Comic Books (a.k.a., Graphic Novels)

In the anteroom of the Illuminado’s Athenaeum & Natatorium (the Old A&N,) sits a copy of Patrick Ness’s “A Monster Calls.” The story was made into a $43M motion picture, which was a financial flop, but a critical success, which generally means it was probably a good flick. In order to investigate the graphic novel space, a couple of these comic books were examined.

The first was Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli. Asterios is a 50-year old effete, paper architect whose NYC apartment burns down as a result of a lightning strike. Possibly uninsured and/or unmoored, Asterios uses his remaining funds to buy a bus ticket out of his bases of operation in NYC and an unnamed Ithaca NY college, to travel deep into Trumplandia. Seeing a Help Wanted sign and a nearby library, a rock-bottom Asterios steps off the bus in the inaptly named town of Apogee. A quick study of a few car repair books and he is hired-on and rented a cheap room by local mechanic and all around good guy Stiffly.

As Asterios adjusts to his new life and friends, he takes heed of the saying the unexamined life is not worth living and reflects on his professional career and collapsed marriage. These reflections introduce a fascinating character in his wife Hana. Equally brilliant in her field of art and, like Asterios, a professor in Ithaca, Hana lacks Asterios’s self-assurance and toggles between strength and fragility during the recollections. To the reader it is a believable and absorbing relationship, which Mazzucchelli’s artwork enhances gorgeously. The use of the blues for Asterios and reds for Hana and their intensity and interchanging is worth noting and reading into throughout. Contrastingly, the action in Stiffly’s red state is yellow, as are Asterious’s dreamlike conversations with his stillborn twin brother Ignazio, who also serves as the book’s narrator.

Though the size of a chemistry textbook, this book is a quick, worthwhile read, but be warned…these graphic novels are more expensive than those with black type on a pale page, so try your library or getting a used copy somewhere. Yes, that’s not nice for the author or publisher, but a new copy is $29.95.

While in the local library, Blankets by Craig Thompson stood out as a thick well drawn graphic novel. 600-pages later, same result. Powerfully personal story with picture-perfect artwork. The graphic novel space has a lot more than Bone or the X-Men…not that we are knocking either those yarns. Check these books out.

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Ghosts

In Ghosts, Argentinian writer Cesar Aira describes events that take place on New Year’s Eve at a luxury Buenos Aires high rise construction site. The building is near completion and has been built by poor Chileans for wealthy Argentines. The Argentines are portrayed as superficial whereas the Chileans workers are “real” with the one unreal exception…these real Chileans can see that the building is infested with ghosts. The workers pay the ghosts no notice, except to occasionally tug on the ghosts’ penises as a gag while working. The ghosts just happen to all be nude males. There are no phantom-homoerotic undertones, nor are the Ghostbusters needed to deal with ghost malevolence.

There is little action in the book. In the morning the future Argentine owners inspect the site with their interior designers, a nephew of the main worker is sent to the store for food, the children of the one workers who lives at the site run wild, the workers get drunk at noon and take a siesta, everyone prepares for the New Year’s Eve party on the roof deck and occasionally ghosts float by. There are a lot of clever observations, comparisons and internal dialogue. In fairness, there also a lot of nonsense.

Cesar Aira is considered a plus writer. In one of the book’s main themes, he often alludes to the uniqueness of being Chilean. It’s probably something all fellow South Americans get, but North Americans can only speculate on, so something appreciable is lost in translation there. Otherwise the book is spotty, with equal tracts of dullness and interest. There is a big decision that is to be made at the end which makes that last 10-pages quite compelling.