January 14, 2017 § 2 Comments
First published in the English as a limited comic series in 2010
Published as a collected edition in 2011
The first thing that caught my eye about this graphic novel, was that it was an Eisner Award winner, and also that Craig Thompson, author of Blankets and Habibi, had written an Introduction for it. Being a fan of Thompson, I decided to give this graphic novel a try.
What surprised me about the Introduction, which in hindsight, should have been quite obvious, is that it’s not “written” but illustrated instead. The page had all the markings of Thompson—intricate patterns and a daydream-like style that sucks you in without you even noticing it.
The book asks you simple questions: What was the best day of your life? What is the most unforgettable moment, a memory you will cherish for the rest of your days? When did your life take a sudden turn? How have you lived?
These are pretty deep questions, things we don’t like to dwell on, that we prefer to just quietly keep in the back of our heads, blocking it from coming up with every other mundane thing there is to think about. But these thoughts push through, every once in a while, and more often than not, at the most inopportune times.
The book starts with our protagonist at the age of 32. He is stuck in a rut. He is a writer, but not one as accomplished as his dad, which builds a certain kind of envy and jealousy that can only exist between two people so close to each other. He hasn’t published, but at 32, is it too late for him to start? Has life created long tendrils that are constantly pulling him down and holding him in place, instead of letting him spread his wings and fly?
That sparked something in me, myself having just turned 30 a few months back. Is the big 3-0 a sign that there are some things that are simply too late for me to try? Are certain things out of my reach, simply because “life” has happened? But then again, what is life, but a collection of days that I spend breathing, thinking, and doing? Does age bind me? And should I let it?
There was one panel that stood out the most:
How often do we start conversations with friends and family, acquaintances and strangers, with the question: “So, what do you do?” How have we become a society so obsessed about how someone else makes a living? Why is it that our job positions have so much power in determining where in the social ladder we stand?
This panel gave me much to think about. Since I started working, I’ve done many different types of work. They don’t always link back to each other, and my full CV would cause most potential employers to shy away from me. I’ve recently started to find my niche, in writing and editing, but somehow, when I think of myself, I feel like I’m both a writer, and not.
This has given me much grief, especially during family gatherings or when I’m meeting new people. I dread having to explain what I do for a living. What is my job? Do I even have a job? And if I don’t, then what do I do?
But, really, does it matter whether I have a job or not? Should your opinion of me be formed simply from what my non-existent namecard says? Will you not take the time to get to know me on a more personal level? Is that not more satisfying?
Is there a day in your life that you remember so clearly, it could have been yesterday? Have you experienced a moment, or many moments, that you know changed something in you forever?
January 9, 2017 § 2 Comments
First published in the French in 2003
Translated into the English by Helge Dascher in 2005
There’s very little that I know about North Korea. And I never found myself interested in finding out much more about this “authoritarian” country. Then, about a couple of months ago, I watched a Korean TV drama, Descendants of the Sun, which had a very small side story involving a North Korean soldier and peace talks between the North and South. That intrigued me a little, because I knew nothing about the reunification attempts, but it also frustrated me to know that there’s so much to learn!
Then, by pure chance, I came across a book by Ryu Murakami, From the Fatherland, With Love. In that book, there was a significantly bigger North Korean appearance, and again my interested was piqued. I knew then that I was keen to learn about this country that had so far eluded itself from me.
So, by no coincidence, I picked up this graphic novel at the local library. I wanted to see what a foreigner might see in this evasive country. What else can he show me about it that I have not read or gleaned from the Murakami book, and that I have not seen or felt in the Korean drama series? I was thirsty for more.
The graphic novel does read like a journal of sorts—he writes about what he encounters, his benign work days, the Friday nights that offer him a sense of what the rest of the world might be up to in this country that cuts itself off from everyone.
Truth be told, though, I was a little underwhelmed. Much like the Osamu Tezuka book, I felt like this one presented more facts than it did tell a story. Perhaps it was meant to be this way; a simple illustrated recollection of the things he saw and experienced, limited as they were, as foreigners in a country that mandated translators and guides to follow you around. Perhaps the lack of story is not his doing, but entirely in the way the country presented itself to him—there is no room to meander.
This is the first book of his that I’ve read, so I don’t really know. But judging from this book alone, I don’t feel an immediate need to rush for his next.
May 25, 2016 § Leave a comment
First published as a series of strips between 1982 and 1985
Published as a complete 10-episode series between 1988 and 1989
Illustrated by David Lloyd and Tony Weare
It’s been a long time since my last graphic novel. And even then, it was Habibi by Craig Thompson, which was extremely visual and, if I remember correctly, nowhere near as wordy as Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. I had briefly caught the tail-end of the film a few years back, as part of a Guy Fawkes celebration thing, and I remember finding it quite interesting. But I kept shying away from reading the graphic novel because of Watchmen. I had glanced through a few pages of Watchmen, and there seemed to be so many things going on, and it was so wordy, I was just completely lost.
But anarchy is a concept I find quite interesting, especially after having read Fight Club recently. So I decided to take the plunge, and the chance, with this piece of work by Moore. And what a treat it was.
What really worked for me was the setting. The tyrannical organization that runs England in V is literally a body—the head is, of course, The Head, while the police, forensics, secret force and media were given names like The Eyes, The Ears, The Nose, Fingers and The Mouth. The ones in power are all corrupt, as they always are especially when there is nothing to keep the check-and-balance, and the people are scared. It’s the perfect setting for an anarchy waiting to happen.
Remember, remember, the fifth of November.
The story starts with a young girl, Evey, trying her luck at prostitution. She knows she’s taking a risk, as prostitution is a crime. To make matters worse, it’s also past curfew. She comes across a man and decides to try and seduce him, to take in her first client, but it turns out that he’s a Fingerman, and he has a few buddies with him. She’s immediately declared a criminal, and they try to force themselves on her (after all, they reason, she’s trying to prostitute herself anyway, which is a crime on top of being out during curfew), when a mysterious man in a Guy Fawkes mask comes to her rescue.
Evey’s life is forever changed. She had no one, coming into the story, and now, she’s been saved by the man who has more or less declared war against the powers-that-be when he blew up the Houses of Parliament.
V continues to make things happen, and while he remains an enigma and someone whose identity the people in power simply cannot fathom, he plants hints along the way, as if to add even more frustration to the investigation, as well as to point them in a certain direction. The ending was, I felt, a very powerful statement. “Ideas are bulletproof,” V says, and I felt that the entire ending sequence embodied that statement to the T.
I found myself still getting a little lost as I read the graphic novel. Sometimes I couldn’t really tell who was saying what, and the characters sometimes overlapped each other for me. One of the characters, who in hindsight was one of the more important ones pushing the plot forward, disappeared for so long that I almost forgot about him. But in the end, once I finished it and had a few days to mull over it, some of the sequences stayed fresh in my mind. The book was both exciting and scary. I found myself in a pinch, because I hated the government, but I wasn’t entirely sure I could stand behind the idea of complete anarchy.
Apparently, according to Wikipedia, Moore had this to say:
The central question is, is this guy right? Or is he mad? What do you, the reader, think about this? Which struck me as a properly anarchist solution. I didn’t want to tell people what to think, I just wanted to tell people to think and consider some of these admittedly extreme little elements, which nevertheless do recur fairly regularly throughout human history.
Maybe he was mad. I felt he was a little mad. After all, with all that he’s seen and been through, he would be mad if he wasn’t a little mad. I could see that. Was he wrong? Were his actions justified? Was his idea too extreme, too out there?
They are not easy questions, because answering them means digging deep into the dark corners of my heart and mind. So as I’m thinking about this, I realise that I’m still thinking about this two weeks after I put the book down.
April 7, 2015 § Leave a comment
I loved Blankets. I don’t remember much of what the book was all about, and I must say I was slightly “shocked” to see my previous post, that Blankets was about Christianity, and the author’s journey in understanding his faith.
Then I started understanding Habibi in a different light all together. It’s not about Christianity, but it is about faith, and stories, and how much of our faith is made up of little stories along the way. It’s not so much about Islam, but perhaps more about the stories within Islam, the myths and legends surrounding the prophets, and the author’s own depictions and interpretations of what they might mean.
One very interesting part of the graphic novel, one which I loved immensely, was the play on Islamic calligraphy. I’ve always loved languages and writing, and I’ve found Arabic calligraphy to be very beautiful. It flows like a long river, meandering through the page, and I found lots of reference to this in Habibi. Absolutely beautiful visuals, as is characteristic of Thompson (or at least, when compared to Blankets, which is the only other book of his that I’ve ever read), and so uniquely tied in to the plot and the characters.
It must have took a great deal of research.
At the same time, though, I feel the book a little on the “heavy” side. For some reason, I remember Blankets to be very quiet, almost silent. But Habibi was anything but. There was something happening on every page, in every panel, and the intertwining timelines that merged into each other was a little too seamless for me. It wasn’t “action-packed”, but I felt like there was no platform to stop and think, or even breathe. The story went on and on and on, and even at the chapter breaks, it was a little “noisy”.
I would have preferred a more silent book. Perhaps it is my own preference, or perhaps my mood was simply not in the right place. Then again, maybe I should have read it slowly, let the characters speak slowly, and let the calligraphy move around me like it did the characters.
I liked the story, the characters, and especially the calligraphy and visuals. Everything seemed like the perfect ingredients to make the perfect book. I loved the fact that little stories and myths were made so much an integral part of the plot, because I love them. And how they related back to what the characters were feeling and going through in life just made it so much better.
But somehow, the perfect ingredients didn’t merge into the perfect dish. Great book, just not perfect. Not for me, anyway.
March 31, 2010 § 12 Comments
This slim graphic novel tells the story of a not-so-slim girl, Kimberly Keiko Cameron (aka Skim), who has some serious issues. Not only is she an Asian growing up in Canada, she’s also interested in wicca, calls herself a witch (or soon to be one anyway), and has a crush on her drama teacher (female). That’s a lot of “other-ness” all bundled up in one person.
March 22, 2010 § 18 Comments
What drives so many to leave everything behind and journey alone to a mysterious country, a place without family or friends, where everything is nameless and the future is unknown?
The Arrival is a silent graphic novel, a wordless book that tells a story using the universal language of illustration. The story of a man as he leaves his wife and child behind in a place, though familiar to him, yet offers him and his family no future. He makes a journey, with so many others, in search of the possibility of a better home, a brighter future.
March 16, 2010 § 16 Comments
I don’t really know how to talk about a book that has so little words, but such a powerful message. It could be that because there is only a handful of words on any given page that our eyes are so drawn to the images that Shaun Tan gives us. And what images there are. So powerful, so full of emotion. His illustrations are just so present, so there, it’s like you’re actually in the image itself.