Friday, 21 September 2012

New Yorker covers by Chris Ware (2009-2012)

I have recently discovered, on this website, several wonderful covers drawn by Chris Ware for the New Yorker. I already knew two of them, which were included in the beautiful, and over-sized, Acme Novelty Library 18 1/2. I saw the other ones for the first time.

Once again, I was deeply impressed by the amazing quality of Chris Ware's art. Everything is thoroughly thought and minutely drawn: the compositions are really powerful, the drawings are superb and colors are very subtle and rich.

Each covers tells a story in itself. A simple glimpse at them makes us discover a part of the lives of the people on them or, more generally speaking, a specific element of our modern Western society.

In a way, these covers remind me of some Edward Hopper's paintings. Of course, they differ in many ways: Chris Ware's very precise art looks different from Edward Hopper blurry, more or less impressionistic, painting; and Edward Hopper mostly depicted lonely people whereas Chris Ware's covers are very often rather crowded (but nowadays, where can we be more lonely than in a crowd? which is more or less the central topic of many Chris Ware's stories, from Jimmy Corrigan to Rusty Brown). But both of them use pastel shades to describe typical scenes of present-day American way of life. Their paintings look very silent to me, very calm; but at the same time, they are very meaningful; each one of them makes me feel like stopping for hours in front of it, to enjoy fully its silent beauty and to try and fathom its subtle mysteries.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

A Chinese Life, by Li Kunwu and Philippe Ôtié (2009-2011; 2012)

The Chinese people have lived, during the past few decades, many extraordinary upheavals which cannot be easily fathomed by any Western person: the arrival of the Communist Party at the head of the State (1949), the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), aiming at improving significantly Chinese agriculture but responsible for the starvation to death of tens of millions of people; the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), in which the then Chairman of the Communist Party, Mao Zedong, created a revolution against his own ruling comrades, an unbelievable turmoil during which everything was constantly changing, political power was passing from one faction to another at an incredible speed; the cult of personality surrounding Mao Zedong and his death (1976); the shift from a Marxist economy to an ultraliberal one; the metamorphosis from an underdeveloped third World country to an economic giant and a political superpower; the rise and fall of the hope for a political change in the Tiananmen Square...

Chinese people have lived through all this. And I must admit that I have always been unable to figure out what these people think of their own history, how they feel about their country, about their leaders, about the evolution of their society.

Here lies the great quality of A Chinese Life. Li Kunwu is a Chinese artist whose father took part in every phase of the Chinese Communist Party since the Second World War. Based on Li Kunwu's memories, Philippe Ôtié, a French writer, drafted a storyboard that was drawn by Li Kunwu himself. This close collaboration was successful and the resulting graphic novel is very pleasant to read: The story is clear and easy to follow, even for someone not specialized in Chinese history (whereas the historical events told are very complicated...). Li Kinwu's art, with a strong influence from his Eastern formation, is original and nice.

A Chinese Life may not be a great masterpiece but it gives a fascinating insight into how it can feel like to have led a Chinese life for the past few decades.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Adolf, by Osamu Tezuka (1983-1985; 2012)

At the beginning of his career, Osamu Tezuka was specialised in comics for kids, with well-known works such as King Leo, Metropolis or Astro Boy, all of them with a deep influence by Walt Disney. But, from the late 50s, a new kind of manga, the "gegika" (or "dramatic pictures"), more adult-oriented, began to have much success, lead by the great Yoshihiro Tatsumi (whose autobiographical A Drifting life was released in 2009 by Drawn and Quarterly). Tezuka could have been overwhelmed by this new kind of comics. But he reacted with all his talent and published stories for a more mature audience, with more complex plots, more violence, some sex, etc. All this with as much, if not more, commercial and artistic success than before.

Nonetheless, two things did not change in Tezuka's latter works: their very high quality and their underlying philosophy. Tezuka combines a deep faith in humanity, stressing out in all his works the importance of the necessary respect due to any living being, and the frightful conviction that men can be extrememy harmful for the people and the environment around them.

Among the (numerous) masterpieces of this second part of Tezuka's career, Message to Adolf may be, with Black Jack, one of the most easily accessible to Western readers. Firstly it is deeply rooted in historical events well known to Europeans or North-Americans: it takes place mostly during the 2nd World War, beginning in Germany during the Berlin Olympic Games and ending in Israël, some time after the creation of this State. There is a single hero, whom we follow during the whole story, Sōhei Tōge. The plot is relatively simple, compared with many characters, places and times of Phoenix; there is not as much Oriental metaphysics as in Buddha.

Message to Adolf was one of the first works by Osamu Tezuka to be published in English, in the mid 90s (in 5 volumes). It is published once again, in two volumes.

For those who have not read this masterpiece yet, this new publication (even though the new cover is rather badly chosen, in my humble opinion) could be (must be, should I say) a good opportunity to discover this book. Even if Adolf may be less idiosyncrasic for Tezuka than Phoenix, for instance, it includes all of the main qualities of Tezuka's works: great storytelling, very innovative layouts, strong humanism, very good insertion of fictional characters and events into important historical facts, etc.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

New pages from Fabrice Neaud's "Diary"

Fabrice Neaud has not released a single volume of his famous (at least among French-speaking good comics lovers...) "Diary" since 2002. For the last 10 years, he has published only a few short stories from his Diary in various magazines or compilations. (Plus two full length books; but in the first one, he was only the artist, not the writer; and the second one, a science-fiction book, is only the beginning of a potentially long saga...)

So it is very good news to hear that his publisher, Ego comme X, has decided to release each week new unpublished pages extracted from his Diary from 2003 and 2004.

What can we discover in these new pages? As usual, should I say (but any "usual" thing by Fabrice Neaud is extremely good): beautiful art, interesting thoughts on literature or modern society, a few anecdotes about his sexual life (by the way, it is for mature readers).

Unfortunately, it is only in French. But it is nonetheless a good opportunity to discover new and beautiful art by Fabrice Neaud.