Thursday, May 29, 2008

Comics Abroad: Phillipe Dupuy and Rutu Modan.

I was hanging out with several new friends the other night, and the subject of comics comes up. This is always a dodgy conversation to have with people that don't know me well, as folks are liable to make all sorts of assumptions about adults that read comics. The few of us out here that have developed an appreciation for 'sequential art' realize that it is an important and interesting medium. Unfortunately, in all too many American minds, all comics means is 'superheroes' and simplistic battles of 'good' vs. 'evil'. Maybe there are some political conspiracies and soap opera antics, but it doesn't stray very strongly into the realm of realism. I guess it's understandable given the marketing behind Marvel and DC characters.

But there's an entire world beyond stories for adolescents. Fortunately I didn't have to do much persuasion in the little circle I was part of, because to one degree or another they had each had some experience with 'art comics'. While that is rare in this country, in Europe and Asia comics get their proper respect as a mature art form. The subject actually came up because one of my friends was born in Madrid. She started rattling off the names of artists that she's encountered throughout her life. The sad thing is, despite my fairly broad interest in the form, I recognized few of the names she brought up. I believe we are all missing a lot of great stuff, simply because there is only a very limited tradition of translating and/or promotingthe modern-day classics from abroad.

So this weekend I set out to address this blind spot in my reading. I've spoken before about how good the graphic novel section is at the Carnegie Library Main Branch in Oakland. It took me about two minutes to find a couple of titles worth borrowing. One of them was Haunted (Drawn & Quarterly,2008), by Phillipe Dupuy- a French comics artist who is well known on the continent for his 20-year collaboration with Charles Berberian. Haunted is notable for featuring a sketchbook approach that is absent from the polished Monsieur Jean stories that Dupuy has been creating with Berberian. It is deeply personal, and centered around the musings of a man (nominally the author himself) jogging through a park.

While some of the little tales within are prosaic, and deal with life-lived-in-the-moment, dreams and memories, the book develops into some increasingly warped imaginings. Talking ducks and other forest creatures appear, first engaging the runner, and later interacting in their own fantasy worlds. These stories are allowed to develop spontaneously, and leave the reader unsure about trajectories and direction. The wide-ranging quality of the book may at times feel disjointed, but there is an undeniable continuity resulting from Dupuy's decision not to hold too tightly onto the reigns. What ultimately stands out is the writing itself. The dialog is wry, witty, and emotionally affecting in turns. It makes the experience of reading Haunted gratifying.

I also picked up Rutu Modan's Exit Wounds. Modan was the editor of the Israeli version of Mad Magazine in the mid-90's. Since then she has been involved with founding the Actus Tragicus Comics group, won the Israeli Young Artist of the Year Award in 1997, garnered praises for her children's book illustration, and contributed a visual blog called Mixed Emotions to the New York Times website. Exit Wounds concerns a young cabby named Koby, who is pulled out of his routine when a young woman named Numi approaches him with suspicions that his estranged father has been killed in a cafeteria bombing. He reluctantly agrees to join Numi on a search for evidence proving that the unidentified victim is really his Dad. Along the way he learns more about the man's secret life, and gets to know a bit more about himself. Highly recommended.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does Captain America show up? I Love Him.

10:33 PM  

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