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Only a Day Away

Today on the site, Cynthia Rose is back with an in-depth interview with the Flemish artist Brecht Evens, who has a new major book out in Europe (which will be released in English next year), and a Paris exhibition opening this weekend.

The book's real gamble, Evens suspects, is its plentiful text. This includes long and fantastic disquisitions, almost all of which are voiced by secondary characters. These work in tandem with the reactions they elicit. But, from an artist with less confidence in his writing than his visuals, they constituted a leap. "Maybe it was risky to have put some of that in. For instance, starting Victoria's story with a four-page dialogue – more like a monologue – where one of her friends is relating a dream... What he's saying doesn't matter in any narrative way, it's there to bring out the characters of those who are listening."

Most of the longest soliloquies come from a taxi driver. "Those are little, contained nuggets of fiction-in-the-fiction. While the characters listen to them they are protected, they're safely ensconced in the carapace of that cab. But they're soaking in what we think adventure is. The build-up to it is almost like a joke, because every protagonist ends up asking the very same question... and it provokes the taxi driver to improvise."

Evens' chief concern was balance, maintaining the book's pace while preserving its equilibrium. "I paid attention to how I drew every character. That isn't necessarily a matter of — for example — whether they are listening or not listening. If you take a trick like making the face disappear, that will have some kind of closed and distant effect. But, in different contexts, the same trick will mean different things. What kind of detail I put forward or hold back…by the moment of drawing, I've consciously thought it all out."

Some of the book's characteristics are less about the stories being told than about the author's view of reality. "When you see characters hearing or not hearing each other, that's not necessarily some kind of theme. It's more about the way I understand conversation. Even in a really good, focused interchange, if you listen back to it, you're probably talking through one another, each thinking of what you're going to say just as much as 'listening.'"

"A lot of people, when they write dialogue, just go 'A, B', 'A, B', 'A, B.' They'll have the characters neatly wait their turn. Whereas I don't think our brains really work that way. In reality, it's more of a constant traffic jam – even when we like each other and we're interacting well. When we're interacting less well, it's more extreme."

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—At Vulture, Abraham Riesman profiles Julie Doucet, on the eve of the release of Dirty Plotte: The Complete Julie Doucet, one of the most significant reprint projects of the year.

By chance, she came across a periodical called Factsheet Five, which advertised underground comics. It was a cornucopia for the curious young Doucet. She resolved to make her own comic and sell it there. “Factsheet Five had these tiny little ads and it was a world in itself,” she says. “I guess it felt like I was a part of something then.” She dropped out of school, went on welfare, and got to work.

The result was the first run of Dirty Plotte, which took the form of 14 short, mimeographed, stapled-together collections of absurd and obscene strips, released roughly once a month, beginning in 1988. “Right off the bat, she created a unique, fully formed world to explore,” says comics creator John Porcellino, who was one of her earliest readers. “She’s just a natural-born cartoonist.” Those early works covered a wide range of topics: you were just as likely to see surreal fantasies about women murdering men as you were to see a cute short story about a couple selling a dirty mattress as a work of art. These mini-comics also featured what is perhaps her most famous work, a strip called “Heavy Flow,” in which Doucet imagines a particularly copious bout of menstruation causing her comics counterpart to become a rampaging giantess.

—At the New York Times, Jennifer Schuessler profiles Eve Ewing.

In the past year, she has also published an acclaimed book of poetry; collaborated on a play about the poet Gwendolyn Brooks; and co-hosted the Chicago Poetry Block Party, a community festival she helped create. She also sold a middle-grade novel, coming in 2020; signed up as a consulting producer on W. Kamau Bell’s CNN series, “United Shades of America”; and began hosting a new podcast, “Bughouse Square,” inspired by the archives of another Chicago gadfly, Studs Terkel.

And then there’s her gig with Marvel Comics. In August, Dr. Ewing caused minor pandemonium on the internet when she announced that she had been hired to write “Ironheart,” the first solo title featuring its character Riri Williams, black girl genius from Chicago.

—And at his blog, Robert Boyd reviews some comics he's recently read, including titles by M.S. Harkness, Austin English, Summer Pierre, and Sara Lautner, among others.

I had never heard of Summer Pierre until I heard an interview with her on a podcast talking about All the Sad Songs. She described it as being about making mixtapes, which is a thing that people of a certain age used to do, me included. She depicts herself now (a woman in her 40s, I think) with a streak of white in her hair. (I looked up her photo online, and while she has some grey, she doesn't have a streak of white--that was presumably an artistic device to help the reader distinguish now Summer from young Summer). She talks about how she made mixtapes for herself, her friends, boys she had crushes on and even her parents while she was in college. She lists the contents of some of them, and her tastes were eclectic but unformed. But in 1994, she hears Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville and Hole's Live Through This and they change her world. She becomes obsessed with girls with guitars and gets one herself and teaches herself the rudiments. Shortly after that, she meets Tom, who becomes a serious boyfriend for her. She's living in Boston and going to open mic nights to play her songs, becoming familiar with the singer-songwriters on the scene. She does a great job depicting this subculture, but what she really does well is depict her terrible relationship with Tom, who is kind of a cad.


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