Monday, September 26, 2005


I’ve always been interested in D&Q’s eponymous anthology, but somehow never picked one up. As is my habit in such matters some small thing must have stuck in my mind long enough for me to remember to pick up the latest anthology in the stores. And, as you might expect, I read it.

You know a review, even a quick and dirty one like this, is not going to be entirely positive when it starts off with “well, the production values were good,” but… well they were pretty good. The stiff pages and top-notch printing reeked of quality, and I do mean reeked. The book smells great! The odor is that great banana-oil, ester-like smell that I for some reason associate with learnedness (does anyone else associate the smell of certain books with academic quality?). Anyway, reading this is, as a result, a better physical experience.

The anthology is divided by page count into thirds: Depuy and Berberian’s piece, that opens the book, the Albert Chartier retrospective that ends it, and a few assorted shorter stories rounding out the middle third. My favorite part (aside from the aforementioned smell) was the ECized version of Wuthering Heights by R. Sikoryak and Harry Mayerovitch, which managed the neat trick of lampooning both the Bronte story, and the EC story format. This wasn’t great satire by any means, but the experiment is so exacting (love the typeface, slightly off register lettering) that I couldn’t help but giggle at the little flourishes (ridiculous overuse of underlighting, for example) helping fit the original tragic story into an EC moralizing arc.

Before this, the last thing I had read by Depuy and Berberian was the odd little story in Dark Horse Maverick anthology 2001 (you know, the one with the upstairs neighbor that apparently doing it with his toaster). That story was driven by a strange set of events that resolve into a mystery (what is he doing with that toaster?). Those of you who have not read this story will, doubtless, be staring at me slack jawed, but I’m telling you – the spark of life in the story was trying to imagine how the upstairs neighbor was using the toaster sexually. The story in D&Q5 has no such spark and suffers from its length. Part of my overall assessment of “technically competent, but mediocre” comes from my general malaise when it comes to autobio (or pseudoautobio?) comics, but I will say that Depuy and Berberian do tend to have some story agendas that are head and shoulders above the listless self involvement of most comics of the me-me genre. It’s just that here, none of these ideas really take flight (except possibly for the odd linkage of a game boy pokemon-like game, and the overwhelming responsibility of parenting). The mistaken-as-gay and holocaust-money subplots are a bit sit-comy (well, if the holocaust can be a sit-com topic), and my inability to sympathize with the main character (that is to say, I sympathize with the situations he’s in, but he acts so poorly, he looses any shot at my identification with him) eventually couldn’t be ignored. Reaction: technically competent but meso-meso.

The Michel Rabagliati story was shorter, and thus better tolerated, but otherwise gave me a similar feeling of nice art-no point. This is a more standard autobio, but we are given no real reason why we should care about the two delinquents in the story. Like many “rebel youth” comics (Mahfood’s Working Grrls, to pick another random example), the characters seem to look down on anyone who doesn’t have the same screw-it-all attitude. Slice of life tales are always tough for me to swallow (there’s that pointless thing again), pissing on an unsuspecting shopper doesn’t make it go down any easier. I haven’t read Paul Has A Summer Job, which may have some qualities that this lacked, but this short piece wasn’t a terribly good introduction to Rabagliati. Better pacing than the Depuy piece though (it moved better), although it aimed a lot lower.

I can’t comment on the piece by the Japanese artist (the name eludes me at the moment), because I didn’t understand what the hell was going on. This may be my fault, but I doubt it. More likely, understanding is based on some prior knowledge of the people in the story, or based on Japanese cultural things that I am unaware of.

On to the Albert Chartier retrospective. The opening about the significance of the artist is quite good, and made me want to find out more and see the cartoons. Then I read a few. O.K., the printing really shines here. These are full color representations of B&W artwork, so you can really see the process (liquid paper and all). It really gives you the sense that this is a gifted artist, with his deceptively simple linework fearlessly depicting anything he wished to draw (although he apparently liked snowstorms and auto accidents quite a bit). The guy was an excellent draftsman.

But man, what the hell is up with this strip.

The jokes, which are very gag oriented, are just not funny at all. Although lacking the treaclyness of Family Circus, Billy and the gang might just be funnier. Yes, I said it. Family Circus is funnier. I concede that some of this may be that the jokes just don’t translate into English, or are aimed mostly at rural Canadian concerns (and thus are lost on me), but they seem pretty bad. The only parts that stood out were the bizarre things, like the main character (who appears about as physically strong as Don Knotts) beating up a… wait for it… belligerent hippie.

There is a movie review site I used to frequent called Mr. Cranky that gives only bad reviews (ranking movies by shades of badness), and I know that’s what I sound like here. Overall, throughout this book, I found the material well presented, well drawn and professionally done, but none of the stories completely engaged me. So, please don’t take this review as a unilateral slam, but I would be remiss if I didn’t relate my disappointment. The majority of the material here is translated, and this may explain the fact that the stories never connected, but given the positive features mentioned above, the lack of any sense of excitement or transcendence feels like a waste.