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What Did He Say

Today on the site, we have Day Three of the Cartoonist's Diary of Vassilis Gogtzilas.

Brian Nicholson is here, too, with a very unimpressed review of the Brazilian cartoonist Daniel Semanas's Roly Poly: Phanta's Story.

Ours is a culture that is both deeply sexist and increasingly shallow, where a widely-held prejudice assumes any woman of a certain level of attractiveness to be the most shallow of all. Impressively stylish yet bereft of meaning, Daniel Semana’s Roly Poly embodies this worldview more readily than any other entertainment I can recall: So much of its style is based around signifiers of femininity, and the only way I can imagine an argument justifying its ridiculous vacuity would be on the grounds that it is somehow satirical. I know there are plenty of people who object to Bret Easton Ellis and the like on the basis that replicating shallowness for supposedly satirical ends is inherently unsatisfying as literature, but let me make it clear that Roly Poly doesn’t read like a postmodern novel where the characters are bereft of depth. It reads like the storyboards for a soda commercial that’s inexplicably ten minutes long.

If you haven’t read the book, you’re probably wondering how literally I mean that. Well, it begins with a woman buying soda. This is Phanta. That’s presumably pronounced like Fanta, which you probably know is indeed a soda brand. It has no relation to Fantagraphics, the publisher of this book, that I know of. Phanta’s who the book will follow for the rest of its pages, after she is asked if she wants “grape or orange,” two of the fruit flavors the real Fanta brand offers, and responds, “Guess.” The fictional soda she’s purchasing is also called Phanta, and their corporate logo is also the icon on her Instagram profile. So it’s kind of like the book is about the personification of soda. What is the personality of a human soda? Well, the back cover copy, reprised inside the book so it’s canon, says, “Phanta is fearless and persistent. She says life should be played on hard mode.” This is more like the sort of ad copy that would be used for an energy drink, but there you go.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. At the New York Times, Hillary Chute reviews new comics from Riad Sattouf, Molly Crabapple, and Don Brown.

It’s as if violence is its own country, free-floating and borderless, which Riad ends up visiting more and more. In one of the book’s strangest, most ingenious sequences, Sattouf dedicates four and a half red-and-black saturated pages to a detailed comics-form rendition — like a mini-“Classics Illustrated” — of the 1982 film “Conan the Barbarian,” in which Conan ultimately beheads a man who claims to be his father. Riad and his cousins watch on television, rapt. Later we see — in the icy blue tones of France — how this connects to Riad’s love of cartooning, and even his talent: A panel shows him drawing Conan amid lopped-off body parts, as the book foregrounds his burgeoning artistic ability. “I drew lots of scenes of barbarism,” the narration reads. “I enjoyed the savagery.” If Sattouf grew up inspired to draw versions of violent fantasy movies, eventually he came to draw the violence of his own childhood.

At Your Chicken Enemy, Rob Clough writes about Keiler Roberts' Chlorine Gardens.

...because Roberts' work is predicated upon small, subtle changes over time introduced with little fanfare, it requires a careful look at her comics in order to see precisely how she's evolved as an artist since her early days. The key to understanding her work is that though she talks about subjects that are sometimes quotidian and sometimes deeply personal and serious, Roberts always thinks like a performer. However deadpan she might be on a page, she tends to think of whether or not an audience might find this interesting or funny. I recently interviewed her as part of a panel at SPX on writing about having bipolar disorder, and when she really went off on a subject, she was hilarious. Her success as a humorist is a reflection of her overall wit and ability to think on her feet, combined with a sense later of how to capture moments like that on the page. She's not flashy as a performer or cartoonist and reminds me a great deal of Gabrielle Bell in that regard, only Roberts' perspective and subject matter is completely different. That said, they both seek to entertain their audiences.

That's why Roberts was initially reluctant to talk about having bipolar: she thought it might bore her audience. Powdered Milk was initially built on the wacky things that her young daughter Xia said and did, giving her an incredible amount of cute-kid material. However, Keiler's depression couldn't help but bleed through in her early work as she frequently drew herself crying without any context. Ultimately, she decided it was an important thing to share and naturally found ways to draw humor from depressive episodes later, as she was able to think about them from a different perspective. At that SPX panel, she joked that she made sure to develop a new disease or condition for each new book. Miseryland introduced bipolar, while Sunburning explored that further and introduced a host of neurological problems. Her new book, Chlorine Gardens (Koyama Press) introduced Multiple Sclerosis to the mix, and she joked that her next book will be about ringworm.

—Interviews. The latest guest on Inkstuds is Keren Katz.


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