Friday, January 23, 2015

Glitching through the night.



I recommend trying the game out first before reading. 

I gained my love for night driving when my Dad would drive my Mom and I to where we were going to vacation. My Mom and I were from Mexico and the US was still new to us. So my parents agreed to mostly vacationed within the US so my Mom and I would get a see it.  

During our drives, my Dad would pull all-nighters, and I would do my damndest to stay up with him. As I stayed up, I would see the highway around us slowly depopulate until there were barely any cars. At times, it was just me, him and a dark, alien landscape surrounding us; there were times in which the night would just blanket the landscape around us and we couldn't see anything; although those nights were few and far, they had a primordial feel to them.

During these late hours, I would be at my most peaceful and reflective. At times, I would enter this region where everything became nebulous and dreamlike; I loved it when I entered this region. The first thing I did when I got my license at 18 was to drive around Cincinnati in the dead of night, hoping to enter that region again.

----
I live in Sacramento now and I haven't night driven in almost four years. I don't know what stopped me. I've tried to find out, but I can't seem to find an answer. I miss going into that region, but when I get into the car, I freeze and go back inside my apartment.

One night while surfing itch.io for some games to play and I came across Glitchhickers. The terse descriptions its page had intrigued me: a game that tried to capture those moments of night driving when reality slowly loosen its grips on you intrigued me. Even their trailer had a feeling of reality slowly unfolded in front of you. Haven't night driven in a while, I secretly hoped this game would take me back to that region I haven't visited in a long time.

I downloaded the game and started it up

Unity screen shows up and after a few seconds it disappears and a lo-fi, droning guitar starts playing with a slow-beating drumming in the background; it sounds like something you would hear in an early Shoegaze track. A glitching title screen pops-up, Glitchhikers. The title screen slowly fades away, so does the droning guitar and slow-beating drum.

I'm inside a car. The first thing that grabs me is the color palette: muted blues and purples mixed with grays, blacks and whites. The colors give the landscape a feeling of being otherworldly; as if I'm no longer on Earth, but some far distant place that crudely resembles Earth; the low-poly art style further enhances that feeling. Everything is low-key and underplayed; the only thing that stands out is the blood orange, angular crescent moon that shows up a bit later. Even when the moon shows up, it oddly compliments the muted colors and low-poly landscape.

A radio host comes in and out of my station. And it reminds me of the idiosyncratic local radio hosts I've come across while driving through the US. But it especially reminded me of this one station I came across while night driving around the country. The host was speaking in a monotone voice and there was a sense of what he's saying sounded ominous. I say sense because I had a hard time hearing what he was saying because he, too, was speaking in a low volume. As he continued, I thought I heard things like ZOG, lizard people and other typical conspiracy ""theories". I was instantly intrigued: I'm a sucker for such things. It slowly becomes a mashup of white supremacy ideas mixed with Cryptozoology, mysticism, and UFOs. I was simply enthralled at the many different ideas being thrown into the pot. Sadly, as quickly as he came on, he quickly faded.

My character blinks and almost reflectively so do I: I realize I'm just as tired as my character, and that I, too, am entering that nebulous, dreamlike region my character has entered. I see the landscape around me slowly changing. I see myself in a daze, having an out-of-my body experience. The game starts to get splotchy and glitchy, I'm taken back to this snowy night in Cincinnati. It was 2 am and I decide to drive around Cincinnati while it was snowing. As I drive, the falling snow starts to pick-up and I realize that I was going to be in a blizzard; I continue driving though. I turn onto a road called Buffalo Ridge: a notoriously hilly, haunted road. A few minutes in, the snow falls more and more and my vision turns to sepia, and is with filled with film grain. And I feel, no, I know, I slipped back into the past. I'm no longer in the present, but traveling through the past and Buffalo Ridge is the conduit. I continue my past drive until the end of the road. I stop and see that I could turn left or do a U-turn and go back. I decided to do a U-turn and go back: everything is normal. I come back to the present, but not the present in my memory, but the present where I'm playing the game. I press E on my keyboard to turn my character's head to the right and I see someone is in the car with me.



I randomly pick-up a weird looking hitchhiker, and we talk about driving, life and the cruel things that happen during childhood. Just like the radio host in the game and in my memory: as quickly as she came, she goes. And I feel terribly lonely. I know how it is to talk to yourself when you're night driving; to create characters out-of-nowhere so you don't feel as lonely. As I continue driving through the game, I continue to pick-up hitchhikers and continue to have somewhat deep conversations about life, driving, existence, our universe and spirituality. And just as we're about to get deeper into our conversation, they dissipate and I'm feeling terribly lonely again. 

But I continue driving and the landscape around me shifts even more: trees turn into ringed planets, the sky opens and stars fall and I see a bright-colored city in front of me. I'm given a choice: turn left to exit or stay on the right to continue driving.

I continue driving.

My character blinks again, and I think it's for the last time. And the screen turns black and I'm taken back into reality. I'm no longer in that nebulous, dreamlike region; my memories are no longer swirling around me. I'm back at my apartment. And I'm content: I got to visit that place I've missed for so long and I get an urge to go night driving.

I can see my car from my window. My keys are to the left of my keyboard. I let the credits roll. The game quits itself and I walk up to the window. I see my car and smile, but I don't go out. I walk to my couch, lay down and close my eyes and hope to get swept up again but I don't. So I just pick-up a book and read.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Gliding through the past and future and hopefully back to the present. (Here Richard McGuire)



I've always had a fascination with space, land and the places we consider shelters: how the nooks and crannies and corners within our houses, apartments, and other shelters interact out with us; how we, give meaning, history and culture to those nooks and crannies, and the space and land we inhabit; how that history and culture shapes the land or space we inhabit; how those areas can mean so many different things to different people; how emotions and memory can emerge from the space and land we live and interact with daily; how those interactions and history and emotions and memories have vibrations and are able to “talk” to future generations with/without them knowing it.

These thoughts would swirl in my head for hours. I would go on walks and drives around my area to see and explore the dilapidated buildings and imagine what they were like when they were being inhabited.  I would want to know its history. I would want to interact its previous inhabitants, experience what they experienced.

And I feel this experience I read.

I read about the history of certain buildings that fascinated me. I read about plots of land that struck a certain chord with me. And I read books that dealt with the same ideas and themes that swirled in my head. I read:

Landscape & Memory: Simon Schama wrote about how human culture formed and changed the landscape around them, leaving a residue behind that continues to interact with future generations.

The Poetics of Space: Gaston Bachelard wrote about how the spaces of a house (corners, attic, basements) interact and change human memories, emotions and interactions.

Space & Place: Yu-Fu Tuan wrote about how we—people—are able to form an attachment to the space they inhabit: our home, neighborhood, community and even our nation.

I read Tim Cresswell's Place which talked about a sense of place and human geography. I read Senses of Place edited by Steven Feld & Keith H. Basso, which collected a series of essays on place and space. I read any other book that could fill my intense curiosity on such a subject.

And then I read Richard McGuire's Here.

----

In 1989, an experimental comic anthology called Raw published--Vol. 2, #1--a comic called Here by McGuire. It was a six page comic that showed us the history of a corner of a house. In a page there would panels-within-panels that showed the previous occupants of that corner. McGuire, within a few pages and panels, was able to travel back-and-forth through time to show us the history of that corner.

Flash forward to 2014, and now McGuire has expanded that six page comic into a 300 page comic.

In the first version of Here, McGuire used a grid to tell the story. Now, in its current version, McGuire uses a more cinematic effect. Instead of using a grid, McGuire uses double-splash pages, and within these double splash pages, McGuire is able to use panels in the splash to show the generations of people and nature that occupied that space. 

There's a rhythm I pick-up when reading Here. It feels as if I were hopscotching from from panel-to-panel, from page-to-page.  Each word bubble, each text within the word bubble, each panel, each time shift feels like they should be there,. McGuire has meticulously placed everything within this comic so you never feel like stopping. So you're moving with the flow of time, just like the corner of the house and its generations did.

And I could talk about how McGuire's soft-color palette gives the Here a feeling of how we would perceive the passage of time: we're seeing the residues of past lives. I could talk about how McGuire's line further enhances that feeling. But...  I think what I really want to talk about is how Here is special for me. Not because of the human, holistic approach that McGuire brought that most the books I've read on the subject lacked--at times. Not the craft that McGuire brought, but the heavy emotional attachment I gave to Here. It threw me back in time: a time where I was still living in Cincinnati at my old house I lived in for 23 years. 

When came across a page where the ceiling was leaking: I thought the drips of water hitting my head like, and the big splotch of brownish-water damaged spot over my bed that was directly under me. Every night I would stare at it and I would always afraid that it would burst of moldy water come out and drown me. It never happened, though.

When I came across a page of people verbally fighting through generations: I thought of all the years I fought with my parents. Me running through the house, getting away from my Mom or Dad or both because they were going to give me a whupping for misbehaving. Me screaming at them or almost getting into fists with my Dad.


When I came across the page where nature came through the window: I thought of when my parents lost the house; a house they raised me in, loved, fought, and that they thought were going to die in; a house they went back to a couple months later they found a new house to rent and saw what damage has been down to it; a house that was immaculately cleaned was now in disarray. People broke in and stole some pipes, busted up and painted the walls, and stole a beautiful stained-glass window which allowed the elements to come in and further destroy the house we lived in. This chaotic scene broke my Mom's heart and she broke down and cried. And when she saw me, she told me; it broke my heart and I broke down and cried.

I was in Cincinnati visiting my parents when I read Here. And when I finished Here, I was in a state of flux: past battling present. Cincinnati was in a state of flux itself. It felt like everything around me was in a state of flux--well, it usually is, but I was more attuned to it. So in this mindset, I decided to see my old house.

I wasn't too far from my old house. So I took the car keys and drove to my old house. I parked across from where I lived and was amazed by what I saw. I saw there was a fountain in the front yard, some animal statues in the front porch, and a white-brick fence on the side of the house. I saw the trees I used to climb were now gone, cut down. I saw the mini-basketball area I used to play in, was now gone. The house's present was battling my past impressions of it. This was too much to take in, so I left and I drove.

I drove through Cincinnati. I visited my old haunts. I visited the places that used to fascinate me. I saw the past and present and future all intermingled. Everywhere I looked, I felt like I could see its residue,  its previous occupants I saw myself slipping into a time-slip. I saw myself taking in all of Cincinnati. It was too much for me to bear. So I drove back home and saw Here waiting for me on my bed. I took the comic, placed under my pillow and slept.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Eel Mansions - Derek Van Gieson


It's 6 am and I've been up since late 4 am or early 5 am or some other ungodly early hour in the morning. I've just arrived at my apartment from dropping my girlfriend off at work, and I'm filled with a mysterious energy that I have no idea from where it originates. I go to my living-room and see my chrome-colored laptop: the laptop is a constant reminder that I need to type up my review for Here by Richard McGuire.

Might as well use this mysterious energy to use.

I sit on my couch, grab my laptop, take out my notebook out of my backpack, which has my written review for Here. I get settled in and start typing my review. Not even a few minutes in, something in the corner of my eye that grabs my attention. I move my attention away from my laptop to get a better picture of what I glimpsed. I see a paperback whose cover has a collection of drawings of otherworldly faces. I read its title: Eel Mansions by Derek Van Gieson

Looking for a reason to procrastinate, I pick up Eel Mansions, close my laptop, get cozy on my couch and start reading.

I'm instantly hooked.

Eel Mansions by Derek Van Gieson is a hard comic to describe. A comic whose various interwoven narratives and meta-narratives are continually shifting and changing. A comic, which is inhabited by cults, conspiracy theories and theorists, government agents, Eldritch creatures, secret histories, occult knowledge, Moomin stand-ins talking about music, EC influenced comics that use abstractionist moral stories, drunk indie cartoonists trying to find their next drink. All this is working within the framework of the supernatural and noir genre.

Eel Mansions is also works in another framework and that's the melodramatic soap opera world that's heavily reminiscent of Mark Frost and David Lynch's Twin Peaks. It actually has the confidence that's seen in the pilot of Twin Peaks. What I mean by that is, when you first see Twin Peaks, it's characters and the world feels lived in and we, the viewer, got dropped in one day and it's up to us to navigate and understand this lived in world and it's history: Eel Mansions pulls aspect of Twin Peaks perfectly. Within Eel Mansions, we navigate the lived in world through characters' dropping hints of their past history or putting the connections together or just coming to terms that there are some things we'll never know. There are other aspects that it Eel Mansions use from Twin Peaks: shifting from various modes of magical realism, supernatural, surrealism, and a cast of idiosyncratic characters.

It's really a testament to Van Gieson's writing ability that he's able to juggle all these things effortlessly. Van Gieson is able to shift through various different modes of writing and genres without ever relying to cliches and lazy tropes. Well, he does use those cliches, archetypes and tropes found within the genres he's working in, but he subverts them in a way that grounds them, makes them self-aware of who they are. All this is brought to life by Van Gieson's artwork.

Van Gieson's artwork lives in a world of blacks and whites and pseudo-grays and polka dots and gives Van Gieson's characters and world a feeling of weariness; of living in a slump; of haunted pasts coming back to haunt its characters. A world in which Van Gieson's lines move from simple-angular, off-kilter shapes that can make his human characters express the most complex of emotions to finely-detailed, grotesque creatures that will make you your face crunch up in disgust. There was never a moment within the comic did I feel that Van Gieson artwork was never on its A game.

I finish comic and the mysterious energy I had is now gone and I pass out.

And I dream.

And I dream of Eel Mansions.

I dream of toilets shifting and changing into Giger-esque illustrations; of Tove Jansson like grotesque creatures talking about music; of goat-mask wearing Satanic cults using guns on people; guns which are indistinguishable because of the impossible geometrical shapes they've morphed into; guns that turns the cult's victim's blood into chocolate; and I dream of an indie cartoonist growing weary of the questions from a french indie comic blogger.

And I wake up.


I see Eel Mansions is on my chest, and I know this is a comic that I will go back to time and time again because any comic that can dig itself that deep into my sub-conscious and make me dream of it is a comic worth re-visiting.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Annihilation: A Novel by Jeff Vandermeer

“The effect of this cannot be understood without being there. The beauty of it cannot be understood, either, and when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you.” 


Annihilation tells the story of the twelve expedition sent in to explore and hopefully answer the mysteries of Area X. The story is told through one of the members, the biologist: our characters' names are that of their profession. 

Area X, what an ominous name, but what is Area X? I can't answer that, but what I can tell you that it is a place out-of-time and out-of-space. Area X is an island that's been overrun by nature. There's an Edenic and pristine look To Area X's nature to the point where it's too pristine. Its's pristineness is almost blinding the viewer; it's as if everything in Area X is hyper-real, but behind that hyperness is something insidious; something that will swallow you whole and regurgitate you and if you survive, you're drastically changed. This swallowing, regurgitating and changing isn't just something that occurs to the characters: it occurs to the reader as well.

Since reading Annihilation, it's buried itself in my subconscious, making me feel out-of-place whenever it pops up from its hiding place. There's a something in the book: a virus within the words that Vandermeer writes; I don't know what it is, but it infects you and changes you and you see the world around you slowly change. You go through the changes the characters go through and you come out the end a different person.

Then again, I could be feeling like this because I read Annihilation in the perfect conditions: feeling alienated during a dreary, rainy, overcast day.

It took me two days to read--it's a one day book, but I wanted to make it last--Annihilation, during which there was heavy raining and overcast when it wasn't it. I love rainy, overcast days, but those two days were different: there was a sense of dread and oppression in the air; I felt out-of-place and out-of-time;  it was as if I was being rejected by the universe and there was nothing I could do but accept the conditions that were handed to me and slowly slip away. Just when things couldn't get any weirder, I picked up Annilhiation and started reading it: it only exacerbated my feelings.

After I got done, the world around me felt dreamlike: as if I was drifting through a waking dream. The edges of my vision were becoming wavy and distorted and I could feel myself slipping into another place, a place like Area X. These alterations lingered days after I got done with the book, I think this is due to Vandermeer's dreamlike prose and the dreamlike structure and logic of Annihilation. Vandermeer also has an amazing ability to vividly describe the place in which the twelve expedition are in: Vandermeer can make it seem lived it, that there's a history behind the landscape and in an instant, change the dreamlike landscape into a nightmare. There's a feverish immediacy when we enter that nightmarish landscape that haunts you.

Annihilation is nothing like I've read before. Its weirdness and refusal to answer questions is its strength and in that adds the reading experience. Come into this book for the experience than for a cohesive narrative. And be prepared to have Area X invade you and forever change you.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Michael Moorcock's Elric Vol. 1: The Ruby Throne by Julien Blondel, Didier Poli, Robin Recht, Jean Bastide



Right off the bat I have to admit that I have never read either Moorcock's original novels about the albino emperor and his decaying island of Melniboné nor any of the graphic novel versions that have been around since the 1970s, so don't expect me to tell you how faithful this French BD version is to Moorcock's vision or how it compares to those older Elric comics.

What I can tell you, however, is that Moorcock himself admits in his introduction that this is the closest anyone has ever come to what he had originally intended with the character and his world (no small feat, considering the talent that has laid their hands on the character in graphic novel form before: Philippe Druillet, Michael Kaluta, P. Craig Russell, Frank Miller and Mike Mignola, amongst others). 

But more importantly, I can tell you that this is an incredible fantasy graphic novel to behold - from start to finish.

Let's begin with the artwork: it is both complex and rushed, contrasts (little) light with (a lot of) dark, the organic with the lifeless – often at the same time, creating a feeling of chaos.

Just look at the opening page of the book: the reader faces a sheer endlessly tall tower, made of ivory and obsidian, and while the upper, white part is covered with artful ornaments and writings, it is juxtaposed with its bottom half – a dark tunnel of jagged rock, that opens and looks like a shark’s maw. And since this is the entrance to Melniboné, you’ll immediately get a sense of what to expect.
The tower that marks the entry to Melnibone
As a matter of fact, the artists (Poli, Recht and Bastide) often reference predators or the animals of our nightmares in their artwork. The lair of Doctor Jest, chief torturer of Melniboné, looks to be held together by spider-webs, while the Doctor himself has a parasite-like being (machine?) seemingly attached to his spine with long spider-legs that can – and do – pierce through his victims’ bodies. 

This should already tell you that the artists are not holding anything back. There are live and naked human bodies being sacrificed or tortured by the people of Melniboné for entertainment, or even just because they feel like it. There’s blood and wounds, lots of them. And what else the Doctor does to his victims is best left unsaid. Death and decay are oozing from almost every page.
 
I mentioned above that the artwork looks rushed at times, but that is anything but bad inking. The empire of Melniboné is a decadent, chaotic and decaying place, and the “rushed” ink strokes underline this feeling. In fact, Blondel himself says in the section at the end of the book Didier Poli’s pencilwork looked too tame and pretty for this story. This is why Robin Recht was added to the team, whose inks made the pages more “impulsive and dynamic”, as Blondel puts it. 

“Elric” truly looks nightmarish then and conveys a sense of mindless decadence, of impending doom and decay - like a painting by Albrecht Dürer come alive.  

The graphic novel’s protagonist, the albino Elric, looks both regal and – more often than not - frail, with his skin “the colour of a bleached skull”, as Moorcock himself described him in his books. His outer appearance alone then is enough to make him look displaced, an outsider in his own empire, and there are many people at his court who let him know this. But it is the characterisation that Blondel (and Moorcock) give him which makes him not only an outsider, but also an anti-hero. This is not Frodo or John Carter we are dealing with here. While he is the main protagonist and the victim of the machinations of his cousin Prince Yyrkoon, I found it difficult to really root for him. And how can you if you see the way he lets himself be influenced by others and, more importantly, if he bathes in the blood of human sacrifices, albeit to preserve his health? That, however, does not mean “Elric” suffers from poor characterisation. What Moorcock/Blondel try to do here is to question morality and nostalgia and to lay bare the corruption behind the façades of society – something that Moorcock again admits to in his introduction and which comes across perfectly in the comic.
http://www.brokenfrontier.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/cb_elric04.jpg
the brooding emperor
Similarly (though less) contradictory is Elric's antagonist Yyrkoon, who should be the classical villain. While fully immersed in its decadent life, he also sees the complacency of Melniboné as its own potential downfall. His aim then is to save the empire – although the question arises if this is an empire worth saving.

Then there are also the humans who attack the island. But read for yourselves to find out if you would really want them to win.
Elric_Ruby_Throne_interiors
Blood. Just a taster, though.

I am not going to give away more of the story – on the one hand because this is only the first part of a series of (hopefully not only) four volumes which introduces us to the world of Elric and the main players, but on the other hand because you should do yourselves a favour and go read "Elric Vol. 1" yourselves - a graphic novel which ranks among the very best of the recent wave of English-language publications of French BD.

This review is based on the German version of Elric Vol.1 , published by SPLITTER Verlag (€14.80)

Michael Moorcock’s Elric Vol. 1: The Ruby Throne is published in English by Titan ($12.99/ISBN 13: 978-1782761242)

Vol. 2, "Stormbringer", will be released in April 2015.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Youth is Wasted by Noah Van Sciver

When I read Youth is Wasted it was an overcast day. The rains have been coming and going just like the sun. The world around me felt like it was amberized and everything was slowly coming to a still. It’s the perfect day for contemplation and to reflect on what’s been going on with my life.

This has been a busy year for me: my girlfriend of almost five years--three of which we lived together—broke up with me, I've finally come to terms with my sexual/gender identity, and one of my best friends is moving to Oregon. 

There’s another thing that’s been bugging me too: I moved from Ohio to California to be with my girlfriend--now ex--and I've been living in a state that’s so far away from home and my family, but it had one big purpose: to be with my girlfriend. Now that that’s gone, what do I do now to fill that one big purpose? That question has been hovering over my head for a while now. It’s a frightening thing to experience and deal with but there’s an air of excitement that comes with it too.   

I brought all these feelings and thoughts and reflections to my reading of Youth is Wasted; and I’m glad it did.

Reading Youth is Wasted while having all these ongoing made the stories hit closer home—more than usual. Whether it’s dealing with the aftermath of a break-up,” Expectations” and” I Don’t Love Anyone”, or facing a lonely winter existence in “Because I Have To” or feeling like a perpetual fuck-up and trying to figure out who you are, “Abbey’s Road” and “Who Are You, Jesus?”  All these stories hit me hard because I've been in most of these situations or have felt what Sciver’s characters felt or have known someone like them. It was also nice seeing the things I've felt and dealt with through someone else; made me feel a less alone. Reading Youth is Wasted was also a somewhat a cathartic read and made me to further contemplate everything I've been through recently. 

And all this works because Sciver is great at creating believable characters and situations to put them in. There’s nothing that feels forced or pigeon-holed, every part has its place and it’s all tightly put together. Now this is years of Sciver working on his form and with this collection we see him at his best—though he’s getting better and better with every release.

Sciver’s linework reminds me of Zak Sally’s linework. What I mean by that is not in a stylished-way but more in their ability to show their characters’ interior (emotions, state-of-mind) through their characters’ exterior (their physical bodies); we see their inner-conflicts and depressions and melancholia and the like slowly changing their physical appearance to the point they physically become their motions. We see it through how they talk and move through their space. There’s also a shaky quality to the line that makes it seem like Sciver’s characters are about to fall apart, that the smallest thing will completely tear them from the seams and their world will tumble down; and most of the time their world does tumble and Sciver doesn't pull the punches when it happens.


The best thing Sciver is good at is not his believable characters or situations, or his linework, but his ability to capture a place. In “Because I Have To”, I was sucked into world the of the protagonist, Grant, lives in. I could feel the late fall weather, the wind, the leaves being blown, I inhabited the space that Grant was in. Another example is “Expectations”, seeing that mid-western/southern aesthetic/winter reminded me of home. Sciver was able to suck me into that place and make seem so homely and lived in and familiar; that’s an amazing thing to do. Not a lot of cartoonists can capture a place or setting and fully engulf you in it.

I can honestly say this my comic of the year. I say that because of all the baggage and feelings I brought to it. Now, if I wasn't dealing with all these things would it be my comic of the year? I don't know and I don't really care. I'm just really happy that I read Youth is Wasted and that cartoonist's like Sciver exist and continues to create stories.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Weapons of Mass Diplomacy (Quai d'Orsay) by Abel Lanzac and ChristopheBlain



Heads up: Quai d'Orsay (Weapons of Mass Diplomacy) was originally going to be reviewed by Ralf (who couldn't be bothered anymore;-), so I (Lawrence B Vossler) will finish it for him. The few paragraph summary was written by him and I'm leaving it untouched and will pick up after it.

- What the hell is "Quai d'Orsay"?

Well, it's a street in Paris where the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs is located and has become a metonomy for the latter.

- Frankly, I'm not a francophile and don't know anything about the inner workings of French politics, so why should I care?

Great question. For one, Quai d'Orsay won the Grand Prize for best album at the Angouleme Comics Festival in 2013, which alone is reason enough to pick it up (More precisely, it was the second part of the original French version. SelfMadeHero are publishing it as a one-volume edition). But more importantly, you can replace "Quai d'Orsay" with "Harry S. Truman Building" or "King Charles Street" or wherever else your respective Foreign Ministry or actually any other political office is located since the machinations behind politics Lanzac describes here are universal.

Lanzac is the pseudonym of an assistant of former French foreign secretary (and then prime minister) Villepin, who famously led the coalition of nations who were against the war the US began against Iraq in 2003. - Ralf

Quai d'Orsay explores the beginnings and built up to the coalition through the eyes of various characters and we read about their contributions to the coalition. Quai d'Orsay is also one hell of a funny comic; it's a comic that relies heavily on comedy.

Comedy is a hard thing to pull off in any medium but in comics, you have to have a mastery of timing and pacing. When you read a comic whatever pages are in front of you can be potential spoilers and ruin whatever mystery or comedic set-ups/payoffs you have in mind. Lanzac and Blain understand this predicament and use it to their advantage. They fill the page with comedic set-ups and payoffs through dialogue or the character's motions/reactions; Lanzac and Blain overwhelm the reader. Every page has three or four (some lasting multiple pages, some only a couple panels) comedic set-ups/payoffs that look like a jumbled mess when you first come across it. You're brain can't process what's going on and so you're forced to read the individual panels instead of staring at the overall layout. Once you start reading the panels, what seemed chaotic is now structured. The complex workings of the jokes, payoffs, set-ups, slap-sticks all live and feed off each other. Blain does a beautiful job setting up his panels into a six to twelve grid structure that gives him have a tighter control over time and pacing. Sometimes Blain goes borderless with his panels and it makes the joke have a stream-of-consciousness feel to it.

Throughout Quai d'Orsay we're introduced to a wide range of interesting characters, each with their own idiosyncratic look, expressions, and manner of speaking. I was blown away how every character in Quai d'Orsay is given their own unique look, each character is radically different. Even characters that only get one panel screen time are given their own unique look and personality. This due to Blain's amazing skill as a cartoonist. Blain doesn't go the lazy route and give us characters that have the same face/body structure with small differences; no, he builds all the characters from the ground up. What we get is a comic full of diverse characters.
Quai d'Orsay relies heavily on dialogue. There are times where the word bubbles just fill the page and panels and it overtakes the characters and readers. Just like the break-neck pacing the comic moves in, the dialogue comes at us at an even faster speed. Terse and hard-hitting, Lanzac's dialogue feels like it could fit into a crime/hard-boiled novel. The image below shows us how overwhelming and fast the dialogue can come at you. Blain does a smart job by taking borders away from the panels, this allows the character and dialogue to breath and move around without restriction. The borderless panel also gives it a stream-of-consciousness feel to it, that we're moving from one flow of thought to the next with De Vorms, and it gives us a sneak peek into his thought process. Even when the dialogue is within the panels, it feels like it's going to burst through the panel borders and overwhelm the page.

Though we're being pushed forward at break-neck speed throughout the comic, Lanzac and Blain know that this speed can make burn a reader out. Lanzac and Blain take little detours or have character moments that allows us to breath and take in what we just read and explore the characters more. The image below Lanzac and Blain do a beautiful job exploring an aspect of De Vorm we rarely see. Lanzac and Blain take a step-back from the chaos that surrounds Quai d'Orsay. When De Vorms meets up with Jeffrey (Colin Powell) they have a somewhat terse conversion about what's going on their lives and the politics around them. Right away we see that De Vorms & Jeffrey lose their defensive postures and they're comforted by each other. Though this page is used to show what type of relationship De Vorms has with Jeffrey (which is important later on), it's also used as a breathing space between the chaos and insanity. Lanzac and Blain uses close-up shots to show how intimate these men are and to drive how comfortable they are around each other. It works beautifully and allows us, the readers, to relax with them.


As a teenage I used to watch a show called Fist of the North Star. The main protagonist, Kenshiro, uses a move called Hokuto Hyakuretsu-ken (which translates to Hundred Cracking Fist of the North Star). It's a technique which "consists of numerous rapid punches that result in the illusion of several arms appearing at the same time" that Kenshiro uses to obliterate his enemy. When in Hokuto Hyakuretsu-ken mode, Kenshiro releases a battle cry which goes like, “AH-TATATATATA!" and finishes off with a “You are already dead." The funny thing is that throughout Quai d'Orsay Villepin is portrayed in almost an exact way Kenshiro is during Hokuto Hyakuretsu-ken. It makes me wonder if either Lanzac or Blain or both were influenced by Fist of the North Star and this is their take on Hokuto Hyakurestu-ken. Which would make sense because when De Vorms goes into that mode, he usually gets the final word. In a way, he's figuratively obliterating everyone with his knowledge, and shows them time and time again that he's one to three steps ahead of everyone. Then again, this just could be ramblings of a mind-addled reviewer whose spent too much of his life reading and watching Fist of the North Star. Influenced or not, Lanzac and Blain have created a stunning comic that shows us the complex world of French and international foreign politics through a Pythonesque view. - Lawrence B Vossler