29 January 2008

Things Like This Are Why I Hate Realism

Spoilers. Maybe.

Essex County Volume 1: Tales from the Farm
Jeff Lemire

So first off, let me say that I think this was a very good comic. It was beautifully written, well-plotted, and very moving. I loved the art style, which was very minimalist and intense, and I always like black and white. And I also like Canada.

However, I can't say that I actually liked the comic. When I finished reading it for the first time, I wanted to curl into a little ball of misery. It was beautiful, like I said, and I appreciate beauty, but beauty doesn't equal love, and I can't love something so unrelentingly bleak. I read it a couple of times, yes, and if asked to describe it, the first word I'd probably use is "realistic." And by realistic, I mean from the life-is-misery school of realism. There were a few happy moments--for example, the scene in which Lester shows Jimmy the comic he drew--but for the most part it was unrelentingly depressing.

This isn't a problem I have just with this book. It's a problem I have with "realistic" fiction in general. I don't see why stories of any sort, to be both realistic and a serious work of literature, must by necessity be intensely depressing.

I don't, of course, demand that everything realistic be funny, because that wouldn't itself be realistic. That'd be comedy. But I would like to see people acknowledge that life can actually be something other than gray drudgery, alienation, and death. Sometimes things end happily. Sometimes the good guys win and the nice guy gets the hot girl. Or hot guy, as the case may be. Closest thing to realistic I've read recently that actually made me smile was American Born Chinese, and that has the goddamn Monkey King in it. American Born Chinese got sad and painful, but then in the end things turned out all right--and this is what so many realistic authors I've read don't seem to realize.

...I suppose that besides the general depressingness of it, the other reason I didn't like Tales from the Farm was because, in the end, it strikes me as a story about the death of imagination. It could be some sort of Tempest allegory, some weird little-Canadian-boy version of a wizard who breaks his staff and throws away his books. But mainly it seems to me like a story about a boy who has a fantasy that he loves, and which may in fact be reality, and who has to give it up in the face of life sucking.

And that...that just makes me sad.

27 January 2008

Tales from the Farm #1: The Reality Issue

Spoiler alert, should you be worried about that sort of thing.

Essex County Volume 1: Tales from the Farm
Jeff Lemire

So the nature of reality in Tales from the Farm has me a little bit worried. I mean, on the one hand, it's mildly weird even from the beginning. The opening has Lester flying over his uncle's flat, boring generic-crop field, but then it doesn't come up again until the very end. He does mention his alleged superhero activities, at least to Jimmy: "I'm a superhero. There's an alien invasion coming. Just scouts so far. I gotta kill 'em before they can report back to the main fleet."

And Jimmy just goes with it. But of course you don't see the actual fighting of aliens, so it's easy to assume that it's just a game, like it's easy to guess, what with the relentless realism of the rest of the comic, that the flying at the beginning was just a little boy daydreaming. It's easy to think that they're playing until the end, when aliens do actually show up and Lester flies, and Jimmy dies.

It'd be cake to assume that this was imagination, too, except for the part where Jimmy actually does die. It's not the sort of thing a kid as lonely as Lester is likely to make up, and when he gives up his mask and cape it's certainly very final. In which case he is a superhero, and that, at least to me, makes the whole comic different, because that means maybe Jimmy was a superhero too.

His mother may have been a super-sort, but Jimmy seems like the more likely candidate for heroic parentage. That would explain why he's so calm about being killed by aliens. It also brings up the question of whether his head injury forced him out of a heroing career and not just the NHL. It would certainly explain some of his intense bitterness about everything--losing a lucrative career in the NHL is bad by itself, but losing one's saving-people vocation at the same time is even worse. He doesn't seem to be as simple as Kenny claims he is; he's certainly still strong enough, and at least somewhat smarter than the popular perception.

Perhaps he was forced out of the depressing-semi-real-world equivalent of the Justice League because of his head injury. Maybe that's why he's so angry.

Why I Read Comics

This is something I feel I should establish early on. Some people, hearing that I enjoy and actively seek out comics and graphic novels, are somewhat disdainful. They don't think that comics are really literature. They're just for kids.

So this is why I read comic books.

I read comics because I like beautiful art and beautiful words, and it gives my a warm feeling in my tummy when they go together. Well, on the art front, I honestly like the funky old art that used to come up in comics more before they started getting huge and the companies hired people who were really awesome. And I do from time to time enjoy the cracktasm that is standard Silver Age comics writing. Don't know about Golden Age--I've never really read much from there. But basically I like comics because they're beautiful to look at *and* to read.

I read comics because I like the size of them. I like the way a trade paperback feels in my hands when I'm reading it. I like the weight, and the smell, and the glossy paper.

I read comics because they can make me cry.

This is not to say that other forms of literature, art, whatever, can't make me cry. Lord of the Flies made me cry--of course, it also almost made me vomit too. I cried when I finished reading The Neverending Story because there wasn't any more of it. I've even been known to snuffle and tear up at the end of Moulin Rouge, because gods, is the end of that movie depressing. But I find that words and pictures together make for serious impact. A book might make me happy or depressed or giddy or bloody fucking terrified (this means you, Theodore Sturgeon), but the reaction will generally stay on the inside. And movies of course provoke reactions, but a movie is an entirely different animal, by which I mean that I don't read movies, I watch them, which is at least for me a very different thing.

But when I started reading Arkham Asylum I had trouble falling asleep. Volume Two of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing scared me so much that not only did I cry, I also had to call my father, and I can't read three or four issues in that volume anymore. Tales from the Farm made me want to curl into a ball of depression.

And I also like comics because I have this vague feeling--well, more of a very distinct feeling--that I'd like to write them. Because that? Would be awesome.

26 January 2008


Evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Miss Becca, and this here is my glorious font of bloggification. More specifically, this is the reader's blog I will be keeping for the graphic novel course I'm currently enrolled in. Whether or not it continues as a blog once we hit the end of the semester remains to be seen, but I'm optimistic.

Like I said, I'm Miss Becca, and yes, that is a picture of Zatanna I'm using on my profile. Specifically Zatanna from Batman: The Animated Series. I've got a really sexy painting of her saved on my computer, but I decided I like the animated version better for presenting a face to the world. I'm highly excitable and frequently very nervous, and I've been known on occasion to communicate in a series of abrupt squeaking noises, normally when I'm either excited or nervous.

In comics I tend to follow authors more than characters. My favorite comics authors are Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Joss Whedon, and Frank Miller. Well, my favorite comic book authors. I also read a lot of webcomics, some of my favorites being Achewood, Scary-Go-Round, Otter Soldiers, and Starslip Crisis. I enjoy knitting and crochet, have designed an illusion-knitting scarf using the Green Lantern symbol, and hope to someday work up a pattern for a little stuffed Hobbes doll I can give to my cousin. And I love Krazy Kat and Pogo.

Miss Becca also occasionally refers to herself in the third person.