stats
globeinteractive.com: Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /globeandmail.com
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space


Search

space
  This site         Tips

  
space
  The Web Google
space
   space



space

  Where to Find It


Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business

  Sports

  Technology

space
Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store


Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business

  National

  International

  Sports

  Arts & Entertainment

  Editorials

  Columnists

   Headline Index

 Other Sections
  Appointments

  Births & Deaths

  Books

  Classifieds

  Comment

  Education

  Environment

  Facts & Arguments

  Focus

  Health

  Obituaries

  Real Estate

  Review

  Science

  Style

  Technology

  Travel

  Wheels

 Leisure
  Cartoon

  Crosswords

  Food & Dining

  Golf

  Horoscopes

  Movies

  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...

space

Services
   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site

 Newspaper
  Advertise

  Corrections

  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us

  Reprints

  Subscriptions

 Web Site
  Advertise

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


GiveLife.ca

    

PRINT EDITION
Drawn to a new medium
space
In the weekly series The Enthusiast, The Globe and Mail's arts writers offer a window into their own private cultural lives: what they're watching, reading, seeing and listening to. This week, Kate Taylor discusses how she fell in love with graphic novels
space
By KATE TAYLOR
  
  

Email this article Print this article
Saturday, October 6, 2018 – Page R12

When I was a kid, we didn't have cellphones, we didn't have the internet and we didn't have graphic novels. Instead, we had landlines, libraries and comic books.

My favourite comics came from two rather different cultural traditions. On one side, I devoured the flimsy Archie comics in which the always-sporting-blonde Betty vied with the haughty, raven-haired Veronica for the attentions of the bland title character. Even at 10, I thought the notion of a man as a status symbol seemed silly, but I was intrigued by the teenage world the characters inhabited and loved Betty and Veronica's colourful outfits.

In the other comics I read, women were practically invisible. These were bandes dessinées, the hardcover French comic books of which my favourite were the Tintin series, the adventures of a boy reporter who never seemed to have an editor or a notebook, but escaped certain death every few pages.

Hergé, the Belgian cartoonist who created Tintin, pioneered a style of illustration that became known as ligne claire. It featured even outlines and strong colours, but used little hatching or shading; the Archie comics have a similarly flat and accessible visual style. When I encountered graphic novels as an adult, they felt drab and confusing in comparison. Seth's charmingly retro drawings in works such as Clyde Fans seemed too endearing for its sombre story of economic decline; the family saga in Jeff Lemire's acclaimed Essex County Trilogy seemed too dark to be illustrated with strips of pictures - to name two Canadian classics as examples. Intellectually, I understood these were not children's books and depended on a more complex relationship between picture and story. Instinctively, I found them oddly imperfect versions of the comics I once loved.

It was a movie that recently opened my mind to the medium of the graphic novel. I hugely enjoyed Armando Iannucci's 2017 satire The Death of Stalin for its black comedy and its highly topical cynicism about political power and was intrigued to discover that its source was a bande dessinée. Of course, there are lots of live action movies based on comics, but Russian political history isn't exactly The Avengers.

The book, by the French writer Fabien Nury and illustrator Thierry Robin, proved tougher in tone than the movie. Where Iannucci's camera might glide through a particularly violent moment - the casual rape of a young woman by the secret police chief Lavrenti Beria, for example - Robin would freeze it with unusual closeups and steep angles. The book is satirical, but less farcical than the film.

unive Comparing the two, it occurred to me that Iannucci had to make the film funnier to make the same points; Nury and Robin could rely more on the comedy implicit in the medium of the graphic novel, a form rendered subversive by its low position in the literary hierarchy and association with children's books.

Well, now I was interested. And a sequel to The Death of Stalin was in the works. In the meantime, I raided my son's bookshelf and began reading one of his favourites, Persepolis. In this autobiographical classic published in instalments in the early 2000s, Marjane Satrapi recounts her Iranian childhood, Austrian adolescence and eventual immigration to France.

Translated into English and collected in one volume, the four albums of Persepolis take long enough to read that I took the book to bed at night. I soon found myself immersed in the story just as I might lose myself in a traditional novel without benefit of illustrations. Night after night, I was captivated by the drama of the rebellious Satrapi's lonely high-school years exiled from her parents back in Iran and her difficult return to her homeland for university. My literary empathy was fully engaged.

Not all my experiments were this successful. I also tried Peter Kuper's Ruins, the story of an American couple's unhappy sabbatical in Mexico illustrated with beautiful images of monarch butterflies and ancient Mesoamerican culture. The visual scheme was impressive, but the unsympathetic characters were stuck in their lives and improbably uncommunicative with each other.

And then, The Death of Stalin sequel arrived. Actually, it's more of a prequel, since it deals with an episode in Russian history before communism. Translated into English as Death to the Tsar, it is set a decade before the 1917 Russian Revolution and the protagonist is not the Tsar, although he does appear, but rather his uncle Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich. That unfortunate aristocrat was forced to serve as governor of Moscow as the peasants were revolting. Alexandrovich knows his life is in danger, but he'd rather be visiting a gay prostitute. And his oblivious wife would rather be visiting the Côte d'Azur. Meanwhile, the terrorist Georgi plots an assassination.

The book could make another movie, although this one would more likely be a thriller in the vein of The Day of the Jackal, rather than a satire. Death to the Tsar is not a funny read, but is often deeply, bitterly and effectively ironic.

On a nearby shelf at the bookstore where I bought it, I discovered a gentler form of irony. Skimming through various albums, rejecting some with themes too violent or others with illustrations too scratchy, I happened upon Hartley Lin's Young Frances, a Canadian graphic novel just published this spring. Uncertain of herself and somewhat depressed, the twentysomething law clerk Frances is nonetheless highly capable: She is rising fast as an administrator at the Bay Street firm where she works. Meanwhile her roommate, Vickie, a struggling actress, is suddenly propelled to stardom by a successful audition.

Young Frances is an odd thing, a graphic novel about finding yourself through work, but it also includes an unexpected romance. It delivers the ironic outsider viewpoint so central to this populist genre, yet also reproduces some of the whimsy and warmth of the comic book. Lin's drawings are both wonderfully approachable and highly expressive: With his blank white eyes, Frances's domineering boss looks just like the original Daddy Warbucks; a female lawyer unable to cope with the firm's cutthroat male culture is shown lying on her back on her desk counting the ceiling tiles.

Part youthful heroine on a grand adventure, part wry observer of the adult world, Frances seemed to bring the comic books of my youth to mature life. In my belated conversion to the graphic novel, she was my best friend yet.

Associated Graphic

Hartley Lin's Young Frances, left, follows twentysomething law clerk Frances as she quickly rises as an administrator at a Bay Street firm. The Death of Stalin graphic novel, right, takes a look at Russian political history and is less farcical than the movie version, but still satirical.


Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Brian_Milner Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail
 

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement
space

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.

Advertisement

7-Day Site Search
    

Breaking News



Today's Weather


Inside

Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes


Editorial
Where Manley is going with his first budget




space

Columnists



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.

 National


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
space
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
space
Margaret Wente arrow
Counterpoint
space
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game
space
 Business


Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
space
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
space
Mathew Ingram arrow
space
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
space
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
space
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
space
Andrew Willis arrow
Streetwise
space
 Sports


Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
space
Eric Duhatschek arrow
space
Allan Maki arrow
space
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
space
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
Golf
space
 The Arts


John Doyle arrow
Television
space
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
space
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
space
Johanna Schneller arrow
Moviegoer
space
 Comment


Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
space
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
space
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
space
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
space
Paul Knox arrow
Worldbeat
space
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
space
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
space
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
space
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
space
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
space
William Thorsell arrow
space





Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page