Comics of the Decade: David B’s L’Ascension du haut mal (Epileptic)

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This is part of a Metabunker series celebrating a great decade in comics with Rackham by reprinting select reviews of the decades’ best comics from the Rackham archive, along with a number of new pieces.

On the first page of the story we meet the author and his brother. The former is visiting his parents; it is night and he is brushing his teeth. Suddenly a stranger steps into the bathroom. It is his brother. A moment passes before he recognizes him. It has been a long time since he has seen him in this state of undress. The big lug has lost his front teeth and most of his hair. Lack of exercise and strong medication has rendered him obese and his body is badly scarred—one senses the odour of sweat about him. His stare is vacant, his memory almost gone; he only speaks with great effort, in broken sentences. Uneasily, the author leaves his brother and wishes him good night.

Caravaggio to diminishing returns

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I was in Florence for a couple of days last week to see the two big art shows they have on at the moment — the Bronzino exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi and the Caravaggio and Carravaggeschi show, which covers three venues (Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti and the Villa Bardini) and closes next Sunday. I’ll write more about the magnificent exhibition at the Strozzi presently, but just wanted to say a few words about the ‘Caravaggio’ show.

I knew it wasn’t going to include much work by the master himself — the blockbuster exhibition in Rome earlier this year pretty much ruled that out — and was actually thrilled about its focus on the astonishingly pervasive influence he asserted all over Europe, during his lifetime and especially after his death. The problem, really, was that when you introduce an exhibition with the nine masterpieces by Caravaggio held in Florentine collections, and then follow them up with imitators, you have to work hard not to engender diminishing returns.

Picks of the Week

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The picks of the week from around the web.

  • BBC’s “A History of the World in a Hundred Objects”. For those residing outside Britain, you might be unaware of this brilliant radio programme, in which British Museum director Neil McGregor pieces together a history of human civilisation from individual pieces in the museum’s collection, presented in 15-minute installments, each featuring almost invariably well-informed guests. Beyond the impressive feat of routinely evoking an object the audience cannot see (well, you can see them online), this is simply great radio.
  • James Campbell on Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. I suspect Campbell senses a lot of what’s wrong with contemporary literature right here. Incisive and entertaining.
  • An interview with Bill Gaines. This 1983 Comics Journal interview with the EC comics publisher, conducted by Dwight R. Decker, Gary Groth and Peppy White, is not only a great historical document, but a fantastic read.
  • The Hooded Utilitarian goes archival. The comics blog to which I occasionally contribute has added a new feature: the representation of academic and critical texts of note for the internet audience. Fabrice Neaud’s late 90s review of Aristophane’s Conte Démoniaque is a great example of what comics criticism can be, while Andrei Molotiu’s 2006/2007 essay on the aesthetics of original comic art is a fine scholarly analysis.
  • Image: Ain Sakri Lovers figurine, found near Bethlehem. More here.

    Public roundtable debate on transgressive cartooning and freedom of speech in Copenhagen

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    We on the Danish Comics Council board are very proud to present a big roundtable debate on the number one hot button topic, and arguably the most significant one, when it comes to cartooning these days: issues of transgression and freedom of speech.

    As mentioned here recently, there’s currently a fairly heated debate on drawn child pornography going in Denmark, with a number of political parties proposing restricting legislation. And at the same time, the ghost of the Mohammad cartoons is still very much alive.

    The debate will focus on both these particular cases and related issues. It features a number of the highest profile public commentators on the issues in question, as well as a couple of politicians actively engaged in jurisdiction around these issues, plus of course a couple of cartoonists.

    It will take place on 2 November at the Faculty of the Humanities, the University of Copenhagen 7-9 pm. Free entry.

    Above is the flyer, in Danish obviously.

    Rackham: A Decade in Comics

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    Around ten-and-a-half years ago, in April of 2000, the first issue of Rackham was released to a mostly indifferent Danish audience. The comics market had been in a slump for a decade, very few comics of interest were being published, the underground was struggling to find its sea legs after years of neglect, the comics internet was in its infancy, and there was no comics criticism to speak of. In its own hopelessly overblown fashion, Rackham was an attempt to set all that straight. How my co-editor, co-publisher and compadre Thomas Thorhauge and myself figured that was going to work, I don’t recall, and in any case I guess the ambition was mostly unacknowledged, even by ourselves.

    Picks of the Week

    “Modern American conservatism is, in large part, a movement shaped by billionaires and their bank accounts, and assured paychecks for the ideologically loyal are an important part of the system. Scientists willing to deny the existence of man-made climate change, economists willing to declare that tax cuts for the rich are essential to growth, strategic thinkers willing to provide rationales for wars of choice, lawyers willing to provide defenses of torture, all can count on support from a network of organizations that may seem independent on the surface but are largely financed by a handful of ultrawealthy families.”

    — Paul Krugman

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Paul Krugman on Fox News and the current state of the American Republican Party. This is great, politically indignant writing from one of our great political and economical analysts.
  • Ward Sutton doing Tea Party cartoons. Chameleon-like, Sutton transforms the American comic strip tradition into reflecting the current political climate on the American right wing. It’s very well done plus funny!
  • Richard Brody on Claude Chabrol. A bit old, but very fine essay remembering the recently passed New Wave-filmmaker.
  • Right Thing the Wrong Way. On the occasion of the current show in Boston, ComicsComics is running excerpts from the catalogue, an oral history of seminal early naughts art comics publisher Highwater Books. It’s pretty great. Part 1, Part 2, ongoing…
  • Plastic Fantastic

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    The Cambridge Film Festival is on at the moment and last night I attended one of its main events — a live interview with director Stephen Frears, followed by a screening of his latest film Tamara Drewe, adapted from the graphic novel by Posey Simmonds. It was a good time — Frears mixed self-deprecation and common sense in his short but thoughtful answers to the questions posed and shared a number of fine insights on filmmaking.

    Particularly interesting was his observation of Hollywood filmmaking as a cinema of close-ups, something he realised on the set of Dangeours Liasons (1988). He explained how he had initially planned the film to include a number of full shot longtakes à la Max Ophüls, but decided against it once he realised the actors we much more proficient in close-ups. He also described John Malkovich as completely unschooled, which drew laughs. He very much confirmed the impression left by his films: a director of solid middle-of-the-road films with a certain social involvement; an inspired caster and director of actors attentive to good scripts, but without much vision as a film director.

    He described the art of adaptation as that of achieving a general fidelity, not a literal one, saying that he strove to avoid going against the spirit of the source. In the case of Tamara Drewe, he further noted that he thought Moira Buffini’s adaptation of the graphic novel was ‘an improvement.’ Watching the film, however, it was hard to find justification for these statements.

    Basically he and Buffini have turned Simmonds caustic social satire into a largely feelgood comedy, introducing romance where there should be none, exchanging her troubled Wessex idyll for soft-focus Dorset fairyland, and rewriting her perceptive dialogue to stilting effect. Most critically, they have softened radically the story’s denoument, essentially neutering the force of Simmonds pessimism and social critique, while keeping just enough of it to destabilise the film’s otherwise delightfully executed comedy. It’s by no means unwatchable–the actors are almost uniformly excellent, despite the script–and its all very professionally done, but it essentially it reduces an affecting, trenchant work to a piece of inconsequential fluff.

    Above: Gemma Arterton is excellent as the title character.