Law and Conversation

May 4, 2012

New graphic novels

At a recent bar association function I was delighted to meet another lawyer who also loves comics and graphic novels. He was familiar with all of the writer/artists I mentioned, of course, and shares my esteem for Lynda Barry, who, in my view, is absolutely brilliant, and Alan Moore, whose “Watchmen” was my Best Book Read In 2011 (and was recommended to me by yet another lawyer).

Coincidentally, shortly afterwards I learned of two new graphic memoirs that have just come out, each from an artist I think is amazing: “My Friend Dahmer,” by John Backderf, and “Are You My Mother?” by Alison Bechdel. Each author draws or used to draw a weekly comic strip. Backderf’s is “The City,” a hilariously incisive strip that appears in a number of alternative publications; I’ve also seen his art in The Wall Street Journal and other publications. For 25 years, Bechdel drew “Dykes To Watch Out For,” which, I can attest, you didn’t have to be a lesbian to enjoy.

I can’t wait to read both memoirs. The “Dahmer” of Backderf’s title refers to THE Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial murderer/cannibal who himself was killed after he’d been in prison for a few years. Backderf knew him long before then, in high school in Akron, Ohio. They didn’t stay in touch, as he explained in a recent interview with Q’s Jian Ghomeshi, and he was as shocked as anyone when Dahmer’s atrocities hit the news in the 1990s. In Bechdel’s first graphic memoir, “Fun Home,” which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award and won several others, she tries to make sense of her father’s concealment of his homosexuality. In her new one, she turns to her relationship with her mother.

In other comic/graphic novel news, from Canadian law professor Kate Sutherland’s Twitter stream comes this account of European legal proceedings with respect to one of Herge’s classic volumes of The Adventures of Tintin: Tintin au Congo. One of the many great comics of the mid-20th century, Tintin reflects the prejudices of his time as well. That particular installment includes matter that is outdated and appalling to our 21st century minds. As I’ve previously noted, so, of course, did many other notable publications of that era, including not only comic books but also, to name just a few examples, Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan and Venus series, Margaret Sidney’s “Five Little Peppers Midway,” and Edward Stratemeyer’s “Tom Swift” series.

As I’ve written, I never lost my childhood love of comic books. A few years ago, I discovered their history and how they’ve grown up into graphic novels. If possible, I love them now even more than when I was seven years old. Some contemporary graphic novels that I’ve found outstanding include Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie’s Aya series (Yay! Volume 4 is coming out in English in just a couple of months!!), set in the Ivory Coast, David Small’s “Stitches,” Guy DeLisle’s documentary-style books on Pyongyang, Shenzhen, and other places, and Craig Thompson’s “Blankets.”

Comic and graphic novel fans, what are your favorites, and what recently published graphic novels are you recommending? I’m always interested in adding to my TBR list.

December 21, 2011

North Korea in recent literature

Filed under: Books and writing,graphic novels,interviews — Helen Gunnarsson @ 10:41 am
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With Kim Jong Il’s sudden death a few days ago, it seems like the right time to re-post this link to the North Korean Random Insult Generator, which I originally came across on Zimbabwean lawyer and writer Petina Gappah’s blog.

I wonder what sort of literature is being produced in North Korea these days. Though legal restrictions can,  ironically, actually foster the creativity of artists and writers–see the movies and comics created during the middle part of the 20th century in the US, for example–writers who publish works under totalitarian regimes sometimes of necessity obscure their messages so much that the reader has to work really, really hard. The Man Booker International Prize winner Ismail Kadare is one such writer. That’s certainly a high degree of creativity, and some readers love this challenge. Others can find it so frustrating as to render the works unenjoyable and even inaccessible.

I can’t claim to know much about North Korea, but, then again, I guess I’m in good company: even high-level government intelligence agencies didn’t find out about Kim’s death until the North Korean government chose to announce it. Two books about the country by western writers who visited there are Canadian artist Guy DeLisle’s “Pyongyang,” a graphic novel, and Los Angeles Times reporter Barbara Demick’s “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.” You can listen to an interesting interview with Demick from the Sydney Writers’ Festival on The Book Show’s website.

And speaking of The Book Show, one of my very favorite podcasts for several years, I must say how disappointed I was to read of the departure of its marvelous host, Ramona Koval and of its evident impending demise. Not that the opinion of one US listener will matter to the Australian Powers That Be, but this seems to me a case of fixing something that wasn’t broken.

As the end of 2011 approaches, what are you reading?

November 24, 2010

3 graphic travel memoirs

Filed under: Books and writing,graphic novels,memoirs,travel — Helen Gunnarsson @ 10:23 am
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A week after I decided to dedicate Wednesdays to posts recommending three stories linked together by some common theme, I noticed that NPR is doing the same thing.  There are some great themes:  gossip, family secrets, and France, to name just a few.

To continue my recent series of posts on graphic novels, I’m focusing on graphic travel memoirs today.  Each book below is beautifully drawn and enables you to see the country as the author did.

1) Pyongyang, by Guy DeLisle.  Account of the author’s trip to the North Korean capital.  DeLisle blogs here in French.

2) Carnet de Voyage, by Craig Thompson.  Travel diary of the author’s trip to Europe, with a side trip to Morocco, to promote his graphic memoir, Blankets.

3) Burma Chronicles, also by Guy DeLisle.

What travel books, graphic or not, do you recommend?

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