A personal diary keeping people abreast of what I am working on writing-wise.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003


A new review up at Amazon. My editor at The Portland Mercury never deemed to write me back about Blankets, part of why I gave up dealing with them (cranky me). But I still wanted to write something, and though Amazon isn't the best venue, it's kind of fun because I end up writing on the fly and being a little loose with it. In this one, I think I was being a bit reactionary to the internet niggles I had been hearing, too. You can click here to buy the book, but you can read the review below:

the graphic novel that's not afraid to be a novel, five stars - July 27, 2003

Reviewer: Jamie S. Rich (see more about me) from Portland, OR USA

Much has been made in recent years of how the graphic novel-and as a result, the comic book-has matured and come into its own. This is indeed, true, as subject matter and approach in the comics industry has become much more fluid. Yet, most stories were still serialized before they were printed in book form, and the ones that struck out on their own and did it in one-go (including some by my own company, Oni Press), were significant, but not yet reaching the full breadth that the word "novel" implied.

Enter Craig Thompson. Nearly five years ago, he released his first major work, GOODBYE CHUNKY RICE. It was an excellent piece of sequential fiction, but much like, say, the first album by Nirvana or Andi Watson's SKELETON KEY (or even THE COMPLETE GEISHA) or Todd Haynes' POISON, it was only a glimmer of what was to come. Since that time, Thompson has locked himself away and honed his first masterpiece-an ambitious narrative clocking in at nearly 600 pages. Sure, you can write it off as a coming of age story (a coming of age story in an art form that still is coming up with its standards for most literary genres, and thus still coming of age itself), but that would be to say THE BELL JAR is merely the story of a depressed poet or GOODFELLAS about a guy who gets an interesting job. BLANKETS is the story of an artist in a state of becoming, a boy walking down a road where people in the houses on either side are attempting to get him to stop and play in their yard. It's the tale of said boy figuring out how to stick to the middle, and stay true to himself.

Semi-autobiographical, BLANKETS outstrips the standard coming-of-age novel by giving it a perspective that only the comic book would allow him. Not even in movies could the story of an artist have that artist's vision so expertly rendered (think of how, in CRUMB, Zwigoff had to look over Crumb's shoulder to see what the illustrator saw). While the narrative thread of BLANKETS is straightforward, Thompson uses his pen to bend the world he portrays. Thus, you can step into an abstract world in the short span of a panel, see it as Thompson sees it himself. And there you get what makes the difference. The story of a boy discovering who he will be is also a book where an artist discovers a new form of expression.

And there we are, back to the beginning. This is a comic book that understands what a novel is, and a novel that has figured out how to be a comic book. There is going to be a lot of hype about this one, and the sorts of people who read and talk about "comix," needing the crooked letter to make them feel cooler, will likely come down on BLANKETS for not being cool enough, but ignore all that and trust yourself and trust the book. It's emotional and expressive and engrossing, and possibly the best thing you'll read this year-in any medium.

Current Soundtrack: Rod Stewart, Reason to Believe disc 2 (get over it, chump)


Sunday, July 27, 2003


Some weekends I hate that this free time is wasted on me. I tend to never find any focus, and instead any possible thought I might conjure rattles around in my skull like a pull-tab at the bottom of a Coke can. You ever try to get that tab out after dropping it in? It can be maddening how it just won’t fall out of the hole the same way it got in, and the noise it makes can be annoying. (Add to that that I am still recovering from San Diego…I’m just glad that in reading Laurenn McCubbin’s journal, I discovered it’s not just me that seems to need a full week to get back to normal.)

Even the simple act of picking a film to watch can be impossible (often the bane of having a healthy collection is being faced with too many choices). Though, I have managed to pop a few in. One of which, Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, I actually have spent a couple of days with, exploring the extras. There is nearly an hour of compiled material focusing on what was originally Wilder’s plan for a three-hour, four-act symphony. The gist of the film is that 50 years after his death, papers of Dr. Watson are released that reveal several stories he couldn’t publish in his lifetime as they were too personal or scandalous. Wilder was going to deconstruct the Holmes character a bit, getting behind the fiction Watson created to look at the "real" man, who lives his life tortured by his own mind, escaping his failure to ever be able to settle down mentally (or with a woman) through these complicated cases—and sometimes cocaine.

The two-hour film that exists is quite good, though a bit flippant and not really up to my expectations of Wilder. I had no idea going in that this other plan existed, and only discovered it after I was done. What MGM has compiled for the bonus section of this release are pages from Wilder’s script, still photos from the scenes (the full film was shot), and existing audio and video (interestingly, when they have the audio, they don’t have video; when they have video, no audio—something unexplained on the disc). What is revealed is a much deeper picture that shows Wilder’s usual mastery at balancing his comedy and drama in quite effective ways. Several key scenes would have lent more emotional weight to the actual film, such as Holmes’ account of when he first lost his faith in womanhood (and, to an extent, humanity—something he only ever really regained with Watson). More importantly, a scene where Watson attempts to get Holmes to kick his drug habit, where ultimately Holmes pretends to do so in order to keep his friend from leaving. Even if it was a ruse, it was an important one, meaning something to both men. The final scene of the theatrical release has Holmes breaking this pact, and it falls a little flat without the knowledge that he had given up cocaine to save his relationship. His returning to it not only shows how devastating the circumstances were, but Watson’s full understanding of his pain—things that aren’t really there with the official cut.

I am often a bit apathetic towards director’s cuts. I think sometimes they can be a bit pointless, particularly on a film where a certain version has existed for a long time and is pretty well-known. At that point, it starts to exist as a solid object in popular culture, and to alter that seems a bit wrong. Touch of Evil is a good example of a film where, for me, it’s a little hard to adjust to the restored cut, though it is closer to Orson Welles’ intention. Even as a big Welles fan, I am stuck on the previously accepted version of it simply because I have seen it so many times that way. It’s a case where I wish the DVD contained both, so we could compare and contrast. However, in an instance like Evil, and in the case of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, where the creator’s vision was so crassly altered, I can see the need to go back and reevaluate. Film is a strange art form. I can’t think of another where the piece passes through so many hands before reaching its final stage. In the case of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, the journey seems like eons, the amount of distance it put between Wilder’s original idea and what we ended up with. (The editor is interviewed on the disc, and he talks about how the studio was baffled when Wilder delivered his original cut (which was nearly four hours). It made him wonder if anyone had read the script, which apparently was a brick of paper. Of course, the same editor wanted Wilder to end the film on a joke—one that was more than a little reminiscent of the end of Some Like It Hot--because he was worried about ending the movie on a “down note.” Shows what he knew.)

Not to turn our blogs into a back-and-forth exercise, since he linked to me the other day, I do want to point folks to my friend Christopher McQuain’s Trappings, where he often writes about his travels through pop culture. He and I have known each other for years, and climbed up through local papers together, starting at the long-dead Anodyne. He still writes for Just Out, while I, as noted above, don’t do much of anything.

Anyway, his bit on The Smiths’ “Some Girls Are Bigger than Others” sent the memory unraveling. It’s funny that he would have initially been pretty focused on the band’s serious side almost exclusively, as for me part of the initial (and lasting) appeal of the band was their sense of humor in the face of all the suffering. Morrissey’s wit plays against his angst-filled poetry in much the same way as Marr’s music does, and it’s always been frustrating seeing how people miss that side of the band, completely writing them off as miserable. Given that my own introduction to the band was through videos for “Girlfriend in a Coma” and “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before,” I guess their camp cheekiness was always evident to me. Even if I did hate them at first. (The story is that “Coma” was the MTV Hip Clip of the Week and so got regular rotation, and despite protests in my own mind that this song was shit, I couldn’t stop watching it every time it was on, and was a fan by the end of the week, when something hipper came along.) That said, I actually am still of the mind that “Some Girls,” as endlessly catchy as it is and despite being a perfect capper to The Queen is Dead, is one of their lesser songs. But then, Christopher and I are often known for our spirited disagreements. I once suggested we tape our arguments after films and make them a column, since we can so often be on completely different sides that I thought it might be fascinating as commentary.

But I am also put in mind of another story I recalled recently, when Scott Ciencin and I were talking about how niche groups can really resent other people—norms, for the lack of a better word—assimilating part of their culture. You know, like a goth kid seeing a frat boy in a Cure T-shirt. I remembered in 10th grade this kid I hated named Jason—last name long forgotten since I’ve known too many Jasons, and only the wrong last names come to mind—saying to someone, “I love The Smiths. They crack me up.” I sat several seats behind him in the class, and I glared at him, thinking, “Shut up. I hate you. You don’t get it. You don’t understand The Smiths.” Ironic, I guess, and perhaps why I am karmically doomed to defend Morrissey for being the hilarious bastard that he is. (I still think he should cover Green Day’s “Basket Case,” as it would make a grand joke.)

Current Soundtrack: The Auteurs, Back With the Killer & Kids Issue Eps; The White Stripes, The White Stripes


Wednesday, July 23, 2003


Having just acquired Das Capital by Luke Haines, a reappraisal of his career as the leader of The Auteurs, rerecording a clutch of their songs with an orchestra behind him (and tossing out a few new ones), I have listened to it three times straight through (running on with this sentence). On my second go-around, I was walking the streets and riding the bus. The world blocked out as it so rightly is when one travels with music and headphones, I began to envision a grand musical, the sort of recasting of an artistic oeuvre that is so popular these days. It would feature European terrorists (a hate socialist collective), serial killers, and cruel and obsessive lovers—as well as a romantic streak.

The initial inspiration came from the secret introduction track—an overture, really, a combination of nine Haines songs, smashed together in one explosion of strings in under five minutes. Were this a musical, these would be the themes that would reoccur over the next 90 minutes, the conductor training his audience on what to listen for. As it is, these songs do not appear on Das Capital--but they should, and in our scenario there will be spaces for them. Just you wait.

After the overture, we meet our Hero, as he strolls onto the stage singing “How Could I Be Wrong?” He is at his lowest ebb. Nothing has worked for him, he is alone, he can’t imagine that he has misjudged life so completely. The city swirls around him, a timeless London or somewhere else vaguely European. There are lovers and other denizens of the night to tease him with their happiness. He happens into a club where he stops to watch the stage show. There he sees the Showgirl, and the song of the same name (“Showgirl”) becomes her theme. Time stops, the scenario of the lyrics plays out as he imagines what their future life will be like today. Perhaps she sings a bit of it, too, answering him.

When time returns, our Hero decides to meet the Showgirl, only to discover that she is the girlfriend of Rodolfo, a ringleader of a local offshoot of a notorious terrorist group, Baader Meinhof (a real group, which Haines wrote about on his side project of the same name, the best funk soundtrack to a '70s espionage film never made). They block our hero from his new love, singing their self-titled anthem. He answers with “Lenny Valentino,” adopting the name of a well-known tough guy who all believed dead. It’s a dangerous move, but the collective buys it for now. Hero will have to prove himself as Lenny. Showgirl knows he is lying, of course, and she is touched by his reckless bravery. “Starstruck” becomes her story, of how she grew up destined for the stage, and the chorus holds two meanings—how she is starstruck by Hero’s love for her (“starstruck over you, I’m struck dumb by you”), as well as the shambles her career has become (“I struck out my luck, I was always starstruck”). This will become their lovers' theme, and the lyrics will intertwine as they sing to each other throughout.

We break from the main scene to discover the truth about Rodolfo. As he sings “Satan Wants Me,” we learn that this is a being of true evil. He is more than a terrorist, he is not a political activist—as he stalks a child, we learn he is a killer. Before he can take another life, though, the locals take to the streets. One of them, distraught, sings “Unsolved Child Murder,” letting us in on the horror that has struck the city. Kids are disappearing, "presumed dead." It’s ruined everyone’s life. Perhaps Rodolfo can even join in on this, singing “sod this town and people’s pity, let’s get on with the nitty gritty,” where the song peaks, nearly exposing himself as the killer.

Back to Hero, adopting his role as Lenny. He performs “Junk Shop Clothes,” worried that his basic disguise will not be enough to protect him, that they will figure him out. (The lines “Lenny Bruce never walked/ In a dead man’s shoes/ Even for one night” really takes on some great meaning here.) There isn’t long to ponder, though, as his musings are overtaken by the narrative detailing the society our political terrorists are about to terrorize, “The Mitford Sisters,” begins to unfold.

Here the actual narrative of the Das Capital CD begins to unravel. I am not sure how “Bugger Bognor” would really fit in, and that is the only song before the finale—and thus not enough time to show the terrorist attack, expose Rodolfo, or resolve the romance. I imagine some of the sugary sweet elements of “The Rubettes” could be used for the love story (and perhaps how far Hero has gone from innocence), as well as “Housebreaker” and even “The Upper Classes” for part of the attack (though the latter may be too much coupled with “The Mitford Sisters”), and I envision a whole thing where Rodolfo goes in a murderous frenzy for “Back With the Killer Again” only to be taken down by the children themselves during “Kids Issue.” That takes up over half of the overture tunes, and does lead us to the big finish—“Future Generation.” With Rodolfo gone and Baader Meinhof crushed, Hero points the way to a brighter day.

Das Capital: The Musical. Just a weird idea. Certainly not too perverse for Haines, is it?

Quick note on a previous post: I misspelled Tarkovsky when discussing The Sacrifice, but only because it is misspelled on the DVD cover. Actually, it is and it isn’t. At the top of the cover, it’s right, but it’s wrong at the bottom. I checked the bottom when writing. Sorry. (Of course, no one noticed, or at least no one said anything.)

Current Soundtrack: Luke Haines & The Auteurs, Das Capital for the fourth time


Friday, July 18, 2003


While I am at Comic Con International in San Diego, I am making an effort to update the Oni site daily with reports from the show. Two are up, read them in our Buzz Section, part of my "Big Talk From the Smallest Face" column.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003


The time leading up to the San Diego con is always a pretty horrendous one, and this year was no different. Lots of rushing about, and my brain went pretty sideways over the weekend, culminating in me having to force myself not to turn my computer on this past Sunday, lest there be something there in my e-mail that might send my breakdown into overdrive. I contented myself to lots of movies instead, enjoying my returned freedom, of it just being me and the cat in the house.

Actually, my most interesting commentary on any of the things I saw was for a Saturday movie, Smiles on a Summer Night, directed by Ingmar Bergman (who just celebrated a birthday). It’s one of his mid-‘50s comedies, and it has a sort of light early-Hollywood feel, while at the same time being a tad more salacious. I think most people are unaware that Bergman made comedies, and even I was ignorant until I read up on his history on one of the features on the Criterion edition of The Seventh Seal. What’s most interesting, though, is just how looking at the two aspects of his artistic psyche reveals what a thin line there is between comedy and tragedy. The intro on TCM for this film informed the viewer that Bergman originally had the idea for the story as a drama, and with its cheating spouses, spurned lovers, and Oedipal scenarios, this could have easily been an intensely emotional film about the consequences of lust and its effects on familial bonds. But because everyone was scheming with a twinkle in their eye, it was all okay.

Other films I watched ended up having an odd, unplanned connection. The Bride Wore Black starred Jeanne Moreau and was directed by Francois Truffaut. Orson Welles’ Chimes At Midnight had Jeanne Moreau in a supporting role, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind had Truffaut in one, as well. All were watched because they were recent purchases, primarily used ones. There was no planning. All three were amazing, though.

I actually had some DVD luck Saturday when I went to pick up some used DVDs I had seen at a local shop. One of them was Tarkosvky’s The Sacrifice, which the clerk started talking to me about. I don’t know if it was her appreciation of my taste or that I looked especially cute that day or something (I did have a new haircut), but I didn’t realize until after I left that she had given me half-off on two of the three discs. Nice! If it was that I was cute, I guess that disproves Chynna and Jenny’s theory that I look horrible in yellow, since I was wearing the Gorillaz shirt that so offends them!

Work related: I got Gravitation volume 4 in last night. What a fucked up book. I won’t spend too much time getting into why, as all the reasons would spoil plot and volume 1 isn’t even out yet—but there is some strange sexual psychology going on here.

Tomorrow: the con.

Current Soundtrack: The Coral, Skeleton Key EP


Thursday, July 10, 2003


The Oni Press webstore is now back open and has some copies of Cut My Hair in stock. For those who still need it. But then I'm not sure what you're doing hanging around here anyway, then.

Current Soundtrack: Kelis, Kaleidoscope

Tuesday, July 08, 2003


I worked pretty late into last night. I started Gravitation vol. 4, which is really amping up the soap opera. Listening to Depeche Mode and Ride and a lot of Luke Haines projects in my room while Rebecca and the cat watched Al Pacino in the other room. Trading e-mails and images with Scott to show looks and styles we are going for. I shook up my routine. A sleepless Sunday night kept me from the gym Monday morning, so I went in the evening, meaning I could stay up late and sleep in and skip Tuesday morning, too.

I e-mailed my editor from the Mercury to see if she’d let me review Blankets for them. Craig is local, and they like the local slant. We’ll see.

My Oni days are filled with press releases, trying to write out all the announces for San Diego. It can be pretty mindless drone work, and very formulaic, so I have to find ways to challenge myself, to mess with structure and make it more interesting. It doesn’t always work.

Current Soundtrack: the hum of the copy machine


Sunday, July 06, 2003


I took the week off from manga after last weekend’s cram session, even though Gravitation vol. 4 is due on the 7/15. I may try to start that today. Haven’t been entirely lazy, though, as Scott Ciencin and I have been trading notes fast and furious.

I’ve been ruminating a lot on point-of-view lately. It’s one of my “things,” and along with metafiction, was one of the fascinations I walked away from college with. I am not sure if it’s the real catalyst, but part of it was probably a debate over one of my stories, “Lizard Lips,” in one of my writing classes—and one line in particular. The narration was third person limited—which was my strength at the time (before Cut My Hair seemed to break my brain), a technique where the story is told by the author, but he only has access to the main characters internal thoughts, not anyone else. In the story, I have the main character jump through a window to attack someone, and the line was something like, “He leapt through the window, howling like a wounded dinosaur.” The argument was over whether or not I had broken the narrative voice in that instance. The suggestion was that the character would not hear himself like that, only the author would. And though the story was being written in an authorial voice, it was viewing everything with the character’s brain, and was it okay to ever break that for effect.

The debate ended in disagreement. Some felt (as I do, to a degree) that no matter how heavily the author resides in a character’s head, if the voice is third person (as in “he did this,” opposed to second person’s “you did this” and first person’s “I did this”), then the author is always in existence, and never fully divorced from the narrative. In essence, all the experience being related is actually filtered through the main character’s eyes and then regurgitated by the author in a form of literary “broken telephone.” The other side said that this is bunk, and point of view is point of view (herein out shorthanded as POV).

I’ve become more of a purist when it comes to POV. I like having my focus character and sticking to it. In movie terms, it’s when your lead is in every scene. Nothing happens in the context of your story that the main character is not there to witness. Film language often sidesteps any one focus character or POV, and instead adopts a third person omniscient perspective, elevating the camera eye to a god-like position where it can drop in on any action at any time. The Godfather series is a good example of this. The stories are sweeping, and Coppola drops in on whoever he wants at any time. Thus you can see any of the members in the Corleone family plotting out their particular moves, while also cutting across town to see how their enemies are planning to strike. (Though, now thinking about it, I think the Vito Corleone sequences in Part II are told entirely from Don Vito’s POV. If I recall, every scene that made it to screen features the character, even though the deleted scenes on the bonus DVD reveal this was not always the case.)

Recently, I have been reading Brad Meltzer’s The Millionaires. For the first 75 pages, we are in a first person narrative, as everything is told by Oliver himself. Then on page 76, chapter 9 takes a turn. We get a two-page sequence where the unknown puppet masters are semi-revealed. We don’t know who they are, but now we know they are there, watching, planning. This new section is third person, and it’s jarring. At that point in the book, it almost feels like a cheat, a device invented to drop in exposition that can’t be given through Oliver, because Oliver can’t be aware of it.

This hangs over my head as I keep reading. Oliver picks up the prose again on page 78, and we move forward. Then on page 124, chapter 14, we’re introduced to a new character, the private investigator Joey. The writing shifts back to third person, and what appears to be third person limited—Joey is a new focus character. I even thought we were getting a little clever subversion of POV, as at the end of the chapter, Joey leaves the room, but the action in the room keeps unfolding. In a strict POV, this would not be possible, since she’d have to be in the room to witness what was happening—except then it’s revealed that she is eavesdropping, as the men in the room discover she has planted a listening device. In other words, a way for her to be privy to info she wouldn’t otherwise have.

Chapter 15 takes us back to Oliver, but then with chapter 16, we a thrown another curve. The men in the room Joey left are now taking over the third person section. But, as opposed to this being a third voice, and a second third person limited, it is in actuality—as we’ll discover as we continue to read—the institution of a third person omniscient voice, and has been since chapter 9. And while normally I’d have preferred that this device be revealed earlier than nearly a fifth of the way into the story, it’s easy to see what Brad is doing. Chapter 9 was a tease, and chapters 14 and 16 are the full reveal. His secrets in 9 were to protect the identity of the possible puppet masters, and the full on institution of this POV only comes when the possible suspects are being called into suspicion. (Brad even breaks up the various focus points cleanly. Oliver always gets his own chapters, and even when Joey and the other men (who I haven’t named to keep from revealing key plot points) are sharing a chapter, they each get distinct sections.) He is using the deft hand of an author writing a thriller and manipulating the information in order to keep his readers on the edge of their seats.

[Interesting digression: Consider pop music as an exercise in POV. Rialto’s “Monday Morning 5:19” is an excellent example of a first person narrative, particularly with its speculation on what another person is doing; Suede’s “Another No-One” is a lovely indulgence in third person, exercising one of Brett Anderson’s favorite lyrical devices, beginning as many lines as possible with the word “she.”]

One thing that has frustrated me about comics overall is that there seems to be very little concern for POV. One could argue that the medium borrows more from film than it does from literature, and employs the same shifting scale as Meltzer and Coppola, but I actually think that this would just be apologizing after the fact. I honestly don’t feel most writers in comics even consider the idea of POV narratives, that it’s not something that has yet been built into the language of the art form (just as we don’t have a firm distinction of what makes a graphic novel vs. novella vs. the neither form many of the mainstream collections seem to be). I have pushed for it in my own editing life when I see stories that have unnecessary side-trips, where what is really the main character can be stayed with, but have more often than not been vetoed. Which is fine, that is the creator’s will—but I’d still love to make a case for it.

For instance, on my way back from NYC, I picked up Michel Rabagliati’s Paul Has a Summer Job. I have not read any of Rabagliati’s work previously, but had heard good things about this one, so I opted for it over Iron Wok Jan when puzzling over the graphic novel section in the San Francisco airport bookshop.

Paul Has a Summer Job is a charming book, focusing on a young Canadian in search of his purpose who ends up working at a burgeoning camp for poor youth in 1979. He narrates the story, and for the most part, the camera stays on him. Unfortunately, on page 18, we get the first of several shifts away from Paul’s POV for expository information featuring other characters. In that first instance, it’s four panels of Paul’s parents discussing him after he has just left the room. I experienced some of the same jarring that I felt in The Millionaires, but this is one that can’t be leavened by technique. In fact, my main problem with the shifts to third person in Paul Has a Summer Job is how unnecessary it is. Those four panels on page 18 reveal nothing outside of his mother being concerned and his father saying “I was like that at his age,” and don’t really give us any further insight into the parents. We have already seen in their interaction with Paul that they do, in fact, care for him and he just misunderstands, so why break the fabric of the narrative? Was that even thought about when the book was being put together? (Clearly, I can’t speak for any of the authors’ intentions in this discussion—I am looking completely from an outside vantage. From my own third person POV, as it were. I intentionally avoided listing any books I worked on that I have had these discussions about, because I am not sure if it’s fair to my colleagues to actually reveal their process/thinking.)

Overall, this is my main problem with the third person digressions through the whole of Paul Has a Summer Job. There are some arguments to be made for the fact that this is a visual media, and you could be a stickler for, say, Rabagliati showing both sides of the phone conversation on pages 21 and 22—but since Paul is actually hearing the other side of the conversation, he actually would have a mental image that can be related. No, I object to the scenes where Paul is relating information that he has no clear connection to, now real way to know what is happening in a place he wasn’t at, and thus breaks me from the narrative thread. For example, on page 99, when Annie leaves Paul to yell at Francois for not informing them that they would have a blind girl in the current crop of campers, does it really give us any information that we, as the reader, need to know? That she is mad and that Francois didn’t consider it an issue because Marie is so self-sufficient? We already have seen the anger, and we will see (show, don’t tell) Marie’s abilities? But even if Rabagliati wanted to show that scene, would it be so hard to have a caption from Paul that says, “I would later find out that Annie really let Francois have it,” thus giving us a viable reason as to how Paul, our storyteller, would know the details of their conversation?

None of these concerns keeps Paul Has a Summer Job from being a good book. On the contrary, I quite enjoyed it. It’s just from a strictly critical standpoint, I think the author could have made some choices that were a little more in line with literature and exercise more control over his narrative. I have similar issues with Craig Thompson’s new book, Blankets, which I consider to be a nearly perfect comic book and possibly one of the most important works the field has ever had—the sort of bridge between the comics audience and the mainstream audience that we’ve tried to dress up other, less-accessible graphic novels as being. Yet, Blankets falls into the same traps.

Blankets is the semi-autobiographical tale of Craig Thompson’s own youth. It is told from his POV, and he essentially plays himself. It’s a massive book, clocking in at 582 pages—was there ever a graphic novel published that was this long and not serialized first? It’s pretty tight overall, without much breaking away from Craig and seeing other characters outside his field of vision. In fact, it doesn’t really occur until Craig goes and visits Raina, his first love. When that happens, we occasionally get snippets of what is going on with Raina’s disintegrating family. In some cases, it’s information Craig could receive later, like on page 216 when Raina’s mom makes her write a note to her father on the mother’s behalf, detailing her schedule for the next day. This is something Raina could have, and likely would have, told Craig—but wouldn’t it have been a better scene for us witnessing the telling, getting it from Raina’s mouth rather than flat story?

Later, though, we get scenes revolving around Raina’s dad that don’t really bring anything to Craig’s story, and don’t even really give us any better insight to the father than his own conversation with Craig on page 241. Even worse is the incident between the father and the Down’s Syndrome brother, Ben, beginning on 348. It’s a wonderfully handled scene, and shows us that Ben is becoming completely displaced from his family—but it’s not really important to the main story, or even to Ben’s place in it. Only his estrangement from Raina, which is a direct result of Craig’s presence, is essential to the story—so why break out of it for a scene our narrator would have no knowledge of?

Really, Blankets is the best argument I can think of in favor of a focused POV in comics. Craig Thompson’s story is the story of an artist, and since everything is related through an artist’s eyes, he is not bound by the constraints of reality. Craig can bend and warp and abstract the landscape to fit the mood of the moment, thus turning a group of jocks into laughing, demonic creatures or Raina’s bedroom into a swirling mass of texture and color reflective of the quilt she made him. It’s an extension of the childhood imagination we see at work in the tales of Craig and his little brother imagining their bed is a ship at sea—and it’s a technique I think unique to comics. Prose couldn’t sufficiently handle the surreal aspect of the imagery, and in film, the effects would likely overshadow the story. So why not keep that POV pure?

Current Soundtrack: an archived John Peel show on the BBC; Ride, Carnival of Light

LINKS: I am posting links separately for the books discussed, since something about the new free blogger service is limiting in what we can actually post at one time:

The Godfather DVD trilogy directed by Franics Ford Coppola (Paramount Pictures)

The Millionaires by Brad Meltzer (Warner Books)

Paul Has A Summer Job by Michel Rabagliati (Drawn & Quarterly)

Iron Wok Jan vol 1 by Shinji Saijyo (ComicsOne)

Blankets by Craig Thompson (Top Shelp Productions)

Ride, Carnival of Light