Desert Island Comics – Episode 73 – Brick
Take one comic person, set them the task of picking their favourite 8 comics and one little luxury, then maroon them on their own personal desert island. It’s fascinating to see just what they pick, and far, far more difficult to narrow it down than you could possibly imagine.
However, to make it work, WE NEED YOU. Fancy having a go? Get in touch; email, twitter, facebook – the message will get through! Have a go, enjoy yourself, the weather’s great on the island most of the year (just don’t ask about hurricane season and the mutated giant crabs!)
This week we welcome ‘Brick’ to his own personal island. Brick, aka John Stuart Clark is a cartoonist, artist, writer, educator, and more. He’s been published in various places at various times and most recently here at the FPI Blog we’ve looked at his graphic novel Depresso with Knockabout. His new graphic novel Leonardo’s Bicycle is still in the works, but from the description here it sounds like a winner:
In 1974 history was rewritten when the Italians discovered the sketch of a bicycle on the reverse of a page of Leonardo’s Codex Atlanticus notebook hidden for 300 years. It seemed the maestro had at least designed a perfectly proportioned roadster 400 years before a German invented the ‘running machine’. Might he have even built a working prototype for pootling round Milan!?
This work in progress is a none-too-serious unravelling of this controversial and convoluted case.
Desert Island Comics – Episode 73 – chosen by BRICK (aka John Stuart Clark)
Although I’ve been drawing comics pages for (it seems) centuries, most have been for educational purposes or in the genre of what us old guys call agitprop comics – ‘shit-kicking comics’, I prefer. This sort of work generally appears in magazines and newspapers where the limitation has always been space. Now able to spread my wings further than a couple of pages, the subtle capabilities of our amazing medium are beginning to show their metal. Despite being around since the Bayeux Tapestry, and despite some remarkable exceptions, I am firmly convinced comics creators have barely scratched the surface of the medium’s potential. This fascinates me, in much the same way that, as a dedicated rock fan, I am fascinated by what the classical symphony has achieved that rock never will. My choice of desert island reading therefore lists those books I presently find myself repeatedly returning to in an effort to fathom the depths.
FASHION BEAST – Alan Moore, Malcolm McLaren, Antony Johnston & Facundo Percio
The 1980s Moore/McLaren film script that was never filmed, adapted by Johnston and beautifully illustrated by Percio twenty years later, presents an intriguing insight into the relationship (or not) between the silver screen and comics page, and visa versa. The online extract from the original script (http://fourcolorheroes.home.insightbb.com/fashionbeast.html) suggests Moore was (and no doubt remains) more than capable of pulling off a great screenplay, specifically evident in his obvious relish at being able to write for sound, but if the comic is the full screenplay transposed, Fashion Beast lacks the narrative depth to have been more than a stylish, prescient and provocative short. Round the other way, the adaptation highlights the pacing problem of trying to depict a swift but critical cut-away, like the turning of Tarot cards, or a long, weighty exchange between actors in a fixed location. Without the benefit of, say, a dolly camera to hold the viewer’s interest, readers become bogged down in speeches that comic writers would otherwise heavily edit or spread over more meaningful panels. Despite its age, the story remains relevant and sits well in the comics medium, but one senses that the screenplay needed a lot more deconstruction to become a successful graphic novel. It remains, however, a great vehicle for learning about pacing, something too many comics creators stumble over.
STIGMATA –Lorenzo Mattotti & Claudio Piersanti
I don’t know how many times I’ve read this work of harsh beauty, but it isn’t enough. Piersanti’s morality tale lies somewhere between a Pasolini and Fellini script (he is, in fact, a screen writer), but Mattotti’s rendition of the redemptive journey of ‘a desperate hulk of a man’ is pure swirling genius. The layout is calm and calculated, the timing impassioned, and what he opts to illustrate in any one panel is rarely less than poignant. One of the handful of Italian comics freaks behind the Valvoline avante garde group, Mattotti blew comics illustration out of the water and let it land back with simpler form and deeper, more lateral content. I know precious little about the Valvoline group, but am minded of Soviet filmmakers like Serge Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovikin who, denied access to film-stock by America, sat round discussing the potential of film form and content, creating movies on paper. What they produced, when Eastman-Kodak filtered celluloid back into the USSR, revolutionised film language and shook Hollywood to the core. At a time when comics are issuing from every crevice like sludge from a landfill, the English-speaking world of comics could so use a avant garde group to reanimate the medium. I’d join.
LIKE A RIVER – Pierre Wazem
Wazem’s story of a bootless alcoholic loner pulled back from the brink of self-destruction by a visit from his son is a compelling mess. My fascination is in why. While his scratchy splotchy penmanship repels and attracts in equal measure, Wazem’s portrayal of body language (and thus the characterisations) and choice of ‘camera’ angles rarely stumbles. His timing, layout and sparse dialogue are handled deftly, and the size and packaging of the book by Metal Hurlant is pitch perfect. But while the narrative haunts me by striking a painfully personal chord with events in my own life, the book remains an immensely unsatisfactory read. The problem lies in the faltering story arc, sloppy plotting and missed opportunities, and my task on the island will be to unpick, reassemble and expand – an interesting exercise with no guarantee of improvement, but therein lies a learning curve.
FAX FROM SARAJEVO – Joe Kubert
I’m not big on reading fiction, in prose or comics, and what I do read tends to be the classics (because those guys’n’gals can really write). So you would imagine I’m a big fan of Joe Sacco, except I have cartoonist friends in the Middle East who struggle collectively (Arabs and Jews) to produce a regular street comic that addresses the insane conflict and strives for peace and understanding. While admiring his art, their take on Sacco as the self-serving darling of Western liberals is easy to sympathise with, given the career he’s forged off their pain and their chronic lack of resources. By contrast, this gripping documentary from a comics legend is politically faultless. It’s about his agent’s struggle to save his family during the siege of Sarajevo in 1992-93, how Rustemagic engages and pleads with his clients in Europe and America through a stream of faxes, and how Kubert and co. are frustrated, almost at every turn, to get them airlifted out. It is gripping, heartbreaking stuff, faultlessly delivered in Kubert’s inimitable Sgt. Rock style, with maps, faxes and a jaw-dropping eye for implied detail. If ever there was a ‘graphic novel’ (Urgh!) that gives the lie to the suggestion that comics can’t handle serious subjects, this is it. In a twelve-chapter epilogue of prose and photo double-spreads, Kubert nails that one dead for all time. I shall read, reread and learn, and probably give up trying to produce comics when I return to civilisation!
WIMBLEDON GREEN – Seth
I am a skilled wilderness wallah and, presuming I’m allowed a multi-functioning camping axe as my luxury, will immediately set about building my raft. But I know from experience that every adventure brings with it hours or days of utter despair when a book like Wimbledon Green will be critical in taming the black dog. Others have written well about why Seth’s magnum opus will be on the beach beside them. For me it is the unadulterated joy of a geeky, yet convoluted story so simply told with the rhyme and rhythm of a comics master. But there is also the sensual thing of holding in hand a work of art where every element has been given loving consideration, down to the rounded corners of page and cover. That will inspire me in my boatbuilding. Somewhere I read that the story emerged during one of Seth’s extended bouts of depression. As a fellow traveller through the dungeons of the troubled soul, I can see that yet marvel at Seth’s ability to channel his creative therapy outwards, rather than inwards as so many in the ‘graphic medicine’ genre do, myself included. Before I depart, I will seal the book in hollowed-out bamboo, adorned with a relief of Wimbeldon, and bury it somewhere obscure. I will map its location on a sliver of bark, coiled and sealed in another tube of bamboo, dropped overboard when I enter primary currents. Beside the X will be the words, ‘Here be treasure’.
L’AIGLE SANS ORTEILS – Christian Lax
Between pondering the meaning of life, the universe and comics on my desert island, I’m going to need moments of light relief. Lax’s visually sensitive story about the formative days of Le Tour de France is it. Aside from my dog, the one thing I will greatly miss is my bicycle, a vehicle of delights and, for me, contemplation rarely seen centre stage in comics. But I don’t speak French and actually haven’t a clue what this stunning bande dessinee is really about! My thinking is that I will while away the evenings weaving heavy guessing with a waft of the bits of translation my ‘O’ Level French allows and cobble together a satisfying narrative. If frustration kicks in, there is always his beautiful artwork to droll over and copy with dye on rock.
THE WALKING MAN – Jiro Taniguchi
Why this wonderful book ever became deleted is a mystery, but fortunately somebody has seen sense and finally reissued it. Its Japanese title is ‘The Man Who Walks’, a far more poignant and fitting one for a work of reverie in which very little happens, very few words are spoken, and yet all of life in a Japanese suburb is revealed. The Man goes for walks, sometimes with his dog, Snowy (a direct homage to Hergé there), sometimes on his own, for a breath of fresh air, to fetch a reed screen from the store or just commuting home from work. He wanders forth and observes the minutiae of his neighbour’s daily routines, the texture of tree bark, changes in the weather, the smell of magnolias. He revels in simple pleasures, charging up a fire escape, paddling in the sea, skinny-dipping in a closed public baths. Told almost exclusively in simple ‘silent’ images that are filigree graphic and architecturally precise, the layout and pacing of almost every page is lyrical to the point of daring, which maybe only a true genius of comics like Taniguchi can pull off. Lurking behind each of the 18 stories I suspect are metaphysical musings on a par with the writings of Rousseau and Nietzsche, and that’s my task on the desert island, to get to the bottom of Taniguchi’s philosophy of walking. If ever there was a work that illustrates how subtle and emotionally engaging a comic book can be…
My Luxury Item:
If I’m not allowed the whistles and bells multi-functioning camping axe mentioned above because it might facilitate my escape, then it will have to be music. I’ve done a lot of wilderness travelling and found the sounds of nature anything but reassuring, particularly in the desert at night, when a lot of mammalian death rattles can be heard. But there is nothing quite like the outpourings of a tortured human soul tickling my tympanic membrane to imbue me with hope and self belief, much needed on a desert island. So it will have to be an HMV Model 7 hand-crank gramophone, with a bright red Glory Horn fringed by edelweiss, and loaded with all of Beethoven’s symphonies. Sorted!