Pluto vol.2 – Naoki Urasawa

November 14th, 2017

A remake of an older comic/a detective story about robot emotions, what could be footery & reflexive finds anguished form in a series of haunted faces & ruins.

Q: If there’s nothing to life but what we know & have done, what do we value? #Comics280

A collection of fragments and illustrations by an artist in motion.

There’s no narrative as such but there’s a story here – it’s in every line, every depiction of the body, every evocation of place and mind.

#Comics280

A song in mythic time/a poem stuck on some pictures of rocks – as always, Noble forces us to confront the relation between what we’re seeing and what we’re being told.

Trick works: we are now bound in the circle.

#Comics280

At first glance this looks like it might just be a new art school favourite. The linework is soft and rounded, occasionally crumpling into more naive forms or vacating the page completely in favour of washes of expressive colour – it signals the intimacy of experience in a way that is immediately recognisable to anyone who’s managed to read past the superhero comics on the graphic novel shelves of their local library.  Elsewhere, the colouring takes on an active role on the page, sometimes embodying a shift in perception and understanding, sometimes becoming a source of unexpected affect – it signals a sort of deliberate intelligence of design in a way that will be familiar to anyone who has read as far as Asterios Polyp.

All of these qualities are exemplified in Take It As A Compliment, but the book resists praise on the grounds of mere formalism.

Drawn from the true tales of those who’ve experienced various forms of sexual assault, Take It As A Compliment sees Maria Stoian using the full range of her artistic abilities to give voice to those who have been on the receiving end of this shamefully commonplace form of violence.

These pages are full of crowded or empty streets, appeals to a horrific spectrum of threatening outcomes (“If you don’t your dad will be mad!”) and various forms of complicity (“Oh he was just trying to be funny“) but they are always centred on the experience of the victims.

The use of colour alone makes these experiences inescapably vivid in a way that demands a trigger warning, and the Stoian brings these stories together with an explicit purpose: “in sharing we can make it easier for survivors to deal with their experiences, and create a society that does not tolerate sexual violence!”

Do we sometimes flinch from art that is so clear about the impact it wants to have on the world?  And if so, does this reaction come from a lack of belief in our ability to affect the world or from a conviction that the goals of art are somehow incompatible with such efforts?

Take It As A Compliment is so delicate and powerful that such perspectives seem impossible while you’re reading it.

It gives voice to experience without forcing those who have already suffered to risk further suffering; it makes the social conditions that allow this suffering explicit; and it does all of this in a way that cannot be separated from its aesthetic excellence, from its commitment to exploring all the different ways that the intersection of words, shapes and colours on the page can reflect the reality of the human experience.

These stories are not my story so I can’t comment on what they have to offer to anyone who might find their reality reflected here.

But I am still a part of the society in which these abuses take place, and if I come away from Take It As A Compliment without finding extra determination to be there for those who need listening to and to confront those who need to be stopped, then the failing will be in me rather than in the book itself.

Got Your Nose, Douglas Noble, self published 2016

“Who is this bastard and why is he lying to me?!” – this was the first instruction given to me by my favourite English Lit lecturer, a guide for how to approach any given novel, no – check the expiration date, still seems good to go – any given text.  Shame that it falls apart only when you apply it back to the source, eh?

After all, who the fuck was this man and what did he have to gain from carving out space for that idea?  Only his whole fucking career.

Still, if I can’t pretend that this question will keep a roof over my head, I can still carry a jagged little fragment of it around in my back pocket, not so much an offensive weapon as a talisman to ward off the sly lies of authors, always so keen to have you see things their way.  So it goes with cartoonist Douglas Noble, whose New Lies in Every Line has had me bewitched and bewildered for a full year now.

I met Douglas at this year’s Thought Bubble festival, and spotting a sucker, he drew me in with his carnival barker’s knowledge of how to see into the heart of the audience, to know not just what they want to see but what they need to see.  He promised me that he was moving away from narrative and further into the realm of pure theme, and having glanced briefly at Got Your Nose, I believed him.

What can I say, I’ll always be a sucker for a Scottish accent in a distant land!

“Show and Tell” – ZORSE

November 7th, 2016

Written and drawn by Ramzee, tones by Liz Greenfield, cover art by Abigail Dela Cruz (self published, 2016) 

Here’s how you know this is good before you even so much as look at the cover: it was the only self-published comic to be nominated for the Young People’s Comics Award this year, and it lost.  I’m not saying that this automatically makes it the best comic on the list, but… face it, it probably does.

Anyway, it’s worth checking this perception for yourself, looking past the soft, friendly cover (above) and into ZORSE itself, which somehow manages to live up to this charming initial impression while also channelling the frustration of Ramzee’s phenomenal turn on the Diversity panel at SMASH in London earlier this year, that feeling that you’re dealing with someone who is sick of people who… well, let’s not mess around, people who look like me (white, male, middle class, probably with a beard and glasses) being heard to the exception of all others.

More than this: the feeling that you’re dealing with someone who is ready to seize every opportunity to get those voices out there.

SMASHback #2: ASSvision

September 20th, 2016

Some more thoughts on the London Graphic Novel Network‘s second S.M.A.S.H. event, as previously discussed here.

You can watch the panel I contributed to below:

My speech at the start of this panel now exists like the death of Orion in/around Final Crisis, in a mini-kaleidoscope of different versions and recordings scattered across the internet – suits me, given the daft flourish about the Tower of Babel I threw in at the end of it!

The other panellists brought a range of expertise, and while there weren’t any heated arguments, I think our personalities and perspectives clashed in a way that was generally illustrative – Hannah was comfortable enough in her own skin to be flip and funny about taste, Katriona‘s contributions were considered and precise, and Mark‘s focus on technical skill neatly offset my own pseudo-academic tendencies.

As for the broader event, if you’d asked me I would have said that the crowd skewed young and “progressive” (not a term I’m over-fond of myself – I like specificity, a sense of what is being advanced – but having just used it like this I can see the appeal of its vagueness) but there was some pushback when Kelly Kanayama/Maid of Nails discussed the use of racist tropes in the first Warren Ellis/Bryan Hitch Authority story during the panel on MEANING.

Reconstructing intent was a running theme of all three panels (the other two were ART and DIVERSITY, remember), and in this instance it took the form of the Good Man defence

SMASHback #1: The Tower

April 3rd, 2016

Back in February, I appeared on a panel at the London Graphic Novel Network’s S.M.A.S.H. event. There were a lot of great speakers at those events (including our own Maid of Nails, friend of the website Kieron Gillen, America’s next top comics critic J.A. Micheline, Mazin off the Kraken podcast, and Jam Trap poet Chrissy Williams), staggered across three panels focusing on MEANING, ART and REPRESENTATION in comics.

The plan was to write series of posts inspired by these talks, but then this happened.

Trying to appear big and clever on the internet has never felt less important to me than it did in the aftermath. 

Anyway, I spoke on the art panel at S.M.A.S.H. and as a comics critic in the company of artists/editors, I figured I would be the least qualified person to talk about the subject so I did what I always do: I overcompensated. Only Mister Attack will ever see the first draft of my introductory talk, the charmingly titled “COMICS ARTISTS ARE WASTING THEIR LIVES”. In the end, I settled for a slightly less arsey approach that focused on different modes of reading, and how we might want to develop our understanding of our own biases so we can better make them fight to prove which opinions are best.

You can listen to what I actually said and the subsequent panel debate here (headphones recommended, audio’s a but quiet!), read the version of this pitch I submitted here, or if you fancy getting the right mix of depth and brevity you can now read the text I brought with me on the day below.

None of these versions are quite the same. None of them quite get across what I thought I was trying to say. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Taste the glory!