Tag: James Sturm

James Sturm’s America and De:Tales

by on Oct.02, 2010, under Comics

Alongside the relatively recent development of the graphic novel as a legitimate, middlebrow art form, a growing number of writer/artists have begun to develop the graphic short story as an independent genre. It’s nothing new for comics to present short, self-contained tales, but even non-superhero “indie” writers have tended to reuse protagonists from story to story. It’s a different challenge to bring characters to life only for a short span and then start with a whole new cast of them for the next story.

And that’s only the first of the challenges. In The Art of Fiction John Gardner described a basic format for short stories that involved a limited number of scenes (around three) and similarly restricted and focused use of theme, symbolism, and conflict. In longer works, even in self-contained stories in a characters ongoing series, an author has more freedom: to use wordplay just for the fun of it, or throw in a flashback that illuminates character and motivation but not plot or theme. A well-constructed short story has no time for that.

Of course, good stories can break these rules. Any rule can be broken.

Still, it’s interesting to watch graphic author/artists beginning to work within these conventions*, as do James Sturm in James Sturm’s America: God, Gold, and Golems and Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá in De:Tales.

*I’m aware that the realist short story is hardly a new form in graphic fiction. As early as the 1960s Yoshihiro Tatsumi and a whole host of other Japanese authors wrote many, many short pieces for the then-dominant manga magazines. Will Eisner wrote short semi-realist literary stories in the 1970s. I’d argue, though, that it was at best a marginal form in America from the 1980s on, and is experiencing a noticeable resurgence.

Sturm’s book (published 2007 and reviewed here because I just bought it, nyah) collects three previously published pieces of historical fiction, all unrelated, that fit comfortably into the modern genre of realist short stories. The first and third are excellent.

Story #1, “The Revival (1801)” is set at the giant camp revival meeting at Cane Ridge, Kentucky that launched the Second Great Awakening. Story #3, “The Golem’s Mighty Swing (early 1920s),” follows a barnstorming Jewish baseball team as it travels the Midwest. Both bring religious beliefs into conflict with human needs in moving, painful ways through a small cast of well-realized characters. The drawing style is similar to Chester Brown’s.

Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá (twins best known for their quasi-Borgesian series Daytrippers and various collaborations with writers including Mike Mignola, Gerard Way, and Joss Whedon) collect even shorter works in De:Tales, with even fewer characters and barely any plots. These are little vignettes of young life in São Paulo, stories of people meeting in cafes, hanging out with friends, falling in love with intriguing strangers. They’re appealing simple, sweet tales that remind me a lot of Adrian Tomine’s early minicomics and the first few issues of Optic Nerve. The brand-new hardcover edition brings back into print the collection originally issued in 2006.

PDF preview of James Sturm’s America here.

Preview of De:Tales here.

1 Comment :, , , , more...

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site: