Archive for December, 2011
Just a brief note to let you know that the audio version of chapter 21 is now posted on the Soap and Water page.
Merry Boxing Day! I have presents for you all: fresh chapters of a literary scifi postcrash novel! That is to say, chapters 39 and 40 of Soap and Water are now posted to Red Lemonade. The characters have all gathered in one spot; the final showdown approaches.
E-reader versions are on the Soap and Water page as usual. I did not have the chance to record any audio chapters for you this week, but I will soon and will alert you when they’re posted.
Please comment! And thank you all for continuing to read and share.
I wasn’t crazy about the previous volume of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ noir series Criminal. I noted in that review that for the first time they’d circled back to a main character; I didn’t say, but felt, that it sort of seemed like they were out of ideas in this vein and that was why they were going over old ground. But the latest volume, The Last of the Innocent, shows they had at least one more big idea: a noir reimagining of Archie.
Archie is grown now, and married to Veronica. That’s her on the cover, modeled after Sherilyn Fenn, according to Phillips. She’s cheating on him with Reggie. Jughead’s eating jags in high school were the product of his near-constant pot smoking, and now that he’s grown up he’s in a tenuous recovery. Moose is a well-meaning, slow-witted cop. Betty is still the girl next door, still the one Archie knows he should be with.
Of course, all these characters are copyrighted, so Brubaker has changed all their names, and Phillips only clues us in through flashback scenes drawn in that trademark Archie Comics style. It may please fans of the original to know Archie ends up with Betty in the end. Unfortunately for those fans, Brubaker quite deliberately sullies every scrap of Archie innocence to get there.
It’s a one-joke book, in other words. It just happens to be a really, really good joke, and Brubaker and Phillips fully commit to it. Good clean fun—with intrigue, addiction, loansharking, and murder, of course.
Small preview at Phillips’ site.
Soap and Water chapters 36 and 37 are now posted to Red Lemonade. The first brings to a head ‘Tit Jean’s Jobian confrontation with his God, and in the second Veronica gets really, really pissed. E-reader versions are available on the Soap and Water page here as always, as are newly recorded audio versions of chapters 19 and 20. I’ve figured out how to do some basic audio editing, so it should sound just a smidge better.
Everybody’s going home for Christmas, right? You all need something to read or listen to on the plane? Why not catch up on post-apocalyptic sci-fi with a literary tinge? Tell your friends.
And of course, to the many of you who have already told your friends and who continue to read and comment, a most sincere thank you.
The annual exercise. Please to begin the arguing.
#7 Amir, Zahra’s Paradise
Zahra’s Paradise begins on June 16, 2009, the day after one of the earliest and largest election protests in Freedom Square. Mehdi, a nineteen-year-old university student, was at that protest and hasn’t come home. His mother Zahra and his brother, the unnamed narrator, are worried about him and try to find out what’s happened. That’s it, but that basic motivation allows Amir and his artist collaborator Khalil to create a full portrait of the horror of daily life in Tehran during the repression that followed the protests.
#6 Fred Van Lente, Comic Book Comics
For a comic book buff it’s fascinating to read tidbits like the series of events that led from the Frankfurt School, to Fredric Wertham’s testimony before Congress, to the creation of the Comics Code Authority, to the death of EC Comics, to the birth of Mad magazine. Or how the increasing crackdown on drug paraphernalia in the early 1970s put head shops out of business and thereby killed the distribution network for underground comix artists like Robert Crumb. Issue #5 even manages to make interesting reading out of nothing but the many intellectual property ripoffs and lawsuits that have plagued the medium since its birth.
#5 Ted McKeever, Meta 4
I think (and this was never my strong-suit philosopher so I’m not sure, but I think) that Ted McKeever has written a Heideggerian allegory in comic-book form. Now available in a trade collection.
#4 Phil Hester, Golly vol. 1: Catching Hell
Golly feels as if someone took Garth Ennis’s Preacher and drained out all the meanspiritedness, sadistic jokes, and sexism. Golly Munhollen grabs the circus strongwoman’s ass one day, she knocks him out, and he’s visited by an angel who informs him that the Apocalypse has been postponed indefinitely due to lack of interest, and in the meanwhile he’s been appointed the clean-up squad for all those demons left running around the world. When Golly asks the logical question—why me and not someone smarter—the angel tells him that from a heavenly perspective the difference between him and a genius is negligible. “It would be like asking you to look into a puddle and select the smartest amoeba,” it says. “You will do.”
#3 Charles Soule, 27 (Twenty-Seven)
Will Garland has a repetitive stress injury in his playing hand, and in trying to cure himself accidentally makes a Faustian bargain that leaves him with a console implanted in his chest. Every time he activates it he gains a miraculous ability for three hours, but after the 27th time he does so, he will die. The ending is unexpected yet perfect. Now available in a trade paperback.
#2 Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá, Daytripper
Every issue of Daytripper tells an episode in the life of the protagonist, Brás, at a different age. Brás starts his working life as an obituary writer, then becomes a novelist in his thirties; at the end of each issue he dies and we read the opening lines of his obituary. Though the episodes are told out of order, we realize very quickly that we are to read each one as if none of the preceding deaths happened, but everything else we’ve read about did. Brás has many loves in his life—a girlfriend, a wife, a best friend, a father, a mother, a son, a dog—and there are episodes touching on each of them. Brás is built up as the sum of these many loves and remembered in relation to them in each of his obituaries, in an extended meditation on loving in the face of death.
#1 Anders Nilsen, Big Questions
If Chris Ware is the comic book medium’s James Joyce, Anders Nilsen is its Samuel Beckett. Think Beckett meets Beatrix Potter, adorable little creatures on a bleak, featureless plain, staring into the abyss—but hopeful nonetheless, in its own way. “We can’t ever really know the outcome of our actions,” one of them concludes, “but if we act earnestly, and do our best, everything will turn out right in the end.” Of course the bird saying that happens to be responsible for the deaths of many others. And dead herself. Now available in collected form.
Soap and Water chapters 35 and 36 are now posted at Red Lemonade. For those of you who, like me, have trouble reading long chapters in a browser window and yet don’t want to go to the trouble of figuring out the e-reader-friendly versions posted on the Soap and Water page here, I suggest the Read It Later plugin for Firefox or Chrome. A friend just showed it to me and it’s awesome: once you’re signed in on your computer, you can save any Web page to be read later on your phone or iPad, even when you’re out of range (like on the subway, say).
Unfortunately I have not yet done the legwork to make it as simple for you to download the .mp3s of these chapters, but I have recorded another, chapter 18. It’s up on the Soap and Water page as well.
Many, many thanks to those of you who continue to make the time to read and comment on these chapters. You have no idea how much you’re helping me out.
I think I had tried and exhausted everything else. I had tried protests, I had tried petitions, I had tried academia, I had tried every possible language and way—and I was so frustrated. … Finding some way to express emotion, love and rage and contradiction and horror and anger and devotion in a medium that would be fast. … I have made documentary films, and with documentary films you have to lug a camera… The characters have to be present. You have to pay for the film and the light and the sound and everything has to be perfect… [W]ith the graphic novel … all you really need is your imagination and a pencil.
This is from a KPFA-Pacifica radio interview with Amir, the pseudonymous writer of Zahra’s Paradise, which lived as a comic serialized online for nearly two years until it was collected into a print form by First Second Books this month. (In its original, online incarnation readers helped with translation, making it available in thirteen languages so far.)
The book follows on the heels of Oil & Water as part of a new strain in comic books, graphic journalism, whatever you choose to call it. Political cartoons may be the oldest form of comics, but it’s only in the last decade that long-form graphic storytelling has looped back around and become overtly political once more.
Of course Zahra’s Paradise isn’t journalism. Amir is an exile, so direct documentary agitprop wasn’t possible for him. As he told KPFA:
We would get snippets of: oh, the grieving mothers are in the park. Oh, there are people outside Evin prison. Oh, the judiciary just lied about the rapes in the prison. So it was about putting the fragments together … and coming up with a composite character.
Nevertheless, his composite fictional story aims for as much concrete, verifiable truth as possible. The collected edition of Zahra’s Paradise concludes with nearly 30 pages of straight prose notes and documentation, followed by a complete printing of the Omid Memorial, an ongoing list of all the people killed by the Iranian government since the 1979 revolution—16,901 names in tiny print, page after page.
In that sense Zahra’s Paradise is like The Battle of Algiers, another explicitly political fictional work that ends with scenes from real history. But of course The Battle of Algiers ends with a victory, while Zahra’s Paradise ends with loss.
If I’ve held back on describing the narrative, it’s because it’s deceptively simple. It begins on June 16, 2009, the day after one of the earliest and largest election protests in Freedom Square. Mehdi, a nineteen-year-old university student, was at that protest and hasn’t come home. His mother Zahra and his brother, the unnamed narrator, are worried about him and try to find out what’s happened.
That’s it, but that basic motivation allows Amir and his artist collaborator Khalil (another pseudonym) to create a full portrait of the horror of daily life in Tehran during the repression that followed the protests. Zahra goes to the hospital, where she sees Revolutionary Guards dragging injured kids from their beds to be arrested. She goes to the notorious Evin prison, where they won’t tell her anything. She visits the morgue and sees the bodies of young people beaten to death, and drives home under the shadow of a pair of gay men hanged from cranes. She gets a bureaucratic runaround at the Hall of Justice. A copy-shop owner who does nothing more than print a “missing” flying for her is beaten by Basij thugs, his shop smashed. She meets a young man who says he shared a cell with Mehdi in Evin; he’s traumatized from being raped by the guards.
Finally, through an intrigue involving a prison official’s mistress, the brother manages to hack Evin’s records. He confirms that Mehdi is dead and buried in a secret grave in Zahra’s Paradise, the biggest cemetary in Tehran, along with dozens of others like him. The family manages to get his body released, and at his funeral Zahra pours forth a four-page poetic lament, during which Khalil’s art, typically restrained, becomes as florid as the prose, ending with a full-page vision of Iran on fire.
It’s a blistering, passionate conclusion, I think far beyond where a writer coming from an exclusively Western tradition would have felt comfortable going. But it represents a real movement of highly demonstrative, publicly mourning mothers from the weeks after the government’s violent backlash. See, for example, this widely circulated video of Neda’s mother at her funeral.
Alyssa Rosenberg recently argued that more politically aware art is often better art. Yet as a middlebrow art form comics/graphic novels have tended to stick to the personal. I’m glad to see more and more forays into the explicitly political—into more active engagement with the world—and Zahra’s Paradise is an inspiring place to start.
Soap and Water chapters 33 and 34 are now posted at Red Lemonade. One of them has Veronica getting violent again; the other has foreboding. E-reader versions are on the Soap and Water page here, along with newly posted audio to chapter 17 for your ear-holes.
Thank you so much to all who keep reading, commenting, and sharing. From now on, when you recommend it to your friends you can tell them “It’s like The Hunger Games meets Cadillac Desert.” That’s a new thing I’m trying out. Opinions?