This is another of my posts of randomly selected graphic novels, comics, novellas, comic strip collections, and other books of that sort from the local library.
Alienation – 3/5 Stars
This graphic novel takes places in the future of the world in about 35 or so years. We are situated geographically in Alaska, overlooking oil and gas production lines, but we are situated thematically and emotionally in the mental and emotional state of a human woman living near the oil fields, and living her life primarily in her minds, and in the various cyber spaces of the future internet. The graphic novel looks at the ways in which (in the mind of this artist) human interaction with the world will be further alienated by both the kinds of progressive technology of computers, the internet, and cyberspaces, as well as the regressive technology associated with energy production, capitalism, and climate change. The art here shares a lot of energy and similarity to artists like R Crumb and Will Eisner, that is to say gritty, hyperrealistic, and finding inspiration in things like fantasy tropes, animalization of human life (there’s a lot of turning into cats in this book), and body horror. The story is free-flowing in a lot of ways, meaning that there’s a lot of moving thematically from disconnected image to disconnected image, and the transformation of the lead characters into different shapes, beings, animals and the like all point toward this metaphorical and real transformation of human life and the human body in both biological responses to the environment, as well in reference to the changing nature of bodilessness in cyber spaces.
I am reminded in a way of John Scalzi’s books Lock In and Head On in that he too imagines a total loss of body due to the disease in his book, but this is read through the lens of queerness, femaleness, and other ways in which bodies are in subjectiveness to society in a way that a straight, white, male author might find difficult to imagine.
Red Snow – 3/5 Stars
This is a collection of short pieces by the Manga artist Susumu Katsumata that mostly take place in the pre-war Japan of the early and late Showa period. A lot of the stories in this collection take places in small areas of town, in tea houses, in brothels, and in other underworld spaces like that and often deal with somewhat intimate, but also performative interactions between men and women. What it most reminds me of in terms of other works are the stories of Junichiro Tanizaki, especially, but also some Natsume Soseki as well (but to a lesser extent). The art is especially cartoonish, and doesn’t look a lot like more “serious” or realistic Manga, so you have to imagine something more like Sergio Aragones from Mad Magazine, and more, almost, ironic and over the top. The stories themselves are fine, but not especially interesting, but the biographical information of the artist is really interesting. This is a writer born during this time period, recalling it from childhood, and presenting to a relatively contemporary audience. It was published in Japan first, and so carries that historical burden, but then is translated for English-speaking audience carrying both the historical and cultural burden. That’s where it becomes an interesting artifactg outside of a storytelling one.
The Deep – 2/5 Stars
This is a fantasy novella written as a kind of collective reaction to an ongoing song and theater project. The premise is that there is a genetically evolved race of former humans living in the Atlantic Ocean forcibly adapted to life in the sea from trafficked people (ie would-be slaves in the Americas) now living undersea as a kind of mermaid. They also have the power to use small amounts of electricity to gather food and sedate predators and share a kind of collective memory embodied in a kind of memory keeper, who we meet in the early stages dealing with the trauma and weight of that burden. The weight of that burden carries the metaphorical understanding (for us readers) of the collective trauma of Black Americans (and of Black peoples around the world) especially in the Atlantic slave trade.
So that’s the premise and it’s obviously an emotionally charged and interesting one. The book itself is not entirely situated within the trauma of slavery and in a lot of ways is a celebration of life. The effect is a lot like The Giver written by Octavia Butler by way of Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos, minus the irony. And while all the premises and connections come together to create an interesting (if relatively derivative) concept, I don’t think the writing comes together very well.
Our Cats are More Famous than Us – 4/5 Stars
This is a really funny collection of a (web?) comic strip from the artist and writer team of Yuko Ota and Ananth Hirsh. There’s not much premise outside of being young people from upstate New York (or from college there) in Rochester moving to DC (well, Rockville, Maryland) and New York City, living in collective living spaces, and having lots of cats.
There’s a lot of references to video games, role-playing games, and some incredibly sweet and funny portrayals of cats. Lot of cats in these posts today. The cats are the stars here, as they are on the internet, and there’s an incredibly amount of heart and humor in the lives of these characters. It’s not an ongoing narrative as something like Questionable Content, but there’s some similarities to the tone and subject matter. It’s a single page, panel-based, heavily stippled and monochromatic, and most importantly (and this is big since a lot of jokey comics are not this) funny.