john seven / damnopedia

Benson’s Cuckoos by Anouk Richard
If you are familiar with the work of Anouk Ricard, it is probably because of her Ana and Froga books for kids, also translated and published by Drawn And Quarterly. The set-up in Benson’s Cuckoos is actually very similar to the Anna Froga books — a dysfunctional group of silly animals collide against each other in a fairly gentle way. In Benson’s Cuckoos, the circle of players are workers at a cuckoo clock business, helmed by a weird boss and burdened the memory by a former employee who has gone missing.
Richard is hired to replace George, but no one is very helpful with his effort to pick up George’s work. Confrontational, evasive, moody, insulting, everyone seems to have some vast backstory that gives them an attitude, and Richard will never be privy to any of them. 
Benson’s Cuckoo has the same unusual delivery and pacing as the Ana and Froga books, as well as a scoffing-though-sometimes-obvious sense of humor that creates an atmosphere of uncertainty, an edginess that infiltrates the silliness. As the mysteries begin to unfold, it’s not so much what stands behind them that has you continuing to read, but your astonishment of how anything can possibly be revealed through the actions of these disconnected co-workers. 
In the end, it seems like a statement about the modern world as much as cartoon whimsy when things happen despite the incompetence and lack of real organization. That’s our world, and it’s the same in Benson’s Cuckoos.

Benson’s Cuckoos by Anouk Richard

If you are familiar with the work of Anouk Ricard, it is probably because of her Ana and Froga books for kids, also translated and published by Drawn And Quarterly. The set-up in Benson’s Cuckoos is actually very similar to the Anna Froga books — a dysfunctional group of silly animals collide against each other in a fairly gentle way. In Benson’s Cuckoos, the circle of players are workers at a cuckoo clock business, helmed by a weird boss and burdened the memory by a former employee who has gone missing.

Richard is hired to replace George, but no one is very helpful with his effort to pick up George’s work. Confrontational, evasive, moody, insulting, everyone seems to have some vast backstory that gives them an attitude, and Richard will never be privy to any of them. 

Benson’s Cuckoo has the same unusual delivery and pacing as the Ana and Froga books, as well as a scoffing-though-sometimes-obvious sense of humor that creates an atmosphere of uncertainty, an edginess that infiltrates the silliness. As the mysteries begin to unfold, it’s not so much what stands behind them that has you continuing to read, but your astonishment of how anything can possibly be revealed through the actions of these disconnected co-workers. 

In the end, it seems like a statement about the modern world as much as cartoon whimsy when things happen despite the incompetence and lack of real organization. That’s our world, and it’s the same in Benson’s Cuckoos.

A quick mention of mini kuš! #25, which I found particularly beautiful and charming. Titled “Swimming Pool” and done by the very impressive Latvian illustrator Anna Vaivare, the short story follows the inner monologue of a pool attendant as she contemplates the world around her as it is contained in the swimming pool itself, and then reveals a little more about herself to explain not only her outsider status, but why she experiences the world in such a fishbowl. The book is bursting with color and a style that reminds me a little bit of Myra Kalman, all impressively laid out and really touching something deep within emotionally. Highly recommended.

A quick mention of mini kuš! #25, which I found particularly beautiful and charming. Titled “Swimming Pool” and done by the very impressive Latvian illustrator Anna Vaivare, the short story follows the inner monologue of a pool attendant as she contemplates the world around her as it is contained in the swimming pool itself, and then reveals a little more about herself to explain not only her outsider status, but why she experiences the world in such a fishbowl. The book is bursting with color and a style that reminds me a little bit of Myra Kalman, all impressively laid out and really touching something deep within emotionally. Highly recommended.

Photobooth: A Biography by Meags Fitzgerald
In an era when it seems like not only is everyone taking selfies and sharing them, but is also talking about selfies in article and offering judgmental social rules for when selfies are okay and when they are definitely not okay — funerals! concentration camps! — Meags Fitzgerald’s part-history, part-memoir, part-art statement about photobooths couldn’t have come at a better time. 
Photobooths are, inarguably, the setting and vehicle for the first mass-produced waves of selfies, a constructed “safe space” where you could take the selfie privately and not offend delicate sensibilities as happens so often now. The fact that the cameras on yourself have burst out of their little box and into the un-contained world has made photobooths even more of a novelty, curiosity, and focus for our affection for outdated technology with which we had actual relationships beyond just the function.
Photobooth: A Biography begins with a pretty straight history of its subject — and it’s a well-handled summation, going into the lives of the people who created and perpetuated the form, and the companies that were built around them, as well as examining their original uses and the reasons for our connection to the form. But Fitzgerald also brings in a very personal narrative as well that traces her own artistic impulses and life choices, and the way photobooths had become a constant that documented these roads of her life and the changes within them.
But Fitzgerald doesn’t stop there, and as her investigations for the book go deeper, so do her connections with a vibrant community of enthusiasts and artists who embrace the photobooth in their work, as well as those who still offer maintenance for their use. 
This sends Fitzgerald to other countries, interacting with strangers you would never imagine you’d meet when the book began. It opens up the world, showing that any interest has its tribe, and makes the history seem less at a distance. Thanks to Fitzgerald, it all becomes a direct line to the present and the story is more vital and in the moment than it seemed, and makes for an engaging and informative effort.

Photobooth: A Biography by Meags Fitzgerald

In an era when it seems like not only is everyone taking selfies and sharing them, but is also talking about selfies in article and offering judgmental social rules for when selfies are okay and when they are definitely not okay — funerals! concentration camps! — Meags Fitzgerald’s part-history, part-memoir, part-art statement about photobooths couldn’t have come at a better time. 

Photobooths are, inarguably, the setting and vehicle for the first mass-produced waves of selfies, a constructed “safe space” where you could take the selfie privately and not offend delicate sensibilities as happens so often now. The fact that the cameras on yourself have burst out of their little box and into the un-contained world has made photobooths even more of a novelty, curiosity, and focus for our affection for outdated technology with which we had actual relationships beyond just the function.

Photobooth: A Biography begins with a pretty straight history of its subject — and it’s a well-handled summation, going into the lives of the people who created and perpetuated the form, and the companies that were built around them, as well as examining their original uses and the reasons for our connection to the form. But Fitzgerald also brings in a very personal narrative as well that traces her own artistic impulses and life choices, and the way photobooths had become a constant that documented these roads of her life and the changes within them.

But Fitzgerald doesn’t stop there, and as her investigations for the book go deeper, so do her connections with a vibrant community of enthusiasts and artists who embrace the photobooth in their work, as well as those who still offer maintenance for their use. 

This sends Fitzgerald to other countries, interacting with strangers you would never imagine you’d meet when the book began. It opens up the world, showing that any interest has its tribe, and makes the history seem less at a distance. Thanks to Fitzgerald, it all becomes a direct line to the present and the story is more vital and in the moment than it seemed, and makes for an engaging and informative effort.

Petty Theft by Pascal Girard
Relationships start after all sorts of chance meetings. In Pascal Girard’s Petty Theft, it’s after cartoonist Girard witnesses someone steal one of his books from the bookstore. On one hand, his sense of justice makes him want to reverse the crime he has just witnessed. On the other, he’s intrigued by the woman who would be so interested in his work that she would slip it into her purse without paying. As a guy who just came off of a long term relationship, is stuck living with friends, is giving up his attempts as a cartoonist, and has had to stop exercise due to an injury, Girard is in the perfect place for something to grab his interest and drag him along. 
As with Girard’s Reunion, this depicts a self that is somewhere in the realm between whimsical and clueless. It’s a self-deprecating work that asks the reader to forgive him his weaknesses, he’s just trying to be happy. It’s an understandable request — isn’t that what any of us want? — and granting it is simple enough, but it’s the moments we identify with those weaknesses that elevate the book from being slice of life romantic comedy. We’re not sure that Sarah is the right girl for him — in fact, she wears psychodrama on her sleeve — but we are sure that we would probably do something similar to Girard. The lengths to which he goes to right the wrongs might be beyond the capacity of most of us, but the allure of a dangerous person with an illicit connection to our ego — that is, stealing our book — is undeniable.
It’s by capturing this common reaction between himself and his reader that Girard makes the most of his story, putting himself in the position of wish fulfillment. His genial art style, a little scratchy, sometimes spare, always immediate, keeps everything down to earth and personable, and helps take autobiography, which could easily come off as self-involved and singular, to a more universal place that becomes personal for each of us.

Petty Theft by Pascal Girard

Relationships start after all sorts of chance meetings. In Pascal Girard’s Petty Theft, it’s after cartoonist Girard witnesses someone steal one of his books from the bookstore. On one hand, his sense of justice makes him want to reverse the crime he has just witnessed. On the other, he’s intrigued by the woman who would be so interested in his work that she would slip it into her purse without paying. As a guy who just came off of a long term relationship, is stuck living with friends, is giving up his attempts as a cartoonist, and has had to stop exercise due to an injury, Girard is in the perfect place for something to grab his interest and drag him along. 

As with Girard’s Reunion, this depicts a self that is somewhere in the realm between whimsical and clueless. It’s a self-deprecating work that asks the reader to forgive him his weaknesses, he’s just trying to be happy. It’s an understandable request — isn’t that what any of us want? — and granting it is simple enough, but it’s the moments we identify with those weaknesses that elevate the book from being slice of life romantic comedy. We’re not sure that Sarah is the right girl for him — in fact, she wears psychodrama on her sleeve — but we are sure that we would probably do something similar to Girard. The lengths to which he goes to right the wrongs might be beyond the capacity of most of us, but the allure of a dangerous person with an illicit connection to our ego — that is, stealing our book — is undeniable.

It’s by capturing this common reaction between himself and his reader that Girard makes the most of his story, putting himself in the position of wish fulfillment. His genial art style, a little scratchy, sometimes spare, always immediate, keeps everything down to earth and personable, and helps take autobiography, which could easily come off as self-involved and singular, to a more universal place that becomes personal for each of us.

Here by Claire Connelly
Claire Connolly turns a trip to another world into lonely poetry about the nature of mattering in a vast universe.
Following an astronaut as he careens through space to an unknown face, Connolly takes you through his silent journey and then his negotiation of an alien landscape and populace. At it’s root, it’s a story that’s been told plenty of times – one of the most basic science fiction stories there is — but Connolly makes it fresh and jarring. With each step, the astronaut ingratiates himself to the alien reality, but neither he nor the reader are entirely sure that events are being read correctly. 
The question is plain — can he ever really be a member of this foreign society? Can it actually meet his expectations for a meaningful life? These aren’t the typical questions asked in this particular trope, but Connolly presents them as natural to what is essentially an extra-terrestrial tale of starting over. 
Her black and white images are stark, with lines that sometimes feel like gashes in the paper, and dart between story clarity and emotional abstraction, artistic prowess and outsider simplicity. It’s a beautiful mix that works well in evoking the fear and loneliness that infects the astronaut, and trauma of entering an entirely new world.
Here was printed as a result of a successful Kickstarter campaign. Go find Claire online to see about getting a copy.

Here by Claire Connelly

Claire Connolly turns a trip to another world into lonely poetry about the nature of mattering in a vast universe.

Following an astronaut as he careens through space to an unknown face, Connolly takes you through his silent journey and then his negotiation of an alien landscape and populace. At it’s root, it’s a story that’s been told plenty of times – one of the most basic science fiction stories there is — but Connolly makes it fresh and jarring. With each step, the astronaut ingratiates himself to the alien reality, but neither he nor the reader are entirely sure that events are being read correctly. 

The question is plain — can he ever really be a member of this foreign society? Can it actually meet his expectations for a meaningful life? These aren’t the typical questions asked in this particular trope, but Connolly presents them as natural to what is essentially an extra-terrestrial tale of starting over. 

Her black and white images are stark, with lines that sometimes feel like gashes in the paper, and dart between story clarity and emotional abstraction, artistic prowess and outsider simplicity. It’s a beautiful mix that works well in evoking the fear and loneliness that infects the astronaut, and trauma of entering an entirely new world.

Here was printed as a result of a successful Kickstarter campaign. Go find Claire online to see about getting a copy.

Hidden by Loic Dauvillier and Marc Lizano
This tale of Holocaust survival is aimed at kids, presenting a harrowing tale that speaks to the personal level of horror about not only the events of the Holocaust and World War 2, but what might lurk in any person of any age that goes untold.
Framed around the device of a child finding her grandmother crying at night, the grandmother decides to explain why she is sad. Taking us back to France, the story slowly captures the Paris of the Vichy Government, and the official movement to mark and then transport away the Jewish population. This is all from the point of view of young Dounia, who finds herself in a desperate flight for survival, depending on the bravery of strangers and surviving on immediate bonds of trust made with these strangers, but never really being given a clear picture of the horrific events unfolding in the world around her.
Even though, as an adult reader, you know what is going on, Dauvillier and Lizano build suspense and inject immediacy into the story as events unfold. We don’t know Dounia’s fate, and the emotions of her experience are honest and pull you in. She’s also a character to admire - it’s nice to see a young girl and potential victim exhibiting rationality as part of her bravery.
The story is told with just the right amount of artistic stylization. The consistent big heads on the characters take the story just enough out of our own world that it keeps any potential depression from becoming overwhelming, functioning as a celebration of survival and a testament to the human capacity to combat trauma.

Hidden by Loic Dauvillier and Marc Lizano

This tale of Holocaust survival is aimed at kids, presenting a harrowing tale that speaks to the personal level of horror about not only the events of the Holocaust and World War 2, but what might lurk in any person of any age that goes untold.

Framed around the device of a child finding her grandmother crying at night, the grandmother decides to explain why she is sad. Taking us back to France, the story slowly captures the Paris of the Vichy Government, and the official movement to mark and then transport away the Jewish population. This is all from the point of view of young Dounia, who finds herself in a desperate flight for survival, depending on the bravery of strangers and surviving on immediate bonds of trust made with these strangers, but never really being given a clear picture of the horrific events unfolding in the world around her.

Even though, as an adult reader, you know what is going on, Dauvillier and Lizano build suspense and inject immediacy into the story as events unfold. We don’t know Dounia’s fate, and the emotions of her experience are honest and pull you in. She’s also a character to admire - it’s nice to see a young girl and potential victim exhibiting rationality as part of her bravery.

The story is told with just the right amount of artistic stylization. The consistent big heads on the characters take the story just enough out of our own world that it keeps any potential depression from becoming overwhelming, functioning as a celebration of survival and a testament to the human capacity to combat trauma.

Dakota McFadzean’s Hollow in the Hollows is a tiny tale of mysticism by way of adolescence, filtered through the dynamics of neighborhood adventures. When we first meet Mary, she’s hiding from the school bus and peppering the moment with some fantasy narrative that makes her little transgression more exciting. We soon find out she has an actual purpose for walking to school on her own — a detour through one of those creepy wooded areas so many small towns seem to have, where kids and creeps all hang out. 
Mary comes upon a treasure — a deer’s skull hidden in a rotted out stump that becomes the focus for a self-generated mystical moment. Pretty soon, she’s obsessed with it like her own personal Cthuhlu, and her interest begins to steer her friendship with Arnold toward antagonism, even as a couple teenagers work as an opposite force to Mary’s invocation of the deer skull as something more than what it is.
Mary’s moments of running wild are juxtaposed to the lack of freedom in school, where menial art tasks can’t possibly match up to the way that skull is making her mind fly.
McFadzean brings this all to life with the same energy of Mary herself, and an enthusiasm for what she sees in that deer skull. She’s looking for signals of something else, something more, and anyone who’s ever been a kid and marking out their own territory in parts of the neighborhood that might seem untamed and filled with the unknown can certainly feel what both McFadzean and Mary are experiencing. In that way, Hollow in the Hollows is like a little communal moment, an acknowledge of that time of searching when we were all young, realized through what is becoming increasingly more assured cartooning from McFadzean.
Order a copy here if they’re still available.

Dakota McFadzean’s Hollow in the Hollows is a tiny tale of mysticism by way of adolescence, filtered through the dynamics of neighborhood adventures. When we first meet Mary, she’s hiding from the school bus and peppering the moment with some fantasy narrative that makes her little transgression more exciting. We soon find out she has an actual purpose for walking to school on her own — a detour through one of those creepy wooded areas so many small towns seem to have, where kids and creeps all hang out. 

Mary comes upon a treasure — a deer’s skull hidden in a rotted out stump that becomes the focus for a self-generated mystical moment. Pretty soon, she’s obsessed with it like her own personal Cthuhlu, and her interest begins to steer her friendship with Arnold toward antagonism, even as a couple teenagers work as an opposite force to Mary’s invocation of the deer skull as something more than what it is.

Mary’s moments of running wild are juxtaposed to the lack of freedom in school, where menial art tasks can’t possibly match up to the way that skull is making her mind fly.

McFadzean brings this all to life with the same energy of Mary herself, and an enthusiasm for what she sees in that deer skull. She’s looking for signals of something else, something more, and anyone who’s ever been a kid and marking out their own territory in parts of the neighborhood that might seem untamed and filled with the unknown can certainly feel what both McFadzean and Mary are experiencing. In that way, Hollow in the Hollows is like a little communal moment, an acknowledge of that time of searching when we were all young, realized through what is becoming increasingly more assured cartooning from McFadzean.

Order a copy here if they’re still available.

The Leaning Girl by Francois Schuiten and Benoit Peters, translation by Stephen D. Smith
This relatively obscure (by many standards, anyway) little pleasure is seeing some new life in the English-speaking world thanks to the efforts of Alaxis Press, whose Kickstarter campaign resulted in this first volume of The Obscure Cities series by Belgian artist Francois Schuiten and French writer and philosopher Benoit Peters, with new translation by Stephen D. Smith.
The Leaning Girl hearkens back to a calm, artful, spiritual form of science fiction that hasn’t been embraced as vigorously by the current geek culture as other areas. There are no battles here, rather meditations on otherness and philosophical ponderings on the space around us, both physical and emotional, existing as odd scientific states and almost incomprehensible landscapes. 
In the old days, this sort of thing might take form as a Tarkovsky movie like Stalker, though Michael Moorcock’s Dancers At The End of Times series comes to mind. Certain modern works like Melancholia, Another Earth, or even Lost echo this form of art science fiction. The one thing The Leaning Girl contains that seems to have been embraced by current interests is a steampunk aspect, but this is not in the action vein that so much steampunk wraps itself in. This is quiet. If it is show-offy, it’s in a very humble way.
The story concerns Mary Von Rathen and her travels following an incident that leaves her perpetually leaning in one direction, always. Escaping the disdain of her family, hooking up with a traveling sideshow, and eventually partnering with pioneering scientist who thinks the secret of Mary’s leaning has to do with a nearby distant sphere and the pull of its gravity, Mary’s adventures are contemplative one centering on alienness, belonging, finding a place to be, building psychological safe spaces, taking chances with the understanding that pulling back may be the necessary response, and so much more. The Leaning Girl is a thematically rich work.
It’s also an artistically rich one. Schuiten’s pen and ink tour de forces remind me of some of the most awe-inspiring collaborations between Dave Sim and Gerhard, a perfect match of personality and world building, featuring architecture that takes on impossible meaning and landscapes that seem impossible to visualize, and yet are, right there, on the page. 
The book also utilizes fumetti, with photography by Marie-Francoise Plissart, to tell part of the story, and use the difference between the photos and the drawings as strong visual cues to further the impact of the plot. Centering on the internal monologue of an artist in an abandoned house, these segments explore the structure’s state of invisible history being worn on its walls even as the artist tries to adorn it with his own obsessions and visions.
The Leaning Girl is actually the sixth book in the official series. The previous titles were all released and then discontinued by NBM. Having not read any of the first five books, I can tell you that The Leaning Girl is a great starting point, and even if you never read another, it stands on its own.
Alaxis promises to translate the further books, as well as one that explores a curious side note in the work, the supposed existence of a real Mary Von Rathen and her correspondence with the creators. This is very exciting news to anyone who is looking for genre fiction that isn’t pulling from the same geek tropes - in either story, character, or pacing - as everything else these days. It is decidedly its own thing, mesmerizing and mysterious, and certainly intellectually and visually challenging. A major work in the history of graphic storytelling.

The Leaning Girl by Francois Schuiten and Benoit Peters, translation by Stephen D. Smith

This relatively obscure (by many standards, anyway) little pleasure is seeing some new life in the English-speaking world thanks to the efforts of Alaxis Press, whose Kickstarter campaign resulted in this first volume of The Obscure Cities series by Belgian artist Francois Schuiten and French writer and philosopher Benoit Peters, with new translation by Stephen D. Smith.

The Leaning Girl hearkens back to a calm, artful, spiritual form of science fiction that hasn’t been embraced as vigorously by the current geek culture as other areas. There are no battles here, rather meditations on otherness and philosophical ponderings on the space around us, both physical and emotional, existing as odd scientific states and almost incomprehensible landscapes. 

In the old days, this sort of thing might take form as a Tarkovsky movie like Stalker, though Michael Moorcock’s Dancers At The End of Times series comes to mind. Certain modern works like Melancholia, Another Earth, or even Lost echo this form of art science fiction. The one thing The Leaning Girl contains that seems to have been embraced by current interests is a steampunk aspect, but this is not in the action vein that so much steampunk wraps itself in. This is quiet. If it is show-offy, it’s in a very humble way.

The story concerns Mary Von Rathen and her travels following an incident that leaves her perpetually leaning in one direction, always. Escaping the disdain of her family, hooking up with a traveling sideshow, and eventually partnering with pioneering scientist who thinks the secret of Mary’s leaning has to do with a nearby distant sphere and the pull of its gravity, Mary’s adventures are contemplative one centering on alienness, belonging, finding a place to be, building psychological safe spaces, taking chances with the understanding that pulling back may be the necessary response, and so much more. The Leaning Girl is a thematically rich work.

It’s also an artistically rich one. Schuiten’s pen and ink tour de forces remind me of some of the most awe-inspiring collaborations between Dave Sim and Gerhard, a perfect match of personality and world building, featuring architecture that takes on impossible meaning and landscapes that seem impossible to visualize, and yet are, right there, on the page. 

The book also utilizes fumetti, with photography by Marie-Francoise Plissart, to tell part of the story, and use the difference between the photos and the drawings as strong visual cues to further the impact of the plot. Centering on the internal monologue of an artist in an abandoned house, these segments explore the structure’s state of invisible history being worn on its walls even as the artist tries to adorn it with his own obsessions and visions.

The Leaning Girl is actually the sixth book in the official series. The previous titles were all released and then discontinued by NBM. Having not read any of the first five books, I can tell you that The Leaning Girl is a great starting point, and even if you never read another, it stands on its own.

Alaxis promises to translate the further books, as well as one that explores a curious side note in the work, the supposed existence of a real Mary Von Rathen and her correspondence with the creators. This is very exciting news to anyone who is looking for genre fiction that isn’t pulling from the same geek tropes - in either story, character, or pacing - as everything else these days. It is decidedly its own thing, mesmerizing and mysterious, and certainly intellectually and visually challenging. A major work in the history of graphic storytelling.

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown
Just after I turned 14 and my parents divorced, my mother and I went to live with my grandmother in Georgia. My grandmother was very into wrestling and, as a kid who had grown-up loving superhero comics and needing to escape the obvious problems life was flinging, I was more than ready to accept the fiction of professional wrestling. Me and my grandmother watched every week, and we went to the matches. It was a little magical, a little crazy.
Box Brown captures the appeal of this world well in his biography of Andre Roussimoff - that is, Andre the Giant, well over 7 feet and 500 pounds, who suffered from acromegaly continued till the end of his life, but also, in a strange way, benefited from it, too.
Brown traces Andre’s beginnings, but spends the bulk of his time covering his professional life, including some exceptional analysis of the dynamics of working in a pro wrestling role, including the anatomy of a match. It’s all done with great enthusiasm - this is information that obviously really interests Brown and he’s completely excited to tell you about it. It’s infectious, actually, and it speaks to the 14-year-old in me, sure, but not exclusively. It’s a universal joy that Brown passes along.
And it’s to Brown’s credit that he his able to accomplish this with Andre as a subject - or, maybe, because of it. Andre is not an open book, but a dark, closed soul with depths so far down that they are unreachable. On the surface, he is a monolith, indulging and withholding, impossible to read even by his closest friends. In this way, Andre can be a bit of a blank slate that Brown can utilize for a wider story. Not that the story of Andre isn’t important, but it’s a story that is really one section of a wider one, and the intersection of the two is where the interest really comes from.
Andre himself doesn’t come off as a nice guy, nor a particularly horrible one. Boozing, womanizing, often gruff, frequently reckless and well aware of his celebrity, That said, Andre is a sympathetic figure, even with some of his unsavory aspects. In this way, he actually reminds me of Sinatra - once you connect with him, you can’t disconnect despite all the information that tells you why you might want to. This is a fitting tribute to a world gone by and the man who loomed large over it, a man who 100 years ago might have been in a different kind of sideshow, but at least this one gave him a few challenges and many rewards, as well as an obviously bittersweet reality that must have been unavoidable.

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown

Just after I turned 14 and my parents divorced, my mother and I went to live with my grandmother in Georgia. My grandmother was very into wrestling and, as a kid who had grown-up loving superhero comics and needing to escape the obvious problems life was flinging, I was more than ready to accept the fiction of professional wrestling. Me and my grandmother watched every week, and we went to the matches. It was a little magical, a little crazy.

Box Brown captures the appeal of this world well in his biography of Andre Roussimoff - that is, Andre the Giant, well over 7 feet and 500 pounds, who suffered from acromegaly continued till the end of his life, but also, in a strange way, benefited from it, too.

Brown traces Andre’s beginnings, but spends the bulk of his time covering his professional life, including some exceptional analysis of the dynamics of working in a pro wrestling role, including the anatomy of a match. It’s all done with great enthusiasm - this is information that obviously really interests Brown and he’s completely excited to tell you about it. It’s infectious, actually, and it speaks to the 14-year-old in me, sure, but not exclusively. It’s a universal joy that Brown passes along.

And it’s to Brown’s credit that he his able to accomplish this with Andre as a subject - or, maybe, because of it. Andre is not an open book, but a dark, closed soul with depths so far down that they are unreachable. On the surface, he is a monolith, indulging and withholding, impossible to read even by his closest friends. In this way, Andre can be a bit of a blank slate that Brown can utilize for a wider story. Not that the story of Andre isn’t important, but it’s a story that is really one section of a wider one, and the intersection of the two is where the interest really comes from.

Andre himself doesn’t come off as a nice guy, nor a particularly horrible one. Boozing, womanizing, often gruff, frequently reckless and well aware of his celebrity, That said, Andre is a sympathetic figure, even with some of his unsavory aspects. In this way, he actually reminds me of Sinatra - once you connect with him, you can’t disconnect despite all the information that tells you why you might want to. This is a fitting tribute to a world gone by and the man who loomed large over it, a man who 100 years ago might have been in a different kind of sideshow, but at least this one gave him a few challenges and many rewards, as well as an obviously bittersweet reality that must have been unavoidable.

War of Streets and Houses by Sophie Yanow
Montreal-based Sophie Yanow takes an original approach to memoir, relating her time during 2012 student strike through meditations on the meaning of space - urban, rural, and psychological. Yanow is from rural California, and she uses her experience in that setting to jettison contemplation of an urban rebellion, and how urban planning has played into attempts at control.
There is no direct narrative offered, rather snippets of time and Yanow’s own thought process as she puts the pieces together, directing the reader’s attention but never commanding all the conclusions. Yanow takes readers through her own experiences and makes direct correlations to Algerian urban warfare and changes in Paris designed to keep revolution down, a suggestion of what might be in play in our current era that we never give thought to, and what might have already been put in place in anticipation of unrest.
I’ve read a couple of Yanow’s In Situ and liked them fine, but War of Streets and Houses is a major leap forward creatively. It hints at a wealth of ideas that must be floating inside Yanow’s head, with an ability to make not only emotional connections, but also academic ones, when examining a situation, all filtered through a radical and passionate world-view.

War of Streets and Houses by Sophie Yanow

Montreal-based Sophie Yanow takes an original approach to memoir, relating her time during 2012 student strike through meditations on the meaning of space - urban, rural, and psychological. Yanow is from rural California, and she uses her experience in that setting to jettison contemplation of an urban rebellion, and how urban planning has played into attempts at control.

There is no direct narrative offered, rather snippets of time and Yanow’s own thought process as she puts the pieces together, directing the reader’s attention but never commanding all the conclusions. Yanow takes readers through her own experiences and makes direct correlations to Algerian urban warfare and changes in Paris designed to keep revolution down, a suggestion of what might be in play in our current era that we never give thought to, and what might have already been put in place in anticipation of unrest.

I’ve read a couple of Yanow’s In Situ and liked them fine, but War of Streets and Houses is a major leap forward creatively. It hints at a wealth of ideas that must be floating inside Yanow’s head, with an ability to make not only emotional connections, but also academic ones, when examining a situation, all filtered through a radical and passionate world-view.

Debuting at TCAF right now as I type these words is Madeleine Flores’ book Bear, Bird, and Stag Were Arguing In The Forest (And Other Stories) from Retrofit and Big Planet. If you are in those crowds at the library in Toronto and see my message in a bottle, mark my words that you will be happy if you pick this book up.
Flores offers three philosophical shorter works that come together well in their examination of knowing yourself, living purposefully, understanding where you stand in the universe, seeing the potential in yourself, and lots of other good things, but without being heavy. Instead she moves from hilarity to sweetness.
The title story is like an Aesop’s Fable about power-seeking and greed, and the dynamics behind those that indicate you may not see the big picture. Flores follows with a story about giving even in the wake of tragedy, which segues into a meditation on who a person is and how that person makes their mark in the world. The final is cartoon poetry on the depth of imagination and the power of your own brain.
Beautiful! A must purchase.

Debuting at TCAF right now as I type these words is Madeleine Flores’ book Bear, Bird, and Stag Were Arguing In The Forest (And Other Stories) from Retrofit and Big Planet. If you are in those crowds at the library in Toronto and see my message in a bottle, mark my words that you will be happy if you pick this book up.

Flores offers three philosophical shorter works that come together well in their examination of knowing yourself, living purposefully, understanding where you stand in the universe, seeing the potential in yourself, and lots of other good things, but without being heavy. Instead she moves from hilarity to sweetness.

The title story is like an Aesop’s Fable about power-seeking and greed, and the dynamics behind those that indicate you may not see the big picture. Flores follows with a story about giving even in the wake of tragedy, which segues into a meditation on who a person is and how that person makes their mark in the world. The final is cartoon poetry on the depth of imagination and the power of your own brain.

Beautiful! A must purchase.

There’s not much to say about Motion Sick that Motion Sick doesn’t say about itself, but I wanted to make sure to put it out there because it’s a lovely little thing. Kelly Froh recounts one small incident on a vacation to Wisconsin when she was a kid, capturing the parental need for order and the compelling beauty of the world on the road, and contrasting it with what a kid needs at that exact moment. I really love Froh’s work - her Amazon trilogy is just one of my favorite things and her mini about Samson the Gorilla is absurd, funny, kind of sad, a pretty wonderful achievement in a mere 16 pages - but I especially thrill to her color work and this hand-bound book is a wonderful, deadpan presentation of it. 

There’s not much to say about Motion Sick that Motion Sick doesn’t say about itself, but I wanted to make sure to put it out there because it’s a lovely little thing. Kelly Froh recounts one small incident on a vacation to Wisconsin when she was a kid, capturing the parental need for order and the compelling beauty of the world on the road, and contrasting it with what a kid needs at that exact moment. I really love Froh’s work - her Amazon trilogy is just one of my favorite things and her mini about Samson the Gorilla is absurd, funny, kind of sad, a pretty wonderful achievement in a mere 16 pages - but I especially thrill to her color work and this hand-bound book is a wonderful, deadpan presentation of it. 

Archer Coe: The Thousand Natural Shocksby Jamie S. Rich and Dan Christensen
I am most definitely not a sucker for noir-infused comics. I find that too often, the conventions and affectations are stuck in stories without any real innovation, as if the creator is paying tribute to the genre without having much meat on the narrative bone, as if riffing off the genre is enough to justify its creation. Other times, they can be an excuse for maximum machismo that comes off as daydreaming on the writer’s part. The Frank Miller stuff. Boring.
Archer Coe surprised me. The first of apparently three books, this one available in June, Jamie S. Rich and Dan Christensen craft a story involving a night club hypnotist going by the name The Mind’s Arrow who also does some after hours work for rich people, which leads to some unexpected adventures. In this story, Coe is hired by a millionaire to investigate why his wife is so frigid. At the same time, there is a mysterious murderer going around town called The Zipper, because of his particular killing style, and the police are having no luck catching him. How will these two plots come together as one?
I’m obviously not going to tell you. It’s bad enough that I’ve hinted that they might.
All the ingredients of a stereotypical noir are here — the upstanding investigator, the chump husband who hires him, the seductive vamp at the center of the investigation — but none of them play out their roles in the expected way. As the mystery deepens, the story goes off the checklist completely, and Rich takes readers on something reminiscent of a Christopher Nolan film, or maybe even a Gilbert Hernandez comic.
There’s also Coe himself as a strength. Pulling from a long tradition of dry, non-superhero crime fighters, particularly of the stage and magic variety. Think Mysto the Magician Detective, or even Mandrake. There’s even a hint of Richard Temple from EC’s The Strange World of Your Dreams, and probably dozens of others I can’t think of right now. The stage-hypnotist-as-crime-fighter set-up brings the right amount of absurdity to the situation and, also, sets the hero up as a possible underdog when dealing with tough guys, which adds a completely different dynamic to the mystery and opens up the book to people like myself who might not give two damns about noir, but should give at least one damn about Archer Coe.

Archer Coe: The Thousand Natural Shocks
by Jamie S. Rich and Dan Christensen

I am most definitely not a sucker for noir-infused comics. I find that too often, the conventions and affectations are stuck in stories without any real innovation, as if the creator is paying tribute to the genre without having much meat on the narrative bone, as if riffing off the genre is enough to justify its creation. Other times, they can be an excuse for maximum machismo that comes off as daydreaming on the writer’s part. The Frank Miller stuff. Boring.

Archer Coe surprised me. The first of apparently three books, this one available in June, Jamie S. Rich and Dan Christensen craft a story involving a night club hypnotist going by the name The Mind’s Arrow who also does some after hours work for rich people, which leads to some unexpected adventures. In this story, Coe is hired by a millionaire to investigate why his wife is so frigid. At the same time, there is a mysterious murderer going around town called The Zipper, because of his particular killing style, and the police are having no luck catching him. How will these two plots come together as one?

I’m obviously not going to tell you. It’s bad enough that I’ve hinted that they might.

All the ingredients of a stereotypical noir are here — the upstanding investigator, the chump husband who hires him, the seductive vamp at the center of the investigation — but none of them play out their roles in the expected way. As the mystery deepens, the story goes off the checklist completely, and Rich takes readers on something reminiscent of a Christopher Nolan film, or maybe even a Gilbert Hernandez comic.

There’s also Coe himself as a strength. Pulling from a long tradition of dry, non-superhero crime fighters, particularly of the stage and magic variety. Think Mysto the Magician Detective, or even Mandrake. There’s even a hint of Richard Temple from EC’s The Strange World of Your Dreams, and probably dozens of others I can’t think of right now. The stage-hypnotist-as-crime-fighter set-up brings the right amount of absurdity to the situation and, also, sets the hero up as a possible underdog when dealing with tough guys, which adds a completely different dynamic to the mystery and opens up the book to people like myself who might not give two damns about noir, but should give at least one damn about Archer Coe.