“Comics I read last week” was a series I wrote during my stay at the marvellous Billy Ireland Cartoon Library in Columbus, OH. That place is heaven on earth. I haven’t managed to read comics (or anything for that matter) that intensively since, so the series died off with me feeling sorry for those golden times but being forced to carry on with the dull everydays in Budapest.
But last week some miracle happened, and this series, selected by superior evolutionary forces (and the lack of available scholarships to research) to certain extinction, is now going to get one more entry: I read four comics last week! Woo hoo!
1) Chester Brown: I Never Liked You.
God, this is a superb piece of comics autobiography of the kind when nothing happens to teenage boys and girls, but somehow everything, their whole lives as well as the balance of the whole universe depends on what happens. So here we have Chester, the teenage protagonist, who sometimes fancies certain girls and sometimes does not, who passes time with doing the dishes with a girl he does not fancy, who walks, draws, sits, and does homework in the monotonous neverending fashion I remember so well from my teenage years.
I really like the reserved, simplified style and the unusual panel compositions on pages. Rather than providing a regular rectangular grid structure, Brown organizes little islands out of the panels which are surrounded by a sea of black ink and teenage darkness.
I also really appreciate how selfish Chester is: we onyl get told what he thinks is important, the things he takes for granted get hardly any attention. As a result, we know almost nothing about his brother, and (spoiler) the mental illness of his mum comes as a shock. Did he really not see it coming, or simply did not think his mum’s condition was worthy of attention? Thinking back to my teenage years, which can be described as introspective and chaotic, I have no flipping idea about what my mum was doing or feeling, either.
2. Jeffrey Brown: Unlikely
Ah, Jeffrey Brown can create such adorable, lovely, and naive characters, worlds, atmosphere and storylines. This is my second book from him, and I felt this amazing warmth inside while reading both of them. Somehow the love of life, of simple things, like hiking, music, being with friends, the rhythm of life, sneaks from the pages under my skin and makes me feel good for days after reading.
However unlikely it may seem, this happens even if the story is about hardship, failure of a relationship, uncertainties, lies and pills. In this book – oh yes, this is another example of comics memoirs – Jeff has his first proper girlfriend and loses her. Or rather, I think, she loses him, but, well, she loses ground completely. Jeff and Allisyn find each other in the old-fashioned way by talking on a sofa for hours, but unfortunately do not manage to maintain this level of openness or communicative intent throughout their relationship. Any girl would have loved to have Jeff on her sofa, though.
Okay, this latter sentence might have been a very lame joke, but it seems to me that this book really funcions as a substitute for the sofa on which Jeff and Alysin were talking and as a way to create space for conversation between Jeff and the reader. As Allisyn and Jeff talk less and less, the reader is more and more drawn in the story. Jeff is adorably and unlikely honest about the difficulties they have in their relationship, and in an adorably naive way supposes that difficulties (finding a common rhythm of life, adjusting the partner to an existing circle of friends, having to go to work, exploring sex) only happen to them. No, Jeff, they do not. :-)
3) Koska Zoltán: A titkos társaság Vol 1 (Zoltán Koska: The Secret Society)
This is a Hungarian one, so I do not expect anyone to have heared of it outside the Hungarian spectrum. Zoltán Koska is one of my favourite young Hungarian comic artists, who adapted Borges’s Death and the Compass into comics, then this year created a sequel to his own adaptation featuring the characters that, taking some liberty with the original work, he introduced in the process of adaptation. So now some crazy guys – one of them is a detective – go to investigate something that happened in the adaptation (but not in Borges), and a series of silly and funny adventures follow. The whole thing 24 pages long, and is to be followed by several volumes…. I hope the upcoming volumes will help me understand what is going on…
4) Typex: Rembrandt
This might be the graphic novel that I’ve read the most times in my life. I read it first for fun, then I reread it several times as I was commissioned to write two reviews about it (one in Hungarian, on in English, both coming up next month.) (I will let you know, do not worry.)
So I think this is a SUPERB comic with perfect rhythm and style and narration. I am of course biased because Typax is a great pal, but at least this is a superb book to be biased about. I really like the way the narrative is organized around minor characters from Rembrandt’s life, and the immense amount of gaps the reader has to fill in among and within chapters. I will link my review here once it is published. Until then,
Stories of betrayal, debt, the plague, and greed, with some occasional lovemaking to cheer us up. Was Rembrandt really that impossible to live with? Yet the way in which this portrait of the artist is shown is truly unique: the visual style of the book is a true match and homage to the atmosphere and style of Rembrandt’s paintings. Some etchings and oil paintings are directly redrawn and contextualized by Typex, offering an interesting game for the reader and her best friend, the search engine, to look for, find, and identify these references.