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.

Goodbye God? – An Illustrated Examination of Science Vs Religion


By Sean Michael Wilson & Hunt Emerson (New Internationalist)
ISBN: 978-1-78026-226-0

I don’t mind if you like Strictly Come Dancing. Why do you care that I don’t?

Faith is the ability to accept as true (believe in) things you can’t prove.

Belief is a choice to have faith (implicit trust) in certain things. Many people choose to believe Evolution doesn’t exist but that won’t protect them from a new strain of Bird Flu, rats that have developed immunity to Warfarin or even a Strep bug which has bred beyond the capabilities of contemporary antibiotics to kill it.

I choose to trust – call it “believe” if you want – in physically measurable, quantifiable, repeatable phenomena which work irrespective of what I want or how much I beg them to change.

I want to believe that I’m in no way socially, developmentally, biologically or genetically connected to racists, homophobes, abusers or cretins but, just like I wish I had superpowers, praying cannot make it true.

You can choose to think of evolution as open to debate and refuse to believe you’re descended from an unending chain of constantly changing and developing animals, but that only makes you more a horse’s arse than a monkey’s uncle.

The comforting notion that any book or unverifiable opinion is infallible and that you are of more significance to the universe than a bee, a rock or a bad odour is equally wrong – and completely pointless too: but if a sense of superiority helps you sleep at night, fine. Just stop killing bees, crushing rocks and making a nasty smell for the rest of us – and don’t even get me started on the kinds of monsters and morons who think their beliefs afford them the right to inflict institutionalised cruelty upon animals or their own children and justifies desecrating art and destroying artefacts of history – whether it be Christians painting over erotic murals at Herculaneum and Pompeii or fanatical Islamic splinter groups pillaging and destroying temples in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq…

I believe know that the above statement was a rant – but a heartfelt and honest one.

I choose to rant and shout and shoot off my mouth because I’m not smart, patient or reasonable, unlike author Sean Michael Wilson and grand master cartoonist Hunt Emerson who have diligently gathered data, arguments, opinions and those pesky imps we call “facts” into a superbly even-handed and open-minded graphic narrative discourse.

Taking up the most commonly employed arguments of Big Religion, Wilson & Emerson have carefully arranged and scrupulously countered them, resulting in a plausibly inviting examination of issues dividing Faiths (all of them, not any one faction who might prefer to and profit from thinking of themselves as persecuted intellectual “martyrs”) from the world as it appears to the rest of us and shining a warm yet uncompromising light of rationality upon them.

It makes for gripping and genuinely revelatory reading.

All religious organisation and faith workers – from the Catholic Church to TV ghost hunters to that shoddy charlatan medium/spiritualist conning your aunty out of her pension – derive approval, power and money from their highly organised activities, but whereas we officially godless individuals may sell a book or two and cop an appearance fee from the occasional chat show, Humanists (people who don’t believe in God and generally can’t even agree with each other) gain nothing from pointing out that – based on the evidence – we are on our own in the world and bear the sole responsibility for taking care of the place and all its inhabitants and fittings.

That’s something to sincerely meditate on…

Following an Introduction by Professor Lawrence M. Krauss (Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University), the dissection of Big Questions and how people choose to react to them opens with Part 1: Evolution and Creationism wherein the ground rules of serious discussion are laid down before ‘Creationism v Evolution’ systematically lists and methodically shoots down one by one the major claims used to “disprove” and cast doubt on the nature of reality, beginning of course, with a clear concise definition of the terms of reference of each side…

A quick précis of the development of Darwin’s discoveries and principles is compared with Christian Creationism’s contention that the world is significantly less than 10,000 years old. Outrageous things many Americans believe are counterbalanced by helpful facts from Richy Thompson of the British Humanist Association before a number of Creationist claims such as Earth’s declining magnetic field, slowing rotation and that all humanity and attendant life came from a survivors of a global flood 4,000 years ago are dealt with…

A hilarious aside explaining just why such fallacious arguments are harmful leads into a skilful dissection of “Intelligent Design” with helpful interjections and clarifications from Philosophy Lecturer Stephen Law with other cognitive heavyweights such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Noam Chomsky piling in to explain why such notions are so harmful to children.

Following a lecture on the damage the proliferation of such propaganda has had on American education and government policy, Richy Thompson pops back to expose the situation in British schools before going on to deliver his own description of the difference between Belief and Fact. The section then ends with a description of the gloriously wry scientific response to Creationism that is Project Steve

This is followed by a review of the wider universe (as we understand it at this moment, and Creationists never will) and concludes with a detailed examination of Law’s Eight Mechanisms, by which all religions – and a goodly proportion of New Age Tomfoolery – introduce, promote and promulgate their particular brand of Revelation and Salvation.

Part 2: Science and Religion then expands the discussion into a broader examination of the debate, pictured as the sporting contest ‘Science v Religion’ and running down the inherent fallacies manipulated by theistic proponents.

Historical examples and contemporary scenes are followed by definitions of Humanism from the likes of Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Isaac Asimov, Gloria Steinem and Kurt Vonnegut as well as AC Grayling, Hitchens and the wonderful Dawkins who offers his own joyous antidote to slavish acceptance of other peoples’ unproven opinions as well as few much-needed debunkings of such religious Whited Sepulchres as the obnoxious contention that people cannot be moral or “good” without God (seen in ‘Darwin = Facism’).

There’s mention of the Catholic Church’s connections to many tyrants and arguments pointing religion’s role in the rise of Hitler, Stalin and too many others…

Also including a gallery of prominent Humanists from John Stuart Mill to Katherine Hepburn and a delicious selection of pertinent and elucidating jokes from Hitchens, this section concludes with lawyer and Democrat politician Sean Faircloth’s ‘10 Practical Points for a Secular America’

This appetisingly sensible treatise also includes essays on both The American Humanist Association (“Good Without a God”) and The British Humanist Association (“For the one life we have”) offering general glimmerings of good tidings for common sense as well as Bios and contact details of the creators.

Any “fact” that comes with a price ticket and pledge of allegiance isn’t worth knowing and sometimes it’s hard to see any space for compromise in this argument, but Goodbye God? is not bloodymindedness in action or the theological equivalent of bear-baiting.

The purpose of this book and the only thing most Humanists want is simple. We’re not telling anyone what to believe or how to act: all we want is to teach nothing but science and scientific principles in science classes.

It would be nice if political and social decisions that affect all humanity were made solely on the basis of rational exploration and logical conclusion, but we’ll settle for giving the next generation all the intellectual tools needed to deal with the increasingly unforgiving and extremely inhospitable planet we’re leaving them rather than blinkering them and having everybody wait for a miracle which will not be forthcoming…

By all means keep your Intelligent Design or Creation Myths if you need them so badly but present them in Religious and Social Studies classes where they belong and where, quite frankly, they can be examined and debated on their own merits and contrasted with other equally baseless suppositions, rather than unquestioningly delivered to developing minds with the same unshakable conviction and intensity which correctly states “fire hot”, “stuff falls to ground when let go of”. You could even hopefully add “some people and animals only want sex within their own gender” and “climate change is real and is going to kill us all”…

If only the rationalists weren’t so patently “preaching to the converted” too…

But don’t you dare take my word for it: examine the book for yourselves and draw your own conclusions…
© Sean Michael Wilson. All rights reserved.

The End


By Anders Nilsen (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 987-1-60699-635-5

Cheryl Weaver and Anders Nilsen were a couple. They were engaged and together forever and then in 2005 she died.

Her passing wasn’t sudden or dramatic and he had time to say goodbye. He carried on doing so for the next year, while his sketchbooks filled with questions and notions and helpless, hapless, hurt responses as he adjusted to his new, so unwanted, normal; all expressed in the form of his other reason for living – narrative graphic art.

Born in Minneapolis in 1973, Nilsen now lives in Chicago – when not travelling the world – producing such thought-provoking, award-winning comics and graphic novels as Dogs and Water, Monologues for the Coming Plague, the still-unfolding Big Questions and his heartbreaking thematic companion to this volume Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow.

Much of the material collected in this astoundingly frank and distressingly intimate hardcover memoir first appeared in the author’s therapeutic 2007 comicbook The End #1, whilst other portions of this much-expanded record originated in such disparate places as much-missed anthology Mome (Spring 2007) and even from screen-prints created in the months and years encompassing Nilsen’s slow voyage to acceptance.

The uncomfortably earnest eulogy begins with a poetic ‘Prologue’, before ‘Is That All There Is?’ wordlessly depicts an all-engulfing sense of loss and isolation, interrupted only by the text soliloquy ‘Love Story’.

The heart-rending catalogue of painful solitary moments ‘Since You’ve Been Gone I Can Do Whatever I Want To Do all the Time’ leads into inspirational prose observation with ‘I Have Two Lives’ after which the artist coolly examines the simple equation of loss and emotional paralysis with ‘Solve for X’

Poem ‘In the Future’ and cartoon pantomime ‘Pulling a Giant Block’ precede harsh but ultimately uplifting debate in ‘25 Dollars’ (originally seen in Mome as ‘It’s OK, You Have Everything You Need’) after which diagrammatic epigram ‘Eternity Analogy’ offers welcome hope and advice to fellow sufferers…

Primitivist drawing and photographic collage colourfully and philosophically combine in ‘You Were Born and So You’re Free’ before stark, simple lines return to illustrate an extensive imaginary conversation with the memory of love in ‘Talking to the Dead’ whilst print photomontages resume for the wistfully querulous ‘How Can I Prepare You for What’s To Follow?’ – created to welcome a newborn into the world…

The painful truism “life goes on” is reinterpreted in one final chat with the inevitable truth to close this memento mori in quiet contemplation with ‘Only Sometimes’

To say this is a deeply moving book is grotesquely trite and staggeringly obtuse, but it’s also true. Every loss is always completely unique and utterly, selfishly personal, but most of us also have some capacity to empathise, share and see our own situation in the emotional disclosures of others. When it’s done as honestly, effectively and evocatively as here, the result is simply, devastatingly, unforgettably magical.

© 2013 Anders Nilsen. All rights reserved.
So much more of Nilsen’s cartoon conceptions and considerations (including outtakes from The End) can be seen at his beguiling blog the monologuist

Race to Incarcerate – a Graphic Retelling


By Marc Mauer & Sabrina Jones (The New Press)
ISBN: 978-1-59558-514-7

This book made me really, really angry.

That’s okay though; it was supposed to.

Marc Mauer is the Executive Director of The Sentencing Project, a non-profit organisation working for over 25 years to establish “a fair and effective U.S. criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for alternatives to incarceration”.

They provide training for American defense lawyers, explore methods of changing the ferociously slanted legal system in regard to socially disadvantaged and racial minorities, debunk politically advantageous myths about the efficacy of incarceration and work towards reducing the nation’s reliance on prison sentences through advocacy and by affecting policy on how best to safeguard the citizenry and punish criminals.

Highlighting disturbing trends and inequities in the criminal justice system since 1986 – especially in the treatment of non-white and juvenile offenders – the organisation has been consulted by Congress, The United States Sentencing Commission, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and other Federal Agencies, subsequently overseeing changes to national drug policy guidelines and helping shape The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

The Project particularly concerns itself with combating racial disparity in detention, cataloguing various forms of felony disenfranchisement and has led campaigns to end the widespread practice of condemning juveniles to life without parole as well as working to beef up the mandate of The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

All of which made Mauer the perfect person to write 1999’s landmark expose Race to Incarcerate, which detailed the causes and minutia of the meteoric rise in America’s prison population since 1970. He then followed up in 2002 with Invisible Punishment: the Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment (co-edited by Meda Chesney-Lind).

A telling indictment of a flawed, cruel, unfair and unscrupulous system, Race to Incarcerate was re-released in 2006 and now the powerfully polemical tract has been brilliantly updated, revised and adapted by cartoonist Sabrina Jones into a ferocious indictment re-positioned to engage and inform the general public and especially older kids as well .

Jones is a painter, illustrator, scenic artist, writer and activist whose evocatively lush and organically primitivist work has graced such politically aware publications as Studs Terkel’s Working, FDR and the New Deal for Beginners, The Real Cost of Prisons, graphics collective World War 3 Illustrated and autobiographical anthology GirlTalk amongst many others. Her most notable solo project to date is the beguiling Isadora Duncan: a Graphic Biography.

Following an evocative Foreword from Civil Rights lawyer and author Michelle Alexander and an updated, heart-rending but hope-filled Preface by author Mauer, the bare, bald facts are starkly presented in ‘Introduction: U.S. Prisons from Inception to Export’ which follows the invention of penitentiaries by the Puritans to the current situation where America has the disturbing honour of being number 1 country in the field of locking up citizens. The USA has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

Perhaps that’s because they don’t just execute their criminals… no, wait…

The stunningly effective visual history lesson is followed by the political background and lowdown on ‘The Rise of the “Tough on Crime” Movement’ from 1973, examining the divisive policies and calculated duplicity of Nixon and the Republicans in the wake of the triumphant Civil Rights Movement and tracking the switch from programs of rehabilitation to specious but vote-winning punitive prison policies.

The situation culminated with ‘The Triumph of “Tough on Crime”’ which casts a spotlight on the disparities in dealing with increasing drug abuse during the rise of the Black Power movement and focuses on the draconian, tragically trend-setting policies of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who instigated the harshest drug laws in the USA when ‘The Rock Gets Rolling’

With prison populations rising rapidly and disparately, things took a turn for the worst from 1980 as seen in ‘Crime as Politics: The Reagan-Bush Years’ after which a particularly heinous travesty of justice is spotlighted in ‘Kemba Smith: a Case of Extreme Sentencing’.

The problem was not simply the self-serving prejudice of one party as poignantly, frustratingly illustrated in ‘Crime as Politics: The Clinton Years’, but hit new depths of hypocrisy in 2000 as ‘Crime as Politics: The George W. Bush Years’ stomach-churningly shows…

Over the last half-century the whole situation seems to have been predicated upon a few fallacious if not deliberately disingenuous dictums clearly exposed in ‘The Prison-Crime Connection’ which inexorably led to a monumental institutionalised injustice system generating ‘Color-Coded Justice’ and concentration on a profiling or criminality as seen in ‘The War on Drugs and African-Americans’.

The biggest shock however comes in ‘A New Direction’ as the authors reveal that – despite all the rhetoric and entrenched biases – the situation is actually improving as more and more States abandon the old, costly, failing punishment policies to try something new and humane.

After decades where States stopped building schools to pay for bigger and bigger prisons – with no appreciable effect other than depriving kids of an education – various localities are trying different approaches and finding that where costly incarceration and harsh punishments don’t work social programs, rehabilitation projects and investment in people do…

Coda:  Also included in this book are details of outreach projects asking readers to contribute books to prisoners or become pen-friends with inmates, illustrated by Carnell Hunnicutt, a long-term inmate whose comics about his penal experiences and prison issues first inspired Mauer to release Race to Incarcerate as a graphic novel.

Packed throughout with shocking, well-documented, specific cases and backed up by an eye-watering torrent of shameful statistics, this is a work with the power to change society, so, with British politicians increasingly keen on emulating the idiotic mistakes and politically-advantageous, socially destructive criminal justice policies of our American cousins, Race to Incarcerate is a book every school library and home should have.

Moreover if you care about people and justice it’s one you must read…

© 2013 by The New Press, based on Race to Incarcerate by Marc Mauer © 1999, 2006 by The Sentencing Project. ‘Kemba Smith: a Case of Extreme Sentencing’ © 2013 by Sabrina Jones. Foreword © 2013 by Michelle Alexander. Preface © 2013 by The Sentencing Project. All rights reserved.

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

Initiates front 2
By Étienne Davodeau, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM/Comics Lit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-703-4

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 and he forms an 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 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…

Every so often a book jumps our self-imposed ghetto wall of power fantasies and rampaging adventurism, and I pray this elegiac documentary of a bizarrely fitting experiment makes that sort of splash in the wider world.
© Futuropolis 2011. © 2013 NBM for English translation.

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. I may reserve the right to privately snigger at some of the more ambitious things 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, flares (twice) and an era when both religions and politicians tolerated gays and evolution, and believed women were equal to men.

I’m more than happy for anybody to assign, clarify or reassign their gender identity 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 but feel no compunction or duty of care for any baby – or mother’s – wellbeing as soon as the (still developing until age 30) 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…

There are a lot of acronyms here 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 establish sex and love as two utterly separate beasts. 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 a trois: that stuff is just plain wrong…

The very fact of being judged “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) that in His wisdom He sends hundreds of 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), and in Transposes uses 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 those 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 deviser of the truly inspirational 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 – even compulsively – recorded every aspect of his satisfyingly unconventional life and was quite content to share insights and horror stories from the astoundingMuseum ofNatural 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 active 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 with sex and gender, it’s probably going to be banned in more than half the United States and get pilloried in our free and impartial Press… Well, if nothing else the publicity will be very useful in ensuring that the folk who need to get to hear of it…
© 2012 Dylan Edwards. All rights reserved.