A scattered collection of stories, some of which feature Powerhouse, a character similar in behavior to Popeye, with no accent and, possibly, a little more intelligence. Others feature a little spaceman, and his exploration of Earth. His behavior is similar to Popeye's as well, but more of a Hanna Barbara alien crossed with Popeye. The real draw here is the Wolverton art, which is as brilliant as it always referred to as being. Although this reader found the strongest and most entertaining stories to be the ones filled with alliterative puns and speedy, rhythmic dialog, this short collection doesn't have anything in it that's bad on the appearance tip. It's a great looking book, and while time may have aged the humor, it's still a whimsical little pleasure. Time with Basil Wolverton is time well spent.
Miriam's graphic novel We Are On Our Own falls into the same category as Anders Nilsen's Don't Go Where I Can't Follow; autobiographies about some of the dark personal tragedies that the majority of the world prefers to experience through sentimentalized mediums--a Holocaust narrative (Katin) and the story of the death of one's partner (Nilsen). Rarely do these subjects get treated in fiction with the same gravity and honesty found in biography, and nowhere could that be more true than in Katin's work. The story is as stark as possible--a Jewish mother and daughter escape the Nazis as the Holocaust nears the end, by whatever means necessary. Whereas "whatever means necessary" in fiction always implies that the mother turned into the female Jewish version of a bloodthirsty survivalist with S.A.S. level combat training, what it means here is that she just walks away from her home at the last possible second, makes her way by train and foot as far as possible, and then attempts to create some kind of sensible, satisfactory life for her daughter. Along the way, they find that random kind assistance that goes completely without portrayal in fiction as being "unrealistic" and she skirts immediate death on relatively few occasions. There's no need for Katin to up the psychological ante here--the war does that just fine, and there's never a moment in the book where one feels that any of the fear needs to be turned up a notch. Her frank admittance that she finds it increasingly difficult to express any kind of faith or theistic imaginings is another surprise--rarely does one read a tale of Holocaust survivors where the Jewishness of its protagonists goes so unremarked upon. Here, Katin doesn't ignore it--but she sees no need to conflate its importance to her and her family. For her, and her mother, religion didn't serve to help them make their way to safety, nor was it responsible for the return of her father. This is a story about courage, and dumb luck--it's not one that closes with exhortations of prayer and renewal. It's a straight up study of survival. Katin's art, a scratched in rough sketchbook version of storytelling serves the story far better than any more exaggerated cartooning would. In a way, it's got a rough ugliness to it that makes it far more interesting to look at--it's so naked and raw that it helps make the narrative itself that much more visceral to read. It doesn't look like art that can hide anything, it looks like art that comes straight from the gut of its creator. As is the standard for Drawn & Quarterly, the packaging and design of the book fits the tone, a somber square bound affair that belies the painful content it conceals. Hopefully, it's found the audience it deserves.
(A note, for full disclosure of possible bias: this writer happened to meet Miriam at the 2007 Mocca Arts Festival--the copy reviewed here was purchased from her. Although enough time has hopefully passed that all fond memories of her, and the delightful email she sent a few days later, have faded enough for this review to be treated objectively, the truth is that that is very, very unlikely. Katin was a joy to meet and speak with, and her remark, that this writer and his lovely fiance "seemed like very serious people" is something that brings a pleasure to no end, even as it happens to be completely inaccurate.)
The other side of the autobio coin is that of Playboy, which could actually be referred to as Blankets for Catholics. Chester Brown's obsessive little tale about growing up in the shadow of masturbation isn't, by any stretch of the definition, an incredibly pleasant read, but it's certainly a truthful one. Following the course of our author's lifelong obsession with the the moments in his life where he practiced the dark arts of onanism, this little tome is heavy on the emotion and light on much else. That's part and parcel of many autobiographical comics, so it's not really something to criticize the book for--it is, after all, Chester Brown. In recent years, his work has gone more towards the historical fiction variety, which of course means he's shed some of his readers along the way. This reader, however, is from the opposite camp--while we've found his Louis Riel to be top-notch, this little tome on masturbation was a bit, well, masturbatory. The doom and gloom attitude overshadowing the entire thing gets a little tired--we understand the compulsion among men to live in some kind of ridiculous shame spiral about their "special" time, but it's one of those things that is so obnoxiously ridiculous when it's presented on the page. It's like when somebody gets really in depth to a meaningless question like, "How you feeling?"
Christ buddy, I don't really want to know! Just say "fine" and move the fuck on, I got some copies to make. I've got some elderly women to rob blind. don't want to hear about that dream where your grandmother stole your yearbook, and I don't want to know you're ashamed for doing something that every single 15 year old boy does constantly, excepting creepy religious freaks.
Out of all the foreign sci-fi comics brought to America by the Humanoids line, Technopriests is one of the best looking. It's also relatively imaginative, even as it deals with all the basic sci-fi tropes: here be space pirates, in every color of the rainbow. (Excepting blue, for some reason.) The story is told in flashback, as a wizened old man records the history of his existence into some type of computer, all the while helped along by some kind of talking pet rodent. Helpfully, the creature, a sort of cross between a cartoon mouse and an actual mouse, has somehow been alive just as long, so the reader is treated to consistent reminders of how he "soiled himself that moment" and "had many bursts of flatuence." Jodorowsky deserves the cultish acclaim he's received for his comics and films, but his Dali-esque imagination doesn't extend when it comes to comic relief. He's talented at creating a pretty diverse universe of characters, and he's a genius at giving them weird shit to do, but all his jokes have something to do with pooping.
The course of the narrator's story is one that belies the original serialization of the story--each chapter has some kind of bookend check-in with our albino story-teller and his rodent buddy, and each experiences at least some basic rise and fall of action. Read in succession, the story can come across less than the sum of its parts--most of the trials and tribulations of our albino's life end up being solved by him calling upon "Super-Albino," a sort of exaggerated version of what the narrator imagines himself to be. As the book progresses, it carries the classic comic pretense of leading towards a conclusion, but by the final pages it's clear that our narrator has a ways to go before he becomes the "Head Technopriest of the Known Universe" that he's presented as becoming. Which, of course, is why there is a book two.
-Tucker Stone, 2007