduced to major creator Gibrat a fascinating discourse on the aesthetics of the medium ensues in ‘Jean-Pierre (and Jimi, and Wolfgang Amadeus and a Few Others)’, liberally lubricated by the vintner’s ever-present samples of his own form of creative expression…

A charming interview and guest appearance with Lewis Trondheim graces ‘The Art of the Portrait and its Vicissitudes, or “The Theory of the Beak”’ even as the spring brings terror, confusion and greater back-breaking toil as the artist has his first brush with tractors and even more obscure specialist technologies, ‘What Goes Without Saying’ offers personal history and raking in the hot sun, after which ‘In Praise of Manure’ focuses on subjectivity as he learns the pros and cons of the controversial vintners’ heresy of “Biodynamics”…

Ploughing and accidental self-immolation features in ‘A Question of Proximity’, whilst the arrival of the world’s most influential wine critic opens a whole new area of discourse in ‘New York/Montbenault/New York’, and the tables are satisfactorily turned in ‘Saying Something Stupid: (Sometimes) a Good Idea’ as Richard attends an editors’ meeting in Paris in July before a little break at a Bistro reveals the true depth of the naïve comic-consuming artisan’s liquid gifts…

Wine-making is a 24/7 occupation and as storm season hits the terroir ‘The Blunder’ offers moments of genuine tension and apprehension for this year’s crop before a successful “disbudding” of the vines leaves time for a taste-training session for the novice drinker and reluctant reader alike.

In ‘Blacks and Whites’ the never-shy Leroy meets a creator whose work deeply affected him, and the pleasant hours spent with author/artist Marc-Antoine Mathieu lead to deep thoughts all round before ‘Wherein, When Certain Vintners Suffer Sulphur’ covers the raging debate in the wine industry on the use of elemental additives to “manage” fermentation, which leads inevitably to the frantic camaraderie of the grape-picking and constant cry for another ‘Bucket!’

October, and with the year’s harvest pressed and in barrels there’re a few quiet moments to disparage foolish ‘Label Drinkers’ at Wine Exhibitions, happily contrasting the snobs with Leroy’s first experience of a Comics Festival, before November brings the first tentative tastings of the new vintage and a long-awaited epiphany moment for reluctant reader Leroy in ‘Montbenault/Paris/Kabul’

The Photographer (“Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders”, by Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefèvre and Frédéric Lemercier) was the book the vintner responded to on a purely, frighteningly visceral level, so Davodeau takes the bemused convert to meet the lead creator and consequently discovers a tenuous connection between his life-swap partner and the documentary graphic novel’s subjects…

In ‘A Teetering Statue’ the quiet winter weeks allow breathing space to learn the travails of shipping and export, as well as encompassing a visit to the Paris Cartier Foundation’s Moebius Exhibition and some deliciously piquant home truths for comics cognoscenti before returning again to pruning vines, whilst ‘Savagnins, Poulsards, and Company’ takes us almost full circle as Leroy takes the artist to the vintner’s own personal promised land and a fellow elite wine maverick, whilst a trip to Corsica takes in the Bastia Comics Convention and the unique vineyard of the “Patrimonio Arena” in ‘Nielluccio, Vermentinu, Bianco Gentile and Oubapo’…

The magnificently elegiac and languorously evocative account wraps up in genteelly seductive manner with one final excursion as The Initiates head for the Dordogne to follow up on Emmanuel Guibert’s introduction to the survivors of The Photographer. One last gracious day of cross-fertilised booze and books conversation in ‘Final Revelations under a Cherry Tree’ then leads inevitably back to where and how it all began for both participants…

Of course all I care about is comics, but even on my terms this rapturous, studious yet impossibly addictive account of two open-minded, deeply dedicated artists’ tentative exploration of each other worlds – at once tediously familiar and utterly unknown – is a masterpiece of subtle education, if not benevolent propaganda and, like good wine or a great book, takes its own sweet time to hook you.

Also included in this surprisingly compelling hardback chronicle is ‘Drunk/Read’ – a list of wines and graphic novels introduced to each novitiate; an intriguing bucket list for readers to aspire to and complete our second hand education into the greatest arts on Earth…

This dazzling display of harsh fact and the theosophical fervour of the grape-growers art, seamlessly blended with an outsider’s overview of our whacky, cosy world of cartoons and funnybooks, is enchanting beyond measure and should figure high on any fan’s list of books to seduce comics non-believers with. It might also be the perfect gift for all those people you thought you couldn’t buy a graphic novel present for…

Europeans excel at making superb comics – Lord, how I’m going to miss them all come April when we’ve built our own Exclusion Wall and domed ourselves in our Den of National Insularity – which simultaneously entertain and educate (check out the sublime On the Odd Hours or The Sky over the Louvre to see what I mean) and the seductive, evocative, eclectically human monochrome illustration and dialogue perfectly capture the sensorial effect of wine and work and weather, and the backbreaking, self-inflicted artisan toil and ineffable rewards of making comics or creating wine…

This elegiac documentary of a bizarrely fitting experiment is a book you must savour.
© Futuropolis 2011. © 2013 NBM for English translation.

When I Was a Kid – Childhood Stories by Boey

By Cheeming Boey (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-785-3

Unless your life’s even more unpredictable than mine, all the preparations and frantic panics should be sorted by now and it’s too late to pick up any meaningful gifts that aren’t actually immaterial and/or downloadable.

So, with that in mind, why not calmly ponder the meaning of it all and lay plans for next time?

As this little lost gem proves, the whole histrionic drama of the season is about making memories for those around you… good and bad. Why not strive to make them ones you and yours can share with friends instead of the police or EMTs?

The ability to go back into our childhoods and relive those bizarre, baffling and brilliantly fierce thoughts and every brand-new-day discoveries is a wondrous mixed blessing, but being able to share those recaptured experiences with jaded world-weary adults is a truly miraculous gift and thus utterly evergreen.

One of the most effective and memorable collections generated by an august crowd of halcyon salad-days wranglers comes from Malaysian animator, illustrator, educator, video game developer and cartoonist Cheeming Boey – who also produces gallery art on Styrofoam coffee cups and created an autobiographical webcomic about his life in America, entitled I Am Boey.

You should really check it out…

As a kind of prequel to his blog – if indeed growing up can be considered an introduction to a main event – Boey collected a huge number of visual memoirs and epigrams about his im-maturing years in Asia, bundling them up in a beguiling tome (and a rapidly released sequel) emphasising both the exoticism of life in Malaysia and the universal similarities and solidarities of being a kid.

Warm, sensitive, intimate, uproarious, disarmingly honest as well as on occasion brutal, shocking and sad, these 103 visual monologues (with heart-warming family photos scattered throughout) are invitations into a world of wonder, rivalry, confusion, punishment, resentment, humiliation, anticipation, frustration, greed, glee and always the security of family.

They all begin with “When I was a kid…” and prove that, apart from the odd surface detail, every happy, loving childhood is identical…

The stand-out incidents include such salutary universal reminiscences as ‘My First Pet’, ‘Baby Powder’, ‘Bedtime Stories’, ‘Bad for your Eyes’, ‘Grandma’s Leg’, ‘Nasal Noodles’, ‘R-Rated’, ‘Stealing Money’, ‘Sunday Cartoons’, ‘Not a Genius’ and of course ‘Failing Math’ but with such a wide catalogue to choose from, every little cartoon episode will resonate with somebody. Especially you. Particularly now…

And just in case I’ve made a convert – this one is available as an eBook if you need it right away…
© 2011, 2013 Cheeming Boey. All rights reserved.

Follow Me In

By Katriona Chapman (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-38-7 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: The Perfect Holiday Getaway… 10/10

I read a lot of graphic novels. Some are awful, many are so-so and the rest I endeavour to share with you. Of that remaining fraction most can be summarised, plot-pointed and précised to give you a clue about what you might be buying if I’ve done my job right.

Sometimes, however, all that fuss is not only irrelevant but will actually impede your eventual enjoyment. This is one of those times…

Katriona Chapman is a story-maker based in London, from where she’s been crafting superb tales in Small Press titles like Tiny Pencil (which she-cofounded), Comic Book Slumber Party, Ink & Paper, Save Our Souls, Deep Space Canine and her own award-winning Katzine. She draws beautifully and knows how to quietly sneak up, grab your undivided attention and never let go… and she hasn’t spent all her life in the Smoke either…

Follow Me In is her first novel-length tale and combines recollections of a particularly troubling time in her life with clearly the most life-affirming and inspirational events one could hope to experience.

At the station, a young woman meets up with an old boyfriend. He’s a writer and she draws. It’s been years and they’re still awkward and uncomfortable in each other’s presence. They talk about the time in 2003 when they decided to trek the entire country of Mexico, north to south east to west. Back then they were looking for themselves. As her mind goes back, she realizes she’s a lot closer to answers than he is…

This magnificently hefty, pocket-sized (165 x 216 mm) hardcover then follows that voyage with exquisite detail, relating history, culture, the sights, and most especially the actual, non-screaming headlines, bad-movie images of a young nation with thousands of years of history, architecture and archaeology: a nation that proudly boasts dozens of indigenous cultures living in relative harmony, speaking at least 68 legally recognised languages and constantly being reshaped by political turmoil. Moreover, no traveller should miss this tome, if only for the advice on bugs, minibeasts and illnesses…

Follow Me In is slyly lyrical and enchantingly enticing; a moving and intoxicating graphic assessment of a crucial time in the illustrator’s life, filled with facts, warmth and conflict, offering fascinating data on such varied topic as ‘A Selection of Mexican Foods’, ‘Learning Spanish’, ‘Travel Sketching’, ‘What’s in our Bags?’ and ‘The Conquests’, all equally compelling and useful to know. And through it all, you’ll want to know what happened to our travellers as they transition from kids to grown-ups as much as what they’ll see next in this magnetic story within a story.

Refreshing, redemptive and rewarding, this is a book to chase away all winter blues and existential glums and a reading experience you must not deprive yourself – or your family – of.
© Katriona Chapman 2018. All rights reserved.