From Tonoharu to what it is

Book review: “What it is” by Lynda Barry

lynda barry

I think you can call Lynda Barry’s latest book “What it is” mental scrapbooking. The author tries to get at the bottom of one of the most philosophical questions : what is life ? Of course we don’t expect Lynda Barry to answer this one. What she does is show us the multiple forms life can take, the color, the beauty, the questions, the anxiety, the joy, the innocence…
Images land on paper like they do in the mind: in a chaotic yet harmonic fashion. They jump at us, seduce us, take us on a wonderful trip in the author’s rich imagination. Lynda Barry brings scrapbooking to a new level. Originally scrapbooking was a cute past-time laden with cliches, dealing with decoration before expression. Yet Lynda Barry has recognized the potential of scrapbooking as an artform.
While collage is a “serious” art, scrapbooking adds a key element : kitsch. Kitsch in Barry’s work is a powerful tool. She shows us that cute elements surround us, but unlike serious art, which we see with our intelligence through the censorship of our brain, kitsch through its harmless, playful, falsely simplistic nature bypasses this filter and is capable of expressing the unconscious.
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Indeed, the artist questions what seems obvious,  familiar: everyday language.
She asks herself what “taking place” means exactly. What is reality and what is an illusion? is the question behind the question. Another good example is the poetic : ”When an unexpected memory comes calling, who answers?”
“What it is” is a lot about the unexpected, how it plays with us, for the better, for the worse, but always in color and for that we should be grateful.
Lynda Barry’s book reflects the richness of a mind capable of feeling this complexity, to show it to her readers, to reject the simplicity, the “reality” society expects us to live in, to function in:
“There are certain children who are told they are too sensitive, and there are certain adults who believe sensitivity is a problem that can be fixed in the way crooked teeth can be fixed and made straight. And when these two come together you get a fairytale, a kind of story with hopelessness in it.”

Book review: “Dreams Never Die” by metaphrog

Last October I went on the trip to the USA, to be more precise to Oregon. In a bookstore (with a decent graphic novels section) where I spent 2 hours browsing through the rich collection of comic books, I found “Louis – The Clown’s Last Words” by metaphrog. I really enjoyed the storyline and the drawings, so I bought the book and brought it back with me. When a new album was announced on calledLouis: Dreams Never Die“, I was of course interested in reading it. The album comes with a cd containing two music tracks by Múm and Hey, and a short animation by metaphrog with soundtrack by hey and múm. The main characters of this story: Louis and FC decide to visit Aunt Alison, but Hamlet and his labyrinthine pathways, as well as the odious Fly Catchers are obstacles our hero will have to overcome. On first glance, you might think “Louis – Dreams Never Die” is a children’s book. Well, it is. The drawings are colorful, shapes are round, reassuring; Louis reminds the reader of a sweet unsuspecting child discovering the world, its wonders and dangers. But “Louis Dreams Never Die” is also for adults, that is adults who have forgotten the recipe for cynicism and for whom ingredients like candor, niceness, dreams still have flavor: life may be a battlefield but one in which you can prevail ! What I like most in this album is the style of the narration: the way the author plays with words, the subtle jokes like: “Something sinister lurked behind the postal exterior”. Now this sums up quite a few issues most of us have with postal services, doesn’t it ? Well, definitely in the UK where I was constantly getting my neighbor’s mail and never saw the postman who could have been a robot with software bugs for that matter. It also suggests the dangers of our modern world: everyday elements like the postman, the media, the autarcic living spaces are disturbing, suffocating, debilitating. Yet the sentence also sums up the main topic of the story: communication. Louis is worried because his aunt isn’t writing anymore. Whereas most people would come up with pessimistic explanations, Louis is understanding to the point of being funny because, let’s face it, his explanations travel in the spheres of high improbability: “Maybe she couldn’t find the right words”, “The agony of the silent page”. The reader knows the truth about the aunt but Louis is happy because he sees no evil, just as he sees no “forbidden” signs. metaphrog2 The cuteness of menacing creatures who know the language of flowers and of humor: “we could come to some kind of floral arrangement” may be much more effective at criticizing the modern world than many sociological studies. The “real” world is irrelevant for Louis because it should be to us. Pineapples are made piece by piece, with care and attention, each of them a beautifully wrapped masterpiece, very unlike the actual mass-production on pineapple farms. After all, life is a pineapple we design so shouldn’t it be unique ?  Louis resists a controlled world without really thinking about it because freedom is in his nature and because ideology isn’t. If “Louis – Dream Never Die” doesn’t lift you up and make you wonder at the same time, I don’t know what could. Enjoy the trip in a world where Orwell had a good day.


Book review: “Tonoharu” by Lars Martinson




“Tonoharu” is, according to the publisher, the story of Daniel Wells who begins a new life as an assistant junior high school teacher in the rural Japanese village of Tonoharu. So far, so good. Indeed, Lars Martinson depicts in his graphic novel the cultural not so invisible walls separating the Japanese from the expats. You could say that “Tonoharu” is a typical expat graphic novel and it is a good one. The chosen graphic style, which reminds the reader of Japanese prints, is very effective. It conveys the false simplicity the expat feels when arriving in Asian countries like Japan, or as we can see in Guy Delisle’s work who adopts a similar style, in North Korea or China. Behind this new routine where everything has been taken care of, from the introductions to the first class in front of local students, the newcomer soon discovers the thousand little things that set him apart, even from other expats. The resulting loneliness seems from then on to define our teacher decribed as “the sole American resident of Tonoharu”. The purpose of this thorough Japanese organization (to avoid the unpleasantness of the unexpected, possibly rude), leads to absurd situations: during his first class, under supervision one might point out, Daniel Wells is asked what his impression of World War Two is. The question is so vague that obviously the Japanese colleague expects a very general consensual answer, validating the Japanese way of avoiding the issue. Indeed throughout the graphic novel the Japanese students don’t ask any question potentially leading to a political, philosophical debate, illustrating not only the official attitude towards sensitive issues and conflict in a country that has given up military intervention, but also the educational system in Japan, relying on assimilating knowledge, not on debating it.tonoharu02 Of course this makes it very hard for an American, like Daniel Wells, used to debating things, to even find a way to make contact, which he nevertheless tries again and again in what you could call a “Bildungsroman”. Other expats are no help either. During the gathering in the Japanese temple, in the heart of local culture, Daniel talks to a few other foreign residents, all displaying a spectacular ignorance and lack of interest in the local way of life: “-What brings you to Japan, Mister Wells? -Um, teaching I guess, H-how about you? -Why, the adorable natives of course! Aren’t they just darling?” The book ends with a scene at the school; Daniel Wells looks out of the window, as if wondering, if he will ever understand the Japanese. To be continued… P.S. The “Saarlouis” sign on the wall of the cafe p.90 adds, but maybe only for me, to the touch of reality. Saarlouis is a small German town barely anybody knows outside of a region called Saarland. It was a favorite destination of mine as a child because my parents lived not far away (they still do).

Nathalie Schon

Bwana 3
Bwana Spoons’ “Welcome To Forest Island” is another beautiful book published by Topshelf. But then that’s not very surprising since one might recognize a general editorial choice based on the originality of the graphics and strong stories. “Welcome to Forest Island”‘s strength is the way it plays with children universes, rainbow colors, cute animals to convey a message at the opposite of Walt Disney: the soothing green and the sunny yellow are the perfect background to show the nature of violence, contradicting the general incapacity of cute kitties and gingerbread houses to express anything other than their cute-and sweetness. The magical ingredient that Bwana Spoon ads to the mix is irony and a falsely naive attitude, introducing the good old myth of the good savage, just to contradict it a few words later:
“There are “several” native tribes on the island. Pictured here is a member of the love tribe. They will shoot you with an arrow to inspire an act of love…uh, through near death experience”.
This album reminds me of Lewis Trondheim’s “A.L.I.E.E.N” and its myth-destroying dark humor; also obvious in the French author’s other albums, in particular in his journal, retracing in gorgeous watercolors Trondheim’s steps and thoughts about a stranger’s reasons to thrown away a Christmas Tree before Christmas (he concludes that a child must have died). Yet there is a major difference in the way both authors address the disneyification of our society. There is no cynicism in Bwana Spoons’ work (not that cynicism is necessarily bad, wrong, evil or whatever); he prefers to see the world through the eye of the discoverer, the child, the little Prince waiting for his sheep to be drawn.
“Welcome to Forest Island” is a call for tolerance in a diverse world of “rainbow-spewing peoples of assorted species, shapes and sizes.” But tolerance is not going to appear out of nowhere. The reader, the author, heck, everybody has to work on it (no simply reading doesn’t qualify). Or to put it in one catchy sentence I’m going to steal from the rainbow book: “It’s always a bummer getting stuck in a hole that you can’t get out of. Gotta work those pecs”. And no again, Bwana Spoons isn’t talking about renewing your gym membership (in the world of internet invading lol cats you never know who’s going to read this blog). So buy, borrow or get the book as a gift and, hey, maybe buy some colors and send Bambi back into the forest.

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Description : Blog avec mes histoires pas très sérieuses. Je suis l'auteur des textes, des illustrations et des photos (sauf mention contraire). Je suis également traductrice BD, littérature, ciné etc... pour l'allemand et l'anglais.
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Oeuvre d'utilité publique préférée : ***Vaincre la Mucoviscidose***

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