LA CityBeat    |    Gabrielle Paluch    |    November 5, 2008

In many ways, this year marks the tragic end of an era in political cartoons. In case you needed another reason to believe life was ironic and cruel: The iconic New York Review caricaturist David Levine is suffering from macular degeneration, and may be slowly going blind. On the upside, Fantagraphics Books is putting out a collection of his drawings of American political figures which truly highlight the incredible sensibility and wit that will be missing from the comics world. For those of you in need of guidance, wanting a comics/graphic novels fix and not knowing where to turn – enjoy our picks!

Red Colored Elegy
by Seiichi Hayashi (Drawn and Quarterly)
If you ever look up at the moon and think it’s crying, that means you’re either drunk or depressed and sexually frustrated. Or all of the above, perhaps, in Japan in 1971 – how romantic!

Red Colored Elegy is the tale of Japanese illustrator Ichiro, his relationships, fears, and bent head all rendered in minimalist fashion. Author Seiichi Hayashi uses sparse line work and animation techniques borrowed from film to express the troubled relationship between Ichiro and his girlfriend Sachiko stylistically, resulting in a moving and stunningly poetic work that inspired an album of the same title by Japanese folk singer Morio Agata.

The romance between Ichiro and Sachiko not only inspired a romantic ideal for a generation of Japanese readers, it also offered a representation of how centuries-old customs in traditional Japanese culture have influenced relationships in modern times, as though Ichiro and Sachiko were wrestling not just with each other in the images on the pages, but also with all the implicit expectations of their ancestors. As is typical of much Japanese film and literature, it’s unclear by the end what exactly has happened, who loves whom, and who is whose sibling, stuff like that. But that’s half the fun!

Hayashi’s influences include underground Japanese comics of the time (which broke with traditional manga subject matter) as well as French New Wave cinema – two forms which sound like they would have a really cool hipster baby. Drawn and Quarterly has been releasing lots of underground manga from the ’70s translated from the Japanese, like Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s Good-Bye. The manga from this period as well as the Nouvelle Vague which inspired it share a common disjointed form of storytelling, something that seems to be very of the moment in contemporary media. Now we can enjoy the confusion and frustration of generations past in all its sublime beauty without even having to learn Japanese. (GP)

Milk Teeth
by Julie Morstad (Drawn and Quarterly)
There are as many ways to tell a story as there are stars in the sky. Julie Morstad tells stories in images from imagined places in this collection of her drawings, published in the petits livres format by Drawn and Quarterly. The amount of work that went into this tiny little book is astounding. While there is no linear narrative to speak of, each drawing tells the story of an idea – the story of the girl with bees flying out of her ear, or the man with the fishbowl beard. It seems only appropriate to respond to Ms. Morstad’s charming, brilliantly idiosyncratic creations in kind. (GP)

Aya of Yop City
by Abouet and Oubrerie
(Drawn and Quarterly)
Let me break it down for you. Most characters in this book are connected, like the skirt chaser Mamadou, who is the real father of Adjou’s baby, but everybody thinks that the rich boy, Moussa, is the father, because Adjou’s parents want to believe the lie, only to get the money that comes from a rich family. And that’s only one part of the story in the second book from writer Marguerite Abouet and artist Clement Oubrerie.

In Yoptong on the Ivory Coast in the 1970s, the hip wear bellbottoms and brightly colored pagnes (skirts). Though the African continent is so far away from us, character’s problems are similar to ours – or at least to an episode of Jerry Springer. Abouet’s story is a soap where old world traditions clash with Afros and reckless young adults just want to drive their Toyotas.

We are treated to the citizens of Yop and their lives – the promiscuous young adult community often meets in the public park after nightfall and most of the children of the city are conceived on park benches. The tone of the book is so hopeful, because it’s told through Aya’s reactions – so when Hyacinte is caught dancing with a girl the same age as his own daughter, people get mad, but the situation becomes a cartoon cloud of fists and shoes.

Oubrerie’s art makes for a colorful Africa, where characters mime their feelings in exaggerated motions – like Moussa, who wants to be a playboy, but his character looks like a snake slithering up to women. Colors go from neon bright on clothes to faded and washed out in the heat. Panels that take place outdoors show the heat shimmering from the ground, making faces and shapes seem distorted and desperate.

Starting the series on the second book makes for a good read – it stands alone as its own separate story – but after the cliffhanger ending, you’ll want to go back and read the first and devour the third book, whenever it comes out. (Nathan Solis)

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