Comics Are Great when Your Life Sucks

Tuesday 8 September 2009, 12:55 am   ///  

Comics are written by people whose lives suck, for people whose lives suck. Obviously, that’s not entirely true. Alternative comics do seem to be highly in touch with the lameness of life, though, whether they’re chronicling lynchings in the American South, exploring the emotional suffering of outcasts, or taking us through people’s decisions and indecision.

Since this blog is about digital media sorts of things as well as “other stuff [I] like,” I thought I’d note and briefly comment on a few graphic novels that I’ve read recently, even if nothing here feeds directly into computer conversations.

At Henry Jenkins’s recommendation, I read volume one of Jeremy Love’s Bayou, a comic about a girl whose father is a sharecropper and who faces a series of violent and historically apt horrors. This comic, in color, blends in a dreamworld of fabular elements to interesting effect, although the “truth” side of the story ends up being more terrifying and compelling than the “fiction.” For this reason, I think I enjoyed and learned from Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece’s Incognegro even more. This black-and-white comic tells of a black reporter who can pass as white and who goes to the South to document lynchings. Both comics show the strength of family ties and feature a sheriff who is, compared to the lynch mob, a somewhat good guy. Bayou‘s play with fantasy and folklore is nice, but I think Incognegro does even better, incorporating an incredible plot twist and keeping the action within a historical world.

The most dark, bitter, depressing, and hopeless sequential thing I’ve seen recently was Josh Simmons’s House. Three people meet up and explore a huge dilapidated ruin of a house. Guess what happens. Yep, except it’s even worse than you imagine.

I liked Night Fisher by R. Kikuo Johnson a lot. It’s the story of a high school student in Hawaii, a good student who ends up getting involved with drugs and then with despairing criminals for what seems like no particular reason – there’s not much else to do, though. Miss Lasko-Gross has a more amusing tale of school days in Escape from “Special,” which chronicles a younger student’s educational, social, and religious difficulties.

I really liked Dupuy and Berberian’s Maybe Later, a collaboratively written and drawn journal of the duo’s experiences writing and drawing Mr. Jean comics. I’m now reading some of those comics, translated and collected as Get a Life. Dupuy and Berberian don’t divide up the writing and drawing, but actually collaborate at each stage of the comic-creation process, from conception through to execution, much as I’ve collaborated as a writer with Scott Rettberg (Implementation) and William Gillespie (2002, The Ed Report).

Finally, David Mazzucchello’s Asterios Polyp is brilliant, with incredible writing and art. It’s well worth the price and the effort of carrying the hefty book home. The book’s form recalls that of an architecture book and is perfectly apt for this tale of a architecture professor who is a jerk, flawed, and incomplete – who loses the most important thing in his life, loses everything else, and decides to live, to listen and watch life, and to keep searching.

6 Comments »

  1. I didn’t think that much of Night Fisher. It seemed to have that thing that a lot of comics seem to have where it didn’t really resolve in a way that satisfied me. It just felt like “here’s some stuff that happened, no real point”.

    Comment by Brendan — 2009-09-08 @ 1:10 am
  2. I agree with your characterization of Night Fisher – I just think that the lack of resolution works well in the case of that comic, which seems to be about being on the edge (of being able to maintain the lawn, of drug use and crime, etc.) and not really falling in or falling clear.

    Comment by Nick Montfort — 2009-09-08 @ 1:14 am
  3. Wow, honestly all of these sound fantastic. Next time I’m in a bookstore, I’ll try tracking some of these down and skimming over to see what grabs me most. Graphic novels seem much easier to me to grasp quickly as to whether I’ll dig on them or not, compared to a book — I suppose because they’re easier to scan.

    Comment by Chris — 2009-09-08 @ 11:37 pm
  4. I’ll go pick these up on your recommendation, then.

    Just one thing – I think it’s Josh Simmons, not John. Was wondering why I couldn’t find any hits on it in Google.

    Comment by Sean — 2009-09-09 @ 2:35 pm
  5. Whoops, you’re right, Sean. Thanks — I fixed that in the post.

    Comment by Nick Montfort — 2009-09-09 @ 2:49 pm
  6. […] —Nick Montfort (Who continues, “Obviously, that’s not entirely true.”) […]

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