WRITE OR WRONG #65: Diverse "Slice of Life" Comics
Write or Wrong: Define Yourself
WRITER’S NOTE: Columns #62-66) will be going daily as we cover some diverse comics worthy of your attention by genre… so if you missed them, here’s the links:
Before we get into some diverse horror comics worthy of your attention, here’s a reminder for those of you attending c2e2 later this month:
• The bulk of my time will be spent at my own Artists’ Alley Table (Table E3, to be exact) with my frequent artistic collaborator and Shadowline superstar in-the-making Seth Damoose, but we’ll also be making a few appearances at the ComicsPipeline booth throughout the weekend as well along with Ben Templesmith and some other friends.
• Friday, March 18th from 3:30-4:30 in Room 475a I’ll be hosting a “WRITE OR WRONG: LIVE!” Panel, wherein I will largely answer questions from the audience… so please plan on attending, as I don’t want to spend an hour talking to myself. I do that at home enough the way it is.
• Saturday, March 19th from 5:30-6:30 in Room 475b I’m one of the guest presenters for the Bleeding Cool Fan Awards. In fact, I think I’ll be presenting two awards… so be sure to swing by and join the fun. Thankfully as it stands now I’m not nominated for any of them…
• Sunday, March 20th from 1:00-2:00 in Room 475b I’ll and sitting-in as a guest for the “Horror in Comics” panel talking about, as the title suggests, horror in comics.
In other words, if you’re attending c2e2 there’s NO reason you for you to not swing by and introduce yourself at some point, ya’ hear?
(I’ll also post additional details and plans on my Facebook page as we get closer to the show… so feel free to keep an eye on that space, too. If you send a “Friend Request,” though, at least include a note to let me know you’re a reader of the column or something. Thanks!)
That aside… let’s shed a light on some of the great “real world” and/or “slice of life” comics currently being published, shall we?
[NOTE TO CREATORS WHOSE BOOKS ARE DISCUSSED BELOW: I certainly have no problem with any of you using pull-quotes from this column to promote your books if you so choose… but please credit them to Dirk Manning at Newsarama.com or, at least, “Write or Wrong” at Newsarama.com, mmm’k? That’s not too much to ask, is it? Thanks!]
A few REAL WORLD/SLICE OF LIFE COMICS that consistently excite and entertain me are…
DAYTRIPPER by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá (DC Comics/Vertigo)
DAYTRIPPER is an exploration about life via an exploration of death.
Believe it or not, though, the book is not nearly as morbid as I’ve probably made it sound through that description, nor is the plot itself -- in which the main character Brás dies at the end of almost every chapter of the TPB, each of which focuses on a very important day at a different points in his life ranging from childhood to old age.
Honestly, while I’ve always admired the art of twin brothers Moon and Bá, it wasn’t until I picked-up DAYTRIPPER that I’ve truly felt their beautiful artwork that way I knew I always should (much the same way I never really was able to truly appreciate the art of Guy Davis until I started reading B.P.R.D..
Both the art and the storytelling Moon and Bá exhibit on this book involves little more than the two of them putting on a clinic in regards to how to craft a comic that’s by and large devoid of any grandiose action while it instead focuses on the “everyday” moments that so many of us might take for granted.
At only $20 for over 250 pages of genuinely moving storytelling, DAYTRIPPER is a steal and all but required reading for anyone who is looking for a book they can read, re-read and then share with their non-comic friends as an example of the great fiction being produced in this medium that does not involve superheroes.
This is matured, refined, reflective and breathtaking storytelling at its finest.
MOVING PICTURES by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen (Top Shelf)
Given how much I live Stuart Immonen’s art (see: NEXTWAVE with Warren Ellis and ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN with Brian Bendis for starters), I was a bit shocked that this wonderful stand-alone graphic novel slipped by my notice… and now that I’ve read it I’m doubly-surprised that I didn’t hear more about it.
MOVING PICTURES takes place in German-occupied France during World War II and follows the intertwined lives of two people – a female museum curator and a male soldier in charge of the German Military Art Commission – and the cat-and-mouse game they’re playing with each other as they both try to secure numerous famous paintings for their respective countries.
It’s also a mystery, a love story, and a character study of how the war affects the lives and roles of the two protagonists – sometimes against their will, sometimes not.
Rich with haunting, minimalistic art, MOVING PICTURES was – as cliché as it is to say – a book that I couldn’t put down once I picked it up. Remember the suspense you felt the first time you watched the opening interrogation scene in Quentin Tarintino’s Inglorious Basterds? That’s the same type of suspense I felt when reading this book.
While this book doesn’t contain the flashy and sometimes bombastic art Stuart Immonen is known for in his Marvel work, the black-and-white line art here helps set the mood from this suspenseful real-world thriller about the love of art – and people – and how much someone is willing to sacrifice for both.
MOTHER, COME HOME by Paul Hornschemeier (Fantagraphics)
MOTHER, COME HOME is one of my favorite “slice-of-life” books… but it’s also one that I don’t revisit nearly as frequently as I do some of the other books on my “Favorites” bookshelf in my office.
As I suggested a moment ago, I really, really like MOTHER, COME HOME, but it’s a very, very intense book that packs such a wallop that it actually emotionally drains me after each reading.
Mixing very trace amounts of child-fantasy role-play into an autobiography, this is the story of a young boy who’s life starts to fall unravel after his mother’s death causes his father to suffer a mental breakdown.
The book is almost brutally honest when dealing with the very skewed emotional dynamics of the boy’s new, smaller family unit and his father’s deteriorating mental state that eventually lands him in a psychiatric hospital… but at the same time it’s a very quiet, understated book.
There is no glamour or over-the-top drama here… just the story of a boy trying to find a way to deal with the physical loss of his mother and the psychological loss of his father.
Cheery and uplifting? No… certainly not. However, it’s poignant and real… and possibly one of the most deeply moving autobiographies I’ve ever read in comic form.
Anyone who liked BLANKETS by Craig Thompson or the aforementioned DAYTRIPPER would do well in seeking out this deeply personal and poignant book.
ALEC: “THE YEARS HAVE PANTS” (A LIFE-SIZED OMNIBUS) by Eddie Campbell (Top Shelf)
HOW TO BE AN ARTIST, the autobiography/how-to book narrated in second-person by Eddie Campell was originally one of the first books on my list for this installment of the column, and but when I discovered ALEC: “THE YEARS HAVE PANTS” (which includes the aforementioned book as well such autobiographical works as THE KING CANUTE CROWD, GRAFFITI KITCHEN and AFTER THE SNOOTER, along with two other complete books from the autobiographical “Alec” series by Campbell (“Alec” is the name Campbell gives himself in his autobiographical work), plus a brand new sequential-art novella and another 100+ pages of rare material (bringing the total page count to a whopping 640 pages!)… well, it seemed silly to just discuss one of the books in his thirty-years of musings when they’re now all available in one titanic tome, you know?
While all too many readers I know only associate Campbell as the artist of Alan Moore’s seminal Jack the Ripper tale FROM HELL, I’d argue that his slice-of-life work via the Alec series is one of the best-kept open-secrets in comics.
Autobiographical comics are sometimes a tough sell since too many times the mundane struggles of others are ones we can’t relate to nearly as well as the fictions we read about, but Campbell does a masterful job of inviting readers in not as a voyeur, but as a friend who he’s bringing along as he recalls his dealings with family and friends as he struggles through life, love and creating comics.
Again, as a comic creator “How to Be an Artist” is of special interest to me and is a highlight of this massive $35 collection, but the various other installments herein (including a new and previously unreleased epilogue to “Artist”) makes ALEC: THE YEARS HAVE PANTS a “Must Have” book for any comic enthusiast with an interest in real-world stories… and “Big Hairy Alan Moore” (as he is often referred to in his several appearances in this book), of course.
STOP FORGETTING TO REMEMBER: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF WALTER KURTZ by Peter Kuper (Crown)
Like many, I suspect, I Peter Kuper first came to my attention via THE SYSTEM… but others of you out there may have first discovered him first via his work on CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED: THE JUNGLE by Upton Sinclair, WORLD WAR 3 magazine or even his long run on SPY VS. SPY.
However you know his work, though, there’s no denying that the guy is one of the modern masters of sequential storytelling… and despite the fact that I knew this, I was still surprised to discover how much I enjoyed – and go back to – his autobiographical graphic novel STOP FORGETTING TO REMEMBER.
Chronicling humorous tales of his youth (which he openly admits, was largely driven by a continual quest for sex, drugs and/or rock n’ roll), the graphic novel follows him to adulthood where he deals with everything from parenting to 9-11 (and, of course, the struggles of being an artist) as he routinely dives into his sequentially-based bag of tricks throughout the book.
Someone else once referred to this book as “BLANKETS for the thirty-something crowd” and, really, I can’t think of a better description of the book than that.
Come for the great art, stay for the funny and honest anecdotes that the author tells about his life in this autobiography that stays witty and entertaining even after repeated reads.
BLANKETS by Craig Thompson (Top Shelf)
Honestly, I initially had no intention of discussing BLANKETS here because it’s a slice-of-life graphic novel that so many people are aware of… but, hey, there’s a reason it’s popular, right?
If you’ve never read an autobiographical comic before, BLANKETS is probably the best place to start, as it perfectly encapsulates just how well they can be done in terms of art and visual storytelling.
The book, for those of you who haven’t read it yet, follows the life of author Craig Thompson from adolescence to young adulthood as he struggles with his Christian faith, his sexuality, his first love and coming-of-age within his overly-religious family.
It’s a beautiful book that Thompson says came from the idea of wanting to write about describing what it felt like to fall asleep next to someone… and therein lies perhaps the most perfect description of this touching graphic novel.
If you have a special lady in your life who you can’t get to pick-up a graphic novel no matter how hard you try… pick-up a copy of BLANKETS from your local book store, comic shop or even local library and leave it lying around in places she’ll see it for a few days… and then when she’s finished reading it you can give it a whirl, too.
BLANKETS is the perfect gateway drug to hook the non-spandex crowd into the power of comics.
ASTERIOS POLYP by David Mazzucchelli (Pantheon)
Many superhero fans will recognize and associate Mazzucchelli with his collaborations with Frank Miller on BATMAN and DAREDEVIL, but after a decade-long absence from the limelight he returns with this starkly original graphic novel about duality, reinvention of the self and, ultimately, life.
Using the a color scheme that consists primarily of Cyan, Magenta and Yellow (there’s not a drop of black ink within the pages of this book) and with liberal use of white space, the book looks – and read – unlike any other comic on the shelves… and it tells a story unlike any other told in this medium.
ASTERIOS POLYP is about the title character’s journey of leaving his life as a professor/architect/hipster in New York and attempting to become a rural auto-mechanic after his marriage fails and his apartment catches fire… but it’s also about the inner psyche of man, the duality of existence, fate, love and symmetry.
As much a philosophical discourse about humanity as it is the story of a man choosing to reinvent himself after the last remnants of his life burn away, ASTERIOS POLYP is as enlightening read the challenges all who read it to make a comic as heartfelt and ground-breaking as this one.
While this book shows yet another way in which the medium is continuing to grow and evolve in its visual storytelling techniques, like DAYTRIPPER it’s also a book that could just as easily rest lovingly on a shelf of philosophy books such as ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE and other such novels – sequentially-art based or otherwise – that explore the true meanings of humanity and life.
Do what you must to find a copy of this book and prepare to cherish it for years to come through several joyous and illuminating re-readings, for ASTERIOS POLYP is not just a book that deserves several re-readings, but rather will grab you by the lapels of your favorite reading jacket and demand them.
OK… that’s it for today, folks!
Tomorrow (really!) we’ll dive into the final installment of this five-part exploration of diversity in comics when I talk about some specific comic creators whose bodies of work exhibit a diversity in the medium that can’t be categorized and shouldn’t be ignored!
Stay tuned and, again, if you like what you’re reading here, hit the “Like” button down below and then share this link with all your friends!
Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of NIGHTMARE WORLD a web-to-print comic now being loudly and proudly published by Image Comics/Shadowline and FARSEEKER, a fantasy series with artist Len O’Grady being hosted by those fine folks at ACT-I-VATE. He is also a longtime contributing columnist for Newsarama and a staunch advocate for comic creators everywhere. He lives on the Internet and can usually be found lurking around Facebook and Twitter on a fairly regular basis… when he’s not busy writing, of course.
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