Jul. 15, 2009 - Issue #717: Edmonton Musicians Directory 2009
Drawing in the margins: Drawn & Quarterly keeps pushing the edges of graphic novels
Pascal Blanchet, from Trois-Rivières, won acclaim with his 2007 debut, the mill-town story White Rapids, and now his second book, the comic-opera Baloney: A Tale in 3 Symphonic Acts (78 pp, $19.95), sees him merge his grandly atmospheric, silhouette and '50s-advertising style with a fatalistic fairy-tale imaginatively scored to Russian composers Prokofiev and Shostakovich. This swelling story of a butcher and his daughter in a clifftop town may seem, at first, to take cuts from Seuss and Fantasia.
But Baloney's part-film, part shadow-play scenes, unfolding rhythmically through text-only, picture-only and blank pages, along with a brilliant mix of black, white and red colours, carve out a slab of magnificent tragedy. It's a retro-looking tale about peasants' struggle against power—in this case, as with White Rapids, literal power, for the Duke runs a heating-company monopoly that oppresses the winter-bound town. Yet this dark fantasia manages to not only inhabit a darkly whimsical world but make you hear the music to which it is to be scored ("Brass for arrogance and cruelty" and "Clarinets for calm" in Act II).
In 2008, Israel's Rutu Modan drew attention with Exit Wounds, an award-winning comic-story of two strangers meeting in Tel Aviv in the wake of a street-bombing. Her search for style and subject matter that hits home is showcased in a collection of earlier work, Jamilti & Other Stories (174 pp., $19.95), now translated and released here. The earliest pieces, as Modan admits in her afterword, seem remote. From a serial-killer story to a slightly gothic tale of three girls running a theme hotel, the drama is sometimes rushed and obvious, even a little too easy.
Modan notes her preoccupation with family photos, and it's no coincidence that the unforced, observational, snapshot feel, along with the clean lines and photographic look of Exit Wounds, emerge in "Homecoming" and "Jimalti," when she's turning the camera on her own surreal land. The juxtaposition of romantic memory and terrorist threat isn't quite perfected at the end of the kibbutz tale "Homecoming," but the title story, beautifully and horrifically matching up a suicide bomber and an imploding engagement, closes with a perfect jab. So does the last and most recent tale, "Your Number One Fan" (a look at that particularly Israeli sense of forced solidarity), with a musician finding himself too hopeful for a big break.
The maturity in Diane Obomsawin's Kaspar (82 pp., $15.95) is not only true but more incredible. Her cartoon-figure drawings are as unsophisticated as foundling Kaspar Hauser himself, left by his mother to a man who kept him in a room until his mid-teens, teaching him only a few words and how to walk (awkwardly) before leaving him in the middle of Nuremberg in 1828. He's super-sensitive (his eyes hurt when he cries) and thinks "People are watching us" as he stands before a mirror with his first adoptive mother.
Obomsawin, an animator and illustrator raised in France and based in Montréal, makes Kaspar like a slowly developing artist, learning about perspective (he's amazed not to be crushed by the point where a road meets the horizon) and distance (he thinks the moon is "the sun pasted onto the night"). His still-life watercolour, reproduced here, is gorgeous (though would have been more startling in colour, amid Obomsawin's grayscale frames), but it's Kaspar's own still-life that haunts. He dreams of death and strange assailants attempt to kill him, one finally succeeding in 1833.
Obomsawin's minimalist history (she's sifted through many sources, including Kaspar's own writings, and added some of her imaginings) falters a little as Kaspar is educated; his life with various tutors rushes by and the minimalist drawings mean that the detail of bourgeois German houses and estates, which must have overwhelmed and perplexed this near-blank slate of a young man, is missing. The clashes of nature and culture, of an awed man-child and hardened adult society, could be darkened, and many of the questions about Hauser on the back cover aren't raised within. But if Kaspar, like the man himself, offers a less than full and satisfying history, it can be more than just a short, stunted storyboard of a life, sometimes flickering a simple, powerful light on an educational enigma.
Pascal Girard, now in Québec City, recalls his grief-addled childhood in Jonquière with the death of his younger brother. Nicolas (69 pp., $11.95) moves along the pages from moment to mood without borders, the young Pascal showing off a picture of his dead brother to a classmate one day, sobbing darkly in his bed the next, then worrying about children with his girlfriend in an instant of a decade later. With the spare faces, this looks like a Calvin & Hobbes or Peanuts comic strip, only more flecked with a deeply inward, existential searching. But it's also awfully, wonderfully honest. This mini-masterpiece starts and ends with Pascal's memory of him and Nicolas playing with childish abandon. It's a haunting coda for a "little book" that only grows bigger in its emotions and shows just how successful graphic novels can still be in their outsized ambitions. V
New comments for this entry have been turned off and any existing ones are hidden. We apologize for any inconvenience.