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.

The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea – a Graphic Memoir of Modern Slavery


By Vannak Anan Prum, as told to Ben & Jocelyn Pederick and translated by Lim Sophorn (Seven Stories Press)
ISBN: 978-1-6098-0602-6

This book made me furiously angry, but that’s good because it was supposed to.

Despite years of shocking scoops and in-depth news reports, far too many first world citizens seem blissfully unaware that human slavery still thrives.

In fact, the practise of enforced, unpaid labour props up a vast number of businesses and industries; from migrants and homeless people used as beasts of burden by British gangs masquerading as builders (like the Rooney family recently sentenced to decades in prison) to young hopefuls trafficked into a global sex market or entire populations captured or conned and compelled to till fields or man fishing boats for companies and “entrepreneurs” little better than racketeers and petty tyrants.

At the root of all this appalling exploitation and upheaval is one unchanging factor: a desperate need to escape overwhelming poverty.

This breathtakingly low key and matter-of-fact tale is the testimony in cartoon form of Cambodian Vannak Anan Prum who went looking for work to pay for his pregnant wife’s medical care and was gone for years…

Bracketed by a fact-filled and frankly nightmare-inducing Foreword from activist and cartoon journalist Anne Elizabeth Moore (Unmarketable, Truthout), an equally sobering Introduction by Minky Worden – Director of Global Initiatives for Human Rights Watch – and a laudatory appreciation and call to arms by Kevin Bales (Professor of Contemporary Slavery and Research Director at the Rights Lab: University of Nottingham) in his Afterword, a compelling human-scaled odyssey unfolds here.

Rendered with the gently seductive warmth and deceptively comfortable lushness of a Ladybird early reader book, the saga of endurance and survival against the cruellest of fates begins with a ‘Prologue’ as a stranger enters a Cambodian village…

Vannak Anan Prum started life ‘Drawing in the Dirt’. He was born the year the Khmer Rouge were beaten by the Vietnamese, but his early life was still one of hardship, privation and family abuse. Barely more than a boy, he fled his home seeking ‘Adventure’, becoming first a soldier, then a monk and finally an artisan sculptor toiling in a workshop making tourist trinkets and statues.

His constant hunt for work led him to farming and he met the girl who became ‘My Wife’. When she fell pregnant, he had to make more money to pay for her hospital care. With village friend Rus Vannak followed a lead to Thailand and contacted ‘Moto & the Middleman’. After helping them in ‘Crossing the Border’ they soon changed from chummy helpers to sinister guards…

Apparently, the great secret to successful slave-taking is convincing the victims that the police, army and authorities are ruthless and will punish undocumented illegals and economic migrants: constantly dangling hope of good pay and promises of eventual freedom to keep their captives quiescent.

For Vannak and Rus ‘The Writing on the Wall’ is a clear but anticlimactic moment and after relatively painless incarceration they are shipped onto facilities ship ‘The Took Tho’. This vessel services a vast fleet of illegal fishing boats, pirating catches in other nations’ waters and manned by hundreds of men who only wanted to better themselves. Most never see land again once they are taken…

One such is ‘The Old Man’, whose fate led to Vannak being transferred to primitive fishing factory ship ‘The Took Oh’. Eventually, crushing routine takes hold, only barely broken by what happens to ‘Rus’

‘Life on the Boat’ ruled Vannak’s world and any number of candidates for ‘The Deadliest Job’ were gratefully handled before the new man’s status was slightly elevated. After he started tattooing himself with makeshift tools, his ‘Writing on the Skin’ led to others wanting such decoration… and paying for it.

His artistic gifts were useless when the ship was chased by the Indonesian navy resulting in ‘Fire at Sea’ and Vannak’s trading to ‘The New Boat’

Fresh horrors awaited here: murder, beatings and the shocking fate of the ‘Two Guys’ from Thailand, but there were also more serene moments with ‘My Friend K’Nack’.

Adding to the alternating dire tedium and frantic hardship, ‘Storms at Sea’ and consequent becalmed periods made ‘Days Stretch Out’

At last, after the craft surprisingly neared land, a chance came for ‘Escape’. With Thai compatriot Chaya, Vannak chanced everything on ‘The Swim’ to an unknown jungle beach and kept going…

Once again hope quickly gave way to despair. In ‘The Monkeys and the Man Waiting for Us’ an idyllic pause and the aid of some helpful citizens took the escapees to ‘Police and the Chinese Man’, who promptly sold them both to a plantation owner known as ‘Crazy Boss’

More months of slavery in what eventually turned out to be Malaysia followed, but again Vannak’s artistic skills proved invaluable and he made enough to obtain ‘The Phone’.

Contact established with the outside world, he prepared to be rescued, but when a drunken party dissolved into ‘The Fight’ Vannak and “co-worker” Theara were wounded by machetes and dumped into the custody of the local police who grudgingly took them to ‘Hospital’

And here’s where the real injustices start piling up as the victims suffer ‘Yo-Yo Justice’. Although Theara is soon claimed by his family, illegal worker Vannak is arrested. However, in ‘Prison’ he is interviewed by German NGO worker Manfred Hornung who begins the convoluted process of freeing the abducted and enslaved Cambodian.

Sadly, that process takes months, and is perpetually hampered by police interference and the revelation of just who – and how influential – Crazy Boss is…

It’s still a long and torturous ordeal before the LICADHO (Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights) can ferry the relieved and apprehensive Vannak ‘Home’

This crushingly sedate, oppressively action-deprived story is an astounding testament to the will to survive, but that doesn’t mean it lacks power, merit or moment. Life simply isn’t a three-act summer blockbuster with exploding helicopters, sexy vamps and Mikado-esque just deserts doled out to the endless chain of truly evil, corrupt bastards entrenched at every stage of the modern slavery system, with hands out and blind eyes turned to the plight of those they’re supposed to protect and serve.

In actual fact, the only thing they really fear is exposure and that began when Vannak – still desperately seeking to earn a living – started drawing his five awful years of experiences as strips. These were seen by film makers Ben & Jocelyn Pederick and one of the results and repercussions is this book…

As seen in ‘Epilogue’, there will be more to come…

A truly remarkable story of a quietly indomitable man who turned survival into a waiting game and patience into his weapon, The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea is a book everyone should read and every exploiter should dread.
Text and images © 2018 Vannak Anan Prum. Foreword © 2018 Anne Elizabeth Moore. Introduction © 2018 Minky Worden. Afterword © 2018 Kevin Bales. All rights reserved.

Young, Talented… Exploited!


By Yatuu, translated by FNIC (Sloth Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-908830-02-9

Much as we’d like to think otherwise, the world of work is no longer possessed of purely national characteristics. These days we all slave under a universal system that sidesteps borders in the name of global corporate philosophy. Thus, this stunning glimpse of one French woman’s frustrated struggle against modern employment practise is one that’s being repeated all over the planet every day.

In this case however, Capitalism picked on the wrong person because Yatuu has enough spark, gumption and talent to fight back…

When Cyndi Barbero graduated from college and began looking for a job, all she was offered were unpaid internships. Eventually, she took one, still believing the mantra everyone with a job repeated: “if you work hard enough they may offer a permanent position”.

The work-placement role ran its legally-mandated course and she was promptly replaced by another sucker. After the third time it happened she began to blog (www.yatuu.fr/en) about and sharing her experiences, venting her opinions on such a manifestly unfair system and derive a soupçon of justifiable payback…

Just in case you’re unaware: An Intern takes a position in a company to learn the ropes, develop good working habits and establish contacts in order to make them more employable. The system used to work even though most kids ended up doing scut-work and never really learned anything useful.

Such positions are unpaid and eventually most employers realised that they could get free low-grade temporary labourers and thereby cut their own running costs. Using, abusing and discarding the seemingly endless supply of optimistic hopefuls has become an accepted expense-control measure at most large businesses. Even those employers who originally played fair had to change at some stage, because the exploitative tactics gave business rivals an unfair financial advantage…

I used to know of only one large company where interns were paid – and that’s only because the CEO put his foot down and insisted. When he retired and the company was sold the intern program quickly shifted to the new normal…

This subtly understated, over-the-top manga-styled, savagely comedic exposé tracks one exhilarated graduate’s progress from college to the world of no work through ‘At the End of the First Internship’ via ‘At the End of the Second Internship’ to ‘At the End of the Third Internship’ when even she began to smell a rat.

That didn’t daunt her (much) and, after much soul-searching, she took her dream job at a major Ad Agency. At least it would have been, were she not the latest addition to a small army of interns expending their creative energies for insane hours, zero thanks or acknowledgement and at their own financial expense…

From ‘Some Words Get Instant Reactions at Interviews’ through her ‘First Day’ – via vivid and memorable digressions on expected behaviour and hilariously familiar vignettes of types (I spent 30 years as an advertising freelancer and I think I’ve actually gone drinking with many of these guys’ British cousins…) – to the accepted seven-days-a-week grind of ‘This Place is Great Because You Learn to Laugh on Cue’ and ‘Nothing Out of the Ordinary’, Yatuu grew accustomed to her voluntary slavery… although her barely-suppressed sense of rebellion was unquenchable.

Amongst so many short pithy lessons compiled here we see and sympathise with ‘Intensive Training’, observe ‘The Pleasure of Feeling Useful’ and realise there’s ‘Nothing to Lose’, before an intriguing game of office ‘Dilemma’ explores whether to have lunch with the Employees or Interns and what to do if asked to do ‘Overtime’

As much diary as educational warning, this beguiling collection reveals how the hapless ever-hopeful victim developed survival strategies – such as finding a long-suffering workmate prepared to lend a floor, couch or bed for those frequent nights when the last train leaves before you do…

Mostly however, this addictive collection deals with the author’s personal responses to an untenable but inescapable situation for far too many young people: revealing insane episodes of exhaustion, despondency and work (but, tellingly not Job)-related stress, such as too many scary midnight cab rides home, constant nightmares and grinding daily insecurity.

What’s amazing is that it’s done with style, bravery and an astonishing degree of good-natured humour – especially when dealing with ‘The Idea Thief’, planning ‘Retaliation’ or perfecting ‘The Ultimate Revenge Technique!!!’

Originally collected as Moi, 20 Ans, Diplômée, Motivée… Exploitée, Yatuu’s trenchant cartoon retaliations were published in English a few years ago (so are long overdue for a new edition) and make for fascinating reading.

Although it really should be, you probably won’t find Young, Talented… Exploited! discussed in any school Careers lessons or part of any college Job seminar and it’s almost certainly banned from every employers’ Orientation and Training package, but that’s just a sign of how good it is.

Best get your own copy and be ready for the worst scams, indignities and excesses that the Exploiters and Bosses will try to spring on you…

At least once you’ve paid for it you can be assured that it will deliver on its promise…
© 2013 Yatuu & 12bis. English translation and layout © 2013 Sloth Publishing, Ltd.

Bread & Wine – an Erotic Tale of New York


By Samuel R. Delaney & Mia Wolff (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-632-4

The demands of drama dictate that true love never runs smooth but that’s not the case in real life. The trade-off is that those actual romances which stand the test of time and tedium are painfully devoid of the remarkable circumstance and miraculous “gosh-wow” moments of fiction.

But this remarkable account proves That Ain’t Necessarily So…

In 1999 independent publisher Juno released a small graphic novel memoir, written by Samuel R. Delaney and illustrated by Mia Wolff (Catcher), which recounts how a celebrated gay black literary giant, college professor and social theoretician with a mantelpiece crowded of awards, and a teenaged daughter in tow, met and romanced one of society’s most outcast and forgotten souls.

At the time of publication, they had been a couple for some years and they are together still, more than 25 years later. Julia Roberts and Richard Gere won’t be in this movie and not a single dragon or muscle car had to die…

Following an Introduction from Alan Moore, this welcome and long-overdue new edition reveals how “Chip” Delaney took a walk on New York’s Upper West Side, bought a book from homeless Dennis and struck up a conversation with the kind of person most people refuse to acknowledge the very existence of…

In seamlessly seductive understated style the words and pictures detail how gradually, gently, unsurprisingly they became first friends and then lovers.

In the manner of all lasting true romances, this is the history of two full equals who accidentally find each other, not some flimsy rags-to-riches Cinderella tale of predestination and magical remedies. The brilliance and position of one is perfectly complemented by the warmth, intelligence and quiet integrity of the other, and although far from smooth – or rose scented – their path to contentment was both tension-fraught and heart-warming.

Oh, and there’s sex: lots of rapturously visualised sex, so if you’re the kind of person liable to be upset by pictures of joyous, loving fornication between two people separated by age, wealth, social position and race who happily possess and constantly employ the same type of naughty bits on each other, then go away and read something else.

In fact, as I keep on saying, just please go away.

And that’s all the help you get from me. This lyrical, beguiling tale is embellished throughout with interwoven extracts from the poem Bread and Wine by German lyric poet Friedrich Hölderlin and illustrated in a mesmerising organic monochrome variety of styles by artist and Delaney family friend Mia Wolff, and you really need to have it unfold for you without my second-hand blether or kibitzing…

This is one of the sweetest, most uplifting comics love stories ever written: rich with sentiment, steeped in literary punch and beautiful to behold. Moreover, this lavish, stout and steadfast hardback (also available in digital formats) also includes a celebratory commentary by Chip, Dennis and Mia and other protagonists in the Afterword, plus a sketch-packed, earnest and informative interview with the creative participants.

Strong, assertive, uncompromising and proudly unapologetic, this is love we should all aspire to, and Bread & Wine is another graphic novel every adult should know.
Introduction © 2013 Alan Moore. Contents © 2013 Samuel R. Delaney & Mia Wolff. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Transposes


By Dylan Edwards (Northwest Press)
ISBN: 978-0-9845940-8-5

I don’t hold many unflinching beliefs; but one of the few is that I, you and certainly no church, government or pressure group has any damn right to dictate what consenting adults do with or to their bodies. And yes, that includes parents, families and partners. Discuss, debate, disagree but never, ever demand…

I may reserve the right to privately snigger at some of the more ambitious or physically-ill-judged things consenting adult people get up to in order to get their rocks off, but I can’t help that: after all I’ve lived through Flower Power, Free Love, New Men, flared jeans (twice!) and an era when both religions and politicians tolerated gays and evolution, and believed women were (in principle, at least) equal to men.

I’m more than happy for anybody to assert, clarify or reassign their gender identity or lack thereof as they see fit, and as for when “Life begins” and what you’re born as, I’m far more concerned by the fact that the most vocal advocates “know” exactly when, what and how it begins whilst it’s inside a human yet feel no compunction or duty of care or wellbeing for any baby – or mother – as soon as the (still developing until age 30 years or more) agglomeration of cells is out of the womb and into the world…

Whilst we’re sharing, I also feel we should probably all pass an exam before we’re allowed to vote or voice an opinion; and require every person seeking office to endure weekly sobriety tests, financial background checks and regular psychiatric evaluations, but maybe that’s just me…

There are a lot of acronyms in today’s book and I’m not going to play translator or decoder interminably, so if we miss linking any just use that search engine OK? This is comics, not University Challenge…

LGBT comics have long been the best place in the graphic narrative business to portray real romance: an artefact, I suppose, of a society that seems determined to simultaneously establish sex and love as two utterly separate beasts and exactly the same thing.

I’d still love to think that in the 21st century we’ve all outgrown the juvenile, judgemental bad old days and can simply appreciate powerful, moving and funny comics about people of all sorts without any kind of preconception…

Unless we’re talking girl/vampire/werewolf menageries à trois: that stuff is just plain wrong…

The very fact of being adjudged “different” now seems to be an increasingly common badge of courage in a world where fanatics and bigots become daily more rabid, and actual religious leaders can claim with straight faces that God so hates homosexuals and fornicators (or atheists or scientists or ginger-haired, left-handed people or…) that in His wisdom He sends fires and floods or tornados and tsunamis every year to wreck the homes of the faithful and worshipful – presumably because they ain’t doin’ nothin’ ‘bout it…

Dylan Edwards, AKA NDR, is a graphic artist, cartoonist and sculptor: author of Politically InQueerect, sports strip The Outfield and many others, plus the creator of really cute monsters – as seen on his Feeping Creatures site. In Transposes he masterfully employs comics to celebrate the history of seven ordinary souls just living their lives as FTMs (Females Transitioning to Males).

Dylan – who extensively interviewed each star before crafting these elucidating mini-epics – encapsulates their unconventional existences for the wider world with disarming candour and certified charm. Of course, all the “hot button issues” touted by a hypocritically moralising media (coming out, bullying, role models, gay identity, promiscuity vs. monogamy, childhood sexual abuse, risky sex and/or partners, STIs, parental approval and rejection) are present here – which only goes to show just how widespread and universal these perennial difficulties are…

Regardless of that, this collection comes off as a wonderfully positive and affirming chronicle celebrating determination and difference and, after an effusive and informative Introduction by Alison Bechdel (cartoonist, author of Fun Home and Are You My Mother? and inadvertent deviser of the truly transformative Bechdel Test), there’s an engaging comic strip Foreword by storymaker Dylan Edwards explaining the process that led to the impressive pictorial reportage that follows.

Delivered with jokey aplomb, this savvy and smart ice-breaker gently eases the uninitiated into issues of transgender, cisgender and that subset-within-a-subset defined here as “queer-identified female-to-male-transpersons” before the terrific tale-spinning begins…

Over coffee ‘Cal’ tells of his trip to physically hook-up with an adventurously like-minded internet contact and how it all led to a few surprises, a whole new set of skills and a great story to dine off for months to come…

The gloriously hilarious ‘Henry’ scrupulously – perhaps even compulsively – recorded every aspect of his satisfyingly unconventional life and was quite content to share insights and horror stories from the astounding Museum of Natural Henry…

Confusion and insecurity were a way of life for ‘Adam’ until he met Marni, who, after an intense and nurturing time, helped her beau discover that she really wasn’t the girl for him, whilst for ‘Blake’ an intoxicating brief encounter led to unexpected and life-long repercussions.

Scholarly, happily-in-control ‘Avery’ learned his greatest lessons early from an intolerant father and the wise, understanding and joyously gay uncle the family had ostracised, after which the cavalcade of human drama ends with a gloriously moving, entwined tale of two young outsiders simply destined for each other in the parallel-lives journey of ‘Aaron & James’; ending our odyssey on a fabulous, happy high note…

We are then comfortingly caught-up by a brief Epilogue in which all the participants are revisited and updated on life since their interviews to re-emphasise that feeling of pleasing continuance…

Comics as a medium is already a symbolically intensive one; honed and irresistibly one-step-removed from the mundane faux reality of film or photography. As such its powers to skin away confusing or misleading surface and reveal unalloyed intent and meaning are without parallel.

Don’t take my word for it. Check out any political caricature by Hogarth, Scarfe or Steve Bell…

It’s an admission of annoying embarrassment to me that I’ve felt compelled to put in so much equivocating background and bumph before coming to the meat of this review. In the final analysis Transposes is a subtly sensitive, evocative, romantic and humorously rewarding collection of “people stories” which any open-minded fan will adore.

There’s not much fighting, but plenty of punch, and in an ideal world, this book would be readily available in every school library for any confused kid in need of inspiration, comfort, understanding, encouragement and hope.

Sadly, because it deals openly and frankly with sex and gender, it’s probably banned in more than half of the United States and still pilloried in our free and impartial Press…

Well, if nothing else this meagre, reminding poke will garner some publicity and be useful in ensuring that folk who need to can still find it…
© 2012 Dylan Edwards. All rights reserved.

Rock Steady – Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life


By Ellen Forney (Fantagraphics)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-101-7

Ellen Forney was born in 1968 and has dealt with Bipolar Disorder for most of her adult life (even though she only got her official diagnosis in 1998).

At college she majored in Psychology and she now works as an illustrator, teacher and educator, but is best known as a (mostly autobiographical) cartoonist responsible for the strip ‘I Was Seven in ‘75’ and anthologies Monkey Food, I Love Led Zeppelin and Lust.

In 2012 she published cartoon memoir Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me, relating her historical and ongoing experiences living with Bipolar Disorder. It’s an amazing piece of work and one I must get around to reviewing soon.

Don’t wait for me though, get your own copy and start reading…

Today though, we’re looking at a superbly uplifting follow-up from Forney. Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life is a graphic manual and almanac for living on an even keel from someone who has clearly experienced the best and worst the condition can offer.

Divided into logically-ordered chapters and subdivided into easily-absorbed learning moments and teaching points the book offers astoundingly down-to-earth, practical coping tools and hard-earned advice and is prefaced with a most engaging Introduction providing history and context for what follows.

The sharing session begins with Chapter 1: Basics; Wide-ranging but Totally Doable, Whats & Whys, all split into soundly-sensible swiftly-disseminated routines for staying well-fed and exercised, fully rested and on top of medication. That may sound rather superfluous to some, but let’s face it nobody likes taking drugs unless they’re expensive and recreational…

There’s also advice on developing routines, seeing doctors and maintaining support networks.

Winningly visualised and formulated, the tips and hints are expanded in Chapter 2: Therapy; Navigating your Many Options, 3: Coping Tools; Strategies & Techniques for Steadying your Mind & Body and 4: Insomnia; Going to Bed, Getting to Sleep & Sleeping All Night.

As a private aside here, I must say that I’ve only ever known well two people with BP (as far as I know) so the efficacy of much that’s here falls in the range of “bowing to experience”, whereas the section dealing with sleep disorders and getting enough rest is something I have first-hand experience of. There’s stuff here I fully intend to try myself at my earliest convenience…

Moving on to Chapter 5: Dealing with Meds; At Home, While Traveling, & Side Effects, there’s plenty of useful stuff here and in the next chapter Chapter 6: The Danger Zone; Identifying your Warning Signs & How to Deal with Them – especially if you have someone in your life coping with depression or anxiety disorders.

Wrapping up on a high note (gosh, that looks in poor taste when read back!) Chapters 7 & 8 take us on to an uplifting and hopeful conclusion with : You Have Company; Finding Like-Minded People; Getting Beyond Stigma, & Knowing for sure that you’re not alone and :You Rock; It’s a lot of stuff but you got this! Which stress the benefits of sharing thoughts and feelings and keeping those close to you in the loop…

The information included is delivered in a bright, breezy but never trivialising manner and Forney’s cartooning is warm, clear and deliciously accessible. It’s also fabulously funny – a remarkable achievement in itself considering the subject matter…

What shines through most brilliantly however is the artist’s deep desire to share and help fellow sufferers and those all who live with and around them.

Cartoons have long been one of humanity’s most powerful and enduring teaching tools. This superb tome is another magnificent example of how and why.
Rock Steady – Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life © 2018 Ellen Forney. This edition © 2018 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

It’s A Bird…


By Steven T. Seagle & Teddy Kristiansen (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0109-8 (HB)                    :987-1-4012-7288-3 (TPB)

Since his debut in June 1938 Superman has proven to be many things to billions of people, to the point of even changing their lives and shaping their actions.

It’s a Bird… was originally released in 2004 (and recently re-released in a new edition): offering something of a departure from typical Superman graphic novel fare with author Steven T. Seagle working through his understandable angst about writing the ongoing adventures of the Man of Steel without simply rehashing what has gone before.

Seagle (whose other comics work includes Uncanny X-MenSandman Mystery Theatre and Big Hero 6, and is part of TV cartoon creation collective Man of Action) actually scripted Superman #190-200 – published between April 2003 and February 2004.

The intriguing, demi-therapeutic exercise revealed in this slim and beguiling pictorial introspection deals with the author’s misgivings about contributing to the canon of an eternally unfolding legend.

However, underpinning what might so easily become a self-gratifying ego-stroke is a subtle undercurrent of savvy verity which strikes a chord with many creative professionals and insightful consumers as the professional writer finally finds the themes he needs to explore to be satisfied with his commission.

Let’s be honest here, every comic fan, indeed every twitcher and hobbyist, looks for a way to present and explain their particular passion to the “real” world and not feel like an imbecile in the process…

“Steve” is a writer working through some emotional baggage. He is still coming to terms with his family’s gradual disintegration – mental, physical and spiritual – from hereditary genetic disease Huntington’s Disease (Chorea, as was).

In everyday life, his father has gone missing, his mom and partner are making the “let’s have kids” noises whilst Steve’s waiting for the hammer to fall regarding his own potential prognosis with a condition that cannot be beaten…

He never wanted to write comics – even though he’s successful at it – and now his editor wants him to write Superman. He’s never had any feeling for the character or the medium and his damned editor just keeps on and on and on about… You get the picture?

It’s a Bird… is slow and lyrical in its deconstructive self-absorption as Steve makes his choices, and Teddy Kristiansen’s range of enticing drawing styles is a marvel and won him the 2005 Eisner Award for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (Interior).

If you feel the urge to go beyond the panel borders of your private obsession, this one is well worth a look.
© 2004, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Doing Time


By Kazuichi Hanawa (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)
ISBN: 978-8493340902

Something of an obscure recommendation, this, but I wanted to highlight something different in manga, as I’m a little burned out with big eyes, big explosions, and big hair at the moment.

Doing Time doesn’t fall into any generally perceived Western stereotype of Japanese comics. For a start it’s an autobiography and bleak admonitory documentary. It’s a journal along the lines of Samuel Pepys’ with disquietingly intimate revelations calmly and casually rolled out at every available juncture. The account is also a moving insight into the psychology of the Japanese culture and mind-set as the pages unfold in relentless understatement with a complete lack of flash, dazzle or grand showmanship.

Born in Saitama Prefecture in 1947, Kazuichi Hanawa began creating manga in 1971, generally specialising in historical tales, Buddhist legends and fantasy subjects. A keen collector of imitation firearms, in 1994 Mr. Hanawa was caught firing a remodelled pistol in an isolated wooded area. The creator then served three years in prison for possessing and using replica guns, which seems pretty stern to me, but clearly retribution he feels he deserved every moment of…

At the risk of being accused of racism, I cannot imagine the thoughts here portrayed coming from an individual of any other culture. Mr. Hanawa constantly and genuinely bemoans the quality and quantity of the food. It’s too good for the miserable likes of him…

“Is it right for us to live so well in spite of having perpetrated such misdeeds?” he asks. The attention to detail and meticulous cataloguing of minutiae almost makes this a cookbook and journal planner. The narrative structure is so fluid that all one comes away with is a fine pattern of detail and no big picture… probably just like being banged up in jail…

On its release AX Magazine in 1998 and in 2000 as collected book Kemusho no naka (In Prison), the visual and philosophical diary swiftly garnered domestic and international acclaim and was made into a live action movie All Under the Moon.

I have to admit that I was bewildered and captivated in equal measure with this collection of strips drawn with astounding veracity and authenticity. Japanese prisons – at least at that time – apparently allow no records of any sort (including drawings) to be kept by inmates, so the chilling pages here were produced from memory, and to my mind read like moments you’d prefer to forget, but if you’re of an adventurous mien this may brighten your jaded day and will certainly open your eyes to the power and potential of the comics medium.
© 2000, 2004 Kaziuchi Hanawa & Ponent Mon.