12.01.2008

Graphic Novel(s) Of The Month

As 2008 winds down, I thought I’d sneak in a bonus book here as an early Christmas present…

Heavy Liquid Hardcover (DC/Vertigo): I was watching Blade Runner on TV the other day and what struck me immediately was how its futuristic noir tone and aesthetic seemed to inform much of Paul Pope’s work. Heavy Liquid, like Blade Runner, allows us to peek voyeuristically into a cluttered future, where the extreme convergence of technology, culture, and media produces a sort of… “secular urbanization,” if I had to coin a term. As a quick aside, I was also shocked to recall that Blade Runner uses the term “skin jobs” to refer to Replicants, in exactly the same pejorative way that the Colonials refer to the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica. There’s also the Asian influence, the same dirty and used feeling, and the adverts on screens infecting the minds of the populace that Whedon’s Firefly and Serenity put to such good use. The cityscape looks eerily similar to Pope’s work, down to the letters on the police vehicles. Whether it’s the future of Pope’s world, or the Ridley Scott helmed future as seen through the eyes of 1982, the characters struggle to find some humanity in all of that; they struggle to find personal connections. In Paul Pope’s typical style, this is a heavy blend of some basic noir tropes and a healthy dose of the type of sci-fi that Pope imagines his future worlds to contain. From that futuristic mix, we can draw out some questions about what that society of the future says about our current culture that spawned it. We can see capitalism on the decline, to the point that money is essentially meaningless. You can’t really buy anything of intrinsic value, so efforts are made to gain new experiences through the unknown substance that is Heavy Liquid. Another nice throughline for discussion in this work is the notion of “art for art’s sake,” that society can be urged to create something meaningful, or at least lasting, in an environment where everything else has been commoditized and is utterly disposable. Throw in Pope’s thick and inky lines, his lithe and kinetic figures, and you have another instant classic in a well deserved dressing. Let’s hope the rest of the Paul Pope library gets the same treatment. Matt Fraction has a cool little personalized essay here about how Paul Pope is basically an art hero, definitely worth checking out: http://www.mattfraction.com/archives/002805.php Grade A.

Alan’s War (First Second): Emmanuel Guibert chronicles G.I. Alan Cope before, during, and after WWII. Down to even the title of the book, this is spot on. It’s not about the war itself per se, but one man’s experiences during it. For me, it really culminated with his disillusionment with American culture: “I didn’t like America anymore. Sure, I liked the country, the landscape, the people – but I no longer liked the mentality. Even though there’s a lot that’s good about the American mentality; it somehow doesn’t plumb the depths of existence. And that’s why, in some ways, America is not doing well. Most Americans live on the surface of existence; I wanted to know its depths. I don’t know if that means anything to you, but it’s what I sincerely believed.” Along the way, we hear stories of friendships with false starts, rekindled connections, chance encounters, and brushes with famous writers, generals, and musicians that truly made the world feel like a small place during such a tumultuous period. Cope’s experiences, and Guibert’s portrayal of them, showcase an honest path of self-discovery; Cope brought to his existence the mindset of approaching life with a sense of adventure, whether it was during the war, life after in California, or his ultimate decision to return to Europe. If you’re open to these experiences and relationships, it can help you discover the beauty and truth all around. It’s rare that I become so engrossed with a book that I stop taking notes for the review and just get absorbed by the tale, lost in the story; I’d reached the end before I found this was happening. It was very refreshing. Grade A.

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