Dialogue?

dialog_kw.jpgKurt Westergaard, the cartoonist behind the infamous bomb in the turban from Jyllands-Posten, revisited the controversy a few days ago when he illustrated the printed version of Norwegian writer Hege Storhaug’s speech to the editor responsible for the original printing of the 12 Muhammed cartoons, Flemming Rose when he was awarded the newly-instated, so-called Sappho prize by the Society for Press Freedom. While the society seems to mostly consist of xenophobic cranks for whom scimitar-wielding Ay-rabs rewriting Danish law seems a tangible threat, the cartoon in itself appears to me a much more justified statement of anger and frustration on the part of a cartoonist who was threatened on his life for his provocative and insensitive, but essentially non-xenophobic cartoon. Justifiably angry at this outrage, his latest cartoon is anything but conciliatory in its attack on the even less conciliatory forces he angered by putting a bomb in the Prophet’s turban. Much less iconic than that memorable image, it consists mostly of text and is, frankly, rather sloppy, but I find the indignation that feeds it both compelling and sobering.

Translated, it reads: “DIALOGUE?” “Or what do you think is on the drawing board?” On the inkwell it says “Freedom of speech”, while I believe the Arabic writing on the bomb reads “Muhammed” and “The Koran”.

BLÆK Selected Amongst the Books of the Year by Danish Bookbinders

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There was some nice news waiting for me as I arrived here in Boston today: Rackham’s big Danish comics anthology BLÆK, published almost exactly a year ago, has been selected amongst the books of the year 2006 by the Association of Danish Bookbinders! Every year, the Association singles out a number of books published in Denmark that year for special praise as works of art/craft and mounts an exhibition of them at the Danish arts and crafts museum, Kunstindustrimuseet, in Copenhagen. These books will later in the year go on to the book fairs in Frankfurt and Leipzig where they will compete in an international selection of book design.

It gives us, the editors, great pleasure to receive this honour, which we primarily see as a recognition of all the beautiful work delivered by the 29 contributing artists, as well as designer Frederik Storm. Good looking out!

Marshall Rogers RIP

marshall_rogers_batman.jpgIt is sad to learn that somebody who brought you joy in your childhood has gone before his time. I dug Rogers’ work on Batman, and later Silver Surfer, a whole lot when I was a kid. On Batman he had a lot of the same appeal that Todd McFarlane would later have on Spider-Man: A fresh, dynamic and decorative style. Not great draughtsmanship, but lots of attitude and mood. The grand architectural framework he provided for Batman’s antics, the long ears and impossibly extensible/retractible cape of his costume, and his sultry love interest Silver St. Cloud – all pretty effective to this 10-year old. Later, his elegant classicism on the Silver Surfer offered a calming refuge from the frenetic style of McFarlane and his ilk, which I by then had encountered, enjoyed immensely, and was beginning to have my first second thoughts about. No, none of this work has aged particularly well. Went back to Rogers’ Batman a couple of years ago and had a hard time even recognizing it – the images I had in my head were so much more potent than the enthusiastic, but rather inept comics that had provoked them. Here’s to those images!

Thank you Mr. Rogers.

Boston Bound

boston_dog.jpgTime to head to Boston! Looking forward to seeing the city again — it’s always a pleasure! Looking forward to trekking along Beacon Street, basking in Brookline and trawling the Harvard Square area, and dropping in at one of my favourite comics stores, Million Year Picnic. Looking forward to seeing Europa at the Isabella Stewart Gardner again, and there’s a certain Titian drawing at the Fogg that always lifts my spirits. Here we go.

Re: A Certain Tendency in French Comics

blutch_mitchum.jpgComics critic Xavier Guilbert (of the excellent du9) responds to my recent critique of aspects of contemporary French cartooning, I answer him, and we have a conversation. Read on!

Hello Matthias,
I’ve read with much interest your latest note on the Metabunker blog, and while you make an interesting point, I beg to differ.

As a reader, I do look forward to reading the next book of an author I admire, and I have been disappointed when that next book didn’t prove as breathtaking as the previous one. Novelty wearing off, sometimes, but also sometimes the author going in another direction that does not resonate as much with me as the previous one. I think it is in the nature of authors to try different things, and it is in the nature of readers to be sometimes put off by this.

Trifles, you say? I could reply by saying that Baudoin, of whom you say that he is “fueled by a genuine ambition to convey something about the world” has become increasingly boring to me, while I was very enthusiastic about his work in the first place. Yes, unintentional self-parody, to the point that a Baudoin book sounds, well, like another Baudoin book. Beautifully crafted, but predictable, with the consequence that it ends up leaving me unmoved. In this light, I much prefer reading Gus or the most recent Blutch.

A Certain Tendency in French Comics

gus_t.jpgJust read Christophe Blain’s latest comic, the western romance Gus. Beautifully drawn, well-told, cool 70s-style colouring, nice poetic mood, utterly unambitious. Blain is one of the most naturally graceful draughtsmen of current French-language comics and amongst the prime movers in what has been regarded as the revitalisation of the traditional album format over the last ten years or so. His award-winning series Isaac le Pirate has been one of the more significant successes of the kind of genre comics for adults that has characterised this “nouvelle bande dessinée.” Yet, his works : for all their grace and charm : are essentially trifles. Why bother putting such wonderful energy into work of so little consequence?

Lost Girl

inland_empire_dern.jpgSaw Inland Empire by David Lynch yesterday. I loved it. Probably my favourite since Blue Velvet (no shit). A sprawling spectacle stretching over three hours, and not letting up for a second, it is so loaded with bewildering imagery and ambiguous motifs that one might initially feel distracted from its deceptive simplicity. In a way, it is Lynch’s clearest resounding work since, well, Blue Velvet. Sure, it has all the mindfuck we have come to expect of him post-Lost Highway in spades: analog circularity, dissolution and transformation of identity, ontological sundering of veils, time out of joint, plenty of scotophobic appeal, a Polish Bob, and, uh, rabbits in suits, but at its heart it is a straightforward film about living with the unknown.

While it is obviously carefully structured and surely rewards repeated viewings, I ultimately think it would be a misunderstanding to treat it like a puzzle to solve. Part of the point is that the pieces seem to, but do not quite fit, leaving our imagination to deal with whatever it is that lurks in those incessant murky doorways or beyond the insistent close-ups that fill so many of the frames. The formidable, and puzzlingly underused, Laura Dern acts as our proxy on the prolonged journey into fear that is the heart of the film. If there is one weakness in all of this, it is that she is such a cipher that you are not as invested in her emotions as you perhaps should be for the terror to become fully internalized, but individualising her more than is done would be besides the point: she is us. And in any case, the moment of catharsis, when it occurs, packs a punch.

Charlie Hebdo Acquitted in Muhammed Caricature Suit

val.jpgThis just in: Philippe Val, editor-in-chief of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, who published the notorious Muhammed cartoons from Danish daily Jyllands-Posten – along with a number of others, produced for the occasion – in February of last year, has just been acquitted of any wrongdoing by the Parisian Correctional Court. The court stated that the most infamous of the cartoons, the one showing the Prophet with a bomb in his turban, seen on its own is an offensive image, but that it needed to be judged in the context in which it appeared, and that the publication as such is protected by the freedom of the press. Val could, if convicted, have faced up to six months in prison and fines of up to €22.500. Of the plaintiffs, the French Union of Islamic Organisations (UOIF), the International Islamic League and the Great Mosque of Paris (GMP), the former have announced that they are appealing the ruling.