PG Tips No. 12:
Paul Gravett's Recommended Reading
In a regular series of PG Tips articles, Paul Gravett reviews books of and about comics from his recommended reading list.
by Alison Bechdel
This complex memoir concerns a father, a literature-loving teacher, funeral parlour director, obsessive restorer of the family’s Victorian home and coldly remote parent, as told by his daughter, both of them gay in smalltown 1960s America. What started Alison Bechdel on her enquiry was her discovery, shortly after her father’s accidental, perhaps suicidal, death in 1980, of a holiday snapshot stolen by him of a young man reclining on a bed in only his briefs. She knows it was Roy, their babysitter, yardwork helper and one of her closeted father’s students and likely lovers.The year printed on the photo, 1969, is only half-hidden under blue magic-marker pen. Bechdel chooses the same hue with which to watercolour her father’s secrets and her own disclosed in her "family tragicomic". Unlike her father, the adult Bechdel chose to live out and proud as America’s foremost lesbian cartoonist, but she needed twenty years’ distance from his demise, before she could confront its roots in his deceptive double-life and how his refined, repressed character helped shape her sexual and artistic identity. The result is a work of brave honesty which also counterpoints two generations’ attitudes to homosexual self-acceptance.
The Great Catsby
Online comics offer freedoms unavailable from traditional print and retail: among them low cost, almost unlimited pages, space and colour, direct connection with a global readership and room to experiment. Since 2005, Korean webtoonist Doha (full name Kang Do-ha) has grabbed surfers’ attention with weekly episodes about Catsby, a sensitive, striped, 26-year old tomcat who is dumped after being faithful for six years to his girlfriend, whose parting gift to him is a tie to wear to her wedding to a wealthier, older divorcé. From there, Catsby’s lovelife only gets worse on disastrous dates with escorts and via a match-making agency. The strips’ online origins explain the unconventional layouts of this book version, with a fair bit of blank, blue space around irregular panels, illustrated in crisp lines filled with lush animation-cel colours and textures, like no other manhwa I’ve seen. No surprise that it’s being brought to the cinema screen. It is let down only by some bizarre, distancing mistranslations, though you can mostly figure out what they meant. Catsby is a sweeter, sweatier Fritz the Cat for our oversexed, sexually frustrating new millennium.
by Renée French
No matter how odd, ugly or disturbing her subject, her black pencil always touches the paper’s surface softly, fuzzily, tenderly. Nothing she draws is ever pin-sharp or solid black. In the manner of Edward Gorey, David Lynch or Tim Burton, Renée French conveys the sad, strange beauty of a fish-eyed, hairless, earless boy, whose mother dies giving birth to him and whose grieving father decides, "You have my face. So we’ll go away. Where nobody can see it." While the father never seems to accept his son’s (and his own) deformities and tries hiding them with animal masks, hats, fakes ears, large sunglasses, even proposed plastic surgery, the son comes to embrace his appearance and builds a life with his adopted monkey sister on his own terms. With no more than two panels per page, with economic words and eloquent silence, French reveals a boy’s tragic, surreal, but finally hopeful coming-of-age. Designer Jordan Crane’s use of smooth, chocolate-brown cloth for the binding and ornate gold, black and white blocking only enhances this hardback’s sensual allure.
Comics About Love, Treachery, Mothers & Monsters
edited by Megan Kelso
Soft Skull Press,
Named after the yarn-spinning Arabian queen of 1001 Knights, this 224-page anthology proves the fierce storytelling strengths of 23 women cartoonists, their lives and loves as only they can portray them.
Posted: July 15, 2007
The Dare Detectives
by Ben Caldwell
Ex-con Maria Dare and her clueless misfit P.I.s have the wit and sugar buzz of the wildest Saturday morning animated adventures in Ben Caldwell’s first madcap mystery, The Snowpea Plot, for Dark Horse.
PG Tips is a monthly sidebar to Paul Gravett’s Novel Graphics column in Comics International providing shorter reviews of the latest recommended books of and about comics.