Monday, December 20, 2010

Books I Got in Brooklyn, part 1

Robert Boyd

In addition to the minicomics, comic books, and magazines I got at the Brooklyn Comics & Graphics Festival, I got several full-on books--squarebound, lots of pages, etc. Really, the only difference in the books I got and the comics I got was the format. The books have, on average, more pages. But because they are books, they get put into that fancy category of graphic novels. So here are two graphic novels I got and liked.

Brecht Evens, The Wrong Place cover, 2010

The Wrong Place by Brecht Evens. For me, this ties with Baba Yaga and the Wolf for the most beautiful comic of the show. I had never heard of Brecht Evens, but a little googling reveals that he is a Belgian cartoonist who has two books coming out in the U.S.--this one published by Drawn & Quarterly, and one called Night Animals being published by Top Shelf in March, 2011. Evens dazzles with his use of watercolor. The colors and the negative spces are going to suck you in first. It's definitely one of those books where you luxuriate in the art before setting down to read it.

But once you read it, it's quite an interesting story. It's completely episodic. Because it is depicting scenes from parties and discos, Evens follows whatever characters happen to interest him at a given moment. But the action always centers around the charismatic king of the nightlife, Robbie. Sometimes Robbie is in the scene, but even when he's not, his absence is palpable--he has more presence when he's not there than the other characters have when he is there. They always end up talking about him. Women lust after him and men emulate him and value his friendship.

Robbie could be a first-class manipulator with that much charisma, but he seems like a fairly decent (if excessively fun-loving) guy, as seen in this episode.

Brecht Evens, The Wrong Place pages 77 & 78, 2010

Robbie has a bottle of champagne and two girls to choose from. He somehow splits the difference, leaving each girl with something. By the way, the striped trousers and suspenders is apparently his uniform--and other guys start imitating it. Likewise the club they all go to, the Disco Harem, seems like it was a decrepit joint well past its prime before Robbie discovered it and turned it into the happening place to be by virtue of his patronage.

The book starts out with a lengthy scene of a party at Gary's apartment. Gary is depicted all in grey, in contrast to the colorful club-goers. He's a friend fo Robbie's and his guests expect Robbie to show at Gary's party--but he never quite makes it. This is a great way to open the book, building high expectations for Robbie.

Sometime later, Gary meets Robbie at the Disco Harem.

Brecht Evens, The Wrong Place page 130, 2010

Robbie offers his excuses for not showing up, which are petty lame. But he is so damn decent about it, and even adds a small note of regret suggesting that he is the one who missed out, when we readers know that everyone at that party was desperate to hang out with Robbie.

This page also shows a little of Even's creativity--putting the dialogue in the negative space of the hanging, Turkish-style lamps.

Later on in that evening, Robbie and Gary are talking in a balcony area of the club, when the crowd below notices Robbie. Impulsively, he jumps into the crowd. It's crazy and dangerous, and he manages to bloody the nose of a young woman in the crowd (who doesn't seem to mind and is basically just thrilled to have Robbie's attention). The crowd, following Robbie's lead, begins to call for Gary to jump down. Gary climbs over the rail, has second thoughts, and then climbs back to the crowd's disappointment. But the scene ends with this page:

Brecht Evens, The Wrong Place page 166, 2010

Robbie gives Gary permission not to jump. Gary may admire and even love Robbie, but he's never going to be Robbie. Not even close. And while he's a reckless hedonist, Robbie is also a pretty decent guy. Gary doesn't have to be a clone of Robbie to be Robbie's friend.

The Wrong Place gets my vote as one of the top graphic novels of the year.

Bjorn Rune Lie, The Wolf's Whistle cover, 2010

Continuing with European comics, The Wolf's Whistle by Bjorn Rune Lie is another storybook-style book from Nobrow in a style similar to their Blexbolex books. A modern inversion of the three little pigs story, it seems to be aimed at children. But there is one shocking piece of violence in it--the main character Albert's friends are burned to death in a case of arson.

Bjorn Rune Lie, The Wolf's Whistle pages 20-21, 2010

The plot has that in this architecturally significant building, only three tenants are left. The others have been intimidated into moving by the owner of the building, the three pigs, the Honeyroast Brothers. The three who lived in the building, Chauncey, Libby, and Vicente, were friends of the protagonist Albert.  The pigs wanted the building out of the way so they could build a casino there. It's an old story. (One that will have resonance for Houston readers who followed the recent Wilshire Village saga. In this case, the landlords didn't have to burn down the buildings--they simply allowed them to become very badly maintained and dangerous, and then called the fire department anonymously to report unsafe living conditions. The fire department dutifully condemned the buildings, leaving them free to be destroyed. A new supermarket will take the place of these irreplaceable Deco apartments.)

The art is stylish and old-fashioned, but the story is a bit of a cliche. Still, a beautiful little item that recalls classic children's books. I could speak here about the complex overlap between children's books and comics, but it would just be a repeat of what I wrote about artist's books and comics--that they are distinct categories that nonetheless feel quite similar.

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