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Review: Skandalon by Julie Maroh

skandalonHow does fame affect creativity and art? That seems to be the central question of Julie Maroh‘s Skandalon (2014, Arsenal Pulp Press). While I know it’s absolutely likely that Maroh started work on this book before Blue is the Warmest Color became an international success, it’s also hard not to see this book as a prescient answer to the pressures of being in the spotlight without really wanting it.

Skandalon focuses on a French rock star who goes by the name of Tazane. He’s talented, gorgeous and moody. He’s also a predator (sexual and otherwise) because he can be. He’s not a particularly likable lead, but he’s one that’s interesting to watch. Readers first meet him when he’s already famous so we don’t see where he came from (although there’s hints about it). Instead, we’re just witnesses to his fall.

While it’s highly allegorical, Maroh does her best to make it feel personal. While it’s hard to feel connected to Tazane himself, her use of color — dark reads, washed out greens, warm pinks, deep blues — to set tone and pace creates a beautiful, sensitive tone. Her panels look like individual paintings and give the story a dreamy quality. For a book about a rock star, there is an astonishing amount of silence in her art. Word balloons often feel like an intrusion as Maroh communicates her story through images alone. Her gift for taking the explicit expressiveness of manga and transforming it into her own style has only gotten stronger. If nothing else, Skandalon is an amazing book visually.

Unfortunately, the story falls short of where it should be. I admire what Maroh was reaching for and while I certainly don’t need to like the main character to enjoy a story, Tazane never quite grasped my empathy. Intellectually, I knew what Maroh was trying say, but I didn’t feel much about anything that happened to anyway toward the end. I missed the visceral, emotional core that Blue is the Warmest Color had. The story was more ambitious but obviously less personal for Maroh, and that shows.

Still, I’d rather see someone reach and fail than not reach at all. I admire that Maroh tried to explore these topics and she’s still a masterful artist. Even if I feel a bit mixed in the end on Skandalon, it still joins the company of books I will continue to think about and revisit. In that way, it’s nothing but a success.

33 for 2013

This is my list of the 33 things that happened in the comics world in 2013 that made me happy. They’re in alphabetical order.

Blue is the Warmest Color

 

Dirt Candy and the joys of comics about food

Here’s something you didn’t know about me: I once considered seriously going to cooking school.

Well, I’m not quite sure how “serious” the “seriously” part was, but at age 20 and obsessed with the Food Network (when it was good!) and the original Iron Chef, all I wanted to do was cook. But there was the pesky fact I was a vegetarian that got in the way of pursuing cooking school.

I still love to cook. I still love the Food Network (well, not as much as I did) and I spend more Saturdays than I should enjoying the cooking shows in PBS.

So of course, when I read that New York’s “vegetable” restaurant Dirt Candy‘s cookbook was going to be in comic form, I was automatically sold. Chef and proprietor, Amanda Cohen, wrote it with her husband, Grady Hendrix, and Action Philosophers artist Ryan Dunlavey provided the art. It’s a delightful glimpse into the burdens of opening and running a restaurant (harder than you think!) and the ups and downs of cooking (especially vegetarian food to skeptical audiences). Cohen’s voice is light and fun although she doesn’t shy away from the harder aspects of this life. Dunlavey does a wonderful job of keeping the pace with his playful artwork and animated style.

The recipes are amazing — many are more complicated than I want to tackle. One soup takes two days and there’s a lot of smoking and dehydrating and other impractical things, but they’re inspiring. I love the flavors Cohen comes up with and I’m happy to incorporate them into my own cooking. I also hope if I make it to NYC this year, that I can get to go to Dirt Candy.

My one complaint about Dirt Candy, though? Not enough images of the food. Both Dunlavey and Cohen kind of skimp on this area — the recipes are clear enough, but I wanted more illustrations.


Japan, unsurprisingly, does food comics better than we do in the West. Oishinbo, written by Tetsu Kariya with art by Akira Hanasaki, is 100 volumes but it’s broken up by subject in the U.S. They’re not cookbooks, but there’s plenty of information and history on food and many dazzlingly illustrated panels of dishes. If you still retain an interest in Japanese cuisine (and constantly threaten to make your friends vegetarian sushi), I don’t know why you’re not reading this series.  It’s fun just to look at. I wanted a few more elements of that from Dirt Candy.

As far as this year’s other major food-related comic, Get Jiro, which was co-written by celebrity chef/wild man Anthony Bourdain.  While I did enjoy the images of food, part of me kept wishing there were recipes instead of violence.

After all, recipes taking comic form is pretty logical. Recipes are, for the most part, sequential narratives and there are steps that can be easily illustrated.

Luckily for me, as far for fulling my need to see recipes in comics form, webcomics are were it’s at right now.

Every so often, Saveur invites a comics artist to create a piece about food. Some, like Lisa Hanawalt’s recipe for Hearty Sausage and Sweet Potato Soup are more or less straightfoward how-tos. Others, like Lucy Knisely’s Tanzania Travelogue, are more narrative pieces about the food eaten amongst the experiences the artist had.

Speaking of Knisely, she has an upcoming book that’s all about food called Relish and if that’s not quite enough, her blog, Crave This features plenty of simple recipes and fun images of food.

Panel from L. Nichols' Drawn ButterShe’s not alone there, though. I’m a big fan of L. Nichols’ Drawn Butter, especially for the drink recipes. Sarah Becan’s I Think Your Sauceome isn’t always about food, but they are often enough (and she sometimes has guest strips, which adds to the diversity of the food covered).

Of course, as a vegan, I sometimes feel alienated by a lot of cooking shows and even cooking webcomics. I watch and read to get ideas for flavors and techniques, but still, lessons on how to cook bacon are a waste of my time. That’s why Alisa Harris’ Cooking Up Comics is so delightful. Her recipes aren’t all vegan, although they’re usually at least vegan-friendly, but her clear illustrations and personal stories make all of her recipes fun.

And to me, that’s what it’s all about — food is something we all have in common. Food is a story we can all share with each other. I think comics are a perfect vehicle to tell these stories. So while I’d never claim this is any sort of comprehensive roundup of food comics, it’s the ones I delight in and they do fill the time between cooking show marathons. (And I absolutely welcome finding more!)

And maybe if you’re lucky, I’ll try out some of my own recipes on you.

Dear Fake Geek Girls: You can come hang out with me

I get what Tara Tiger Brown is trying to say here and, yes, my headline is as purposefully inflammatory as that one is. That’s the point.

I absolutely understand what it feels like to have all these things you’ve spent years trying to tell people about and being ignored at best or made fun of at worst for them. And then all the sudden all these other people decide all these things are awesome and you feel a little pushed by the wayside. Trust me, I get it.

But I also think there’s room for all of us.

Does it make me less of a gamer because I’m more likely to buy Bejeweled 3 than Mass Effect 3? (My two favorite video games are Tetris — for the original GameBoy — and Street Fighter II, by the way.)

Does it mean I’m less of a comic book reader because I get more excited about Mara than I do Avengers vs. X-Men? Or does it make me less of a fan of film because I prefer Wong Kar-Wai over Steven Spielberg?

All of these things are personal preferences. And I absolutely think finding common ground in your interests and tastes with other people is important — it definitely is. But I don’t think that’s all there is. And to me, the more the merrier.

For instance, I would never tell my mom she wasn’t a comic reader. She doesn’t read a lot of comics, but she’s expressed interest in several of titles I’ve mentioned (and she was curious about R. Crumb’s The Book of Genesis before I brought it up). My mom may not be the sort who goes to the comic book store every Wednesday, but I think my mom is as valid of a comic book reader as someone who does.

Those girls who pick up the Twilight manga because they loved the novels? They’re reading comics, too. At best, maybe they’ll decide the like the medium and decide to seek out more comics. At worst, that’s all they’ll read. I don’t have a problem with that either way. Both are completely valid.

I get I’m absolutely lucky in that I get to hang out with knowledgeable comic retailers and creators. But for as many gaps in my knowledge that I admittedly have, none of these people have ever once made me feel stupid. They’ve maybe handed me books and said I needed to read them, but they’ve never made me feel inferior for not having done so already.

So all you geek girls that are maybe just starting out and are maybe dabbling in all these thing: I absolutely welcome you. I have plenty of comics and movies and games I am more than happy recommend. If you decide this isn’t your thing, that’s cool, too. I just hope you did get to meet some great people in the meantime, because ultimately, that’s what this is about.

(Image is Jill Thompson’s art for Graphittie Designs’ Sandman/Death/Delirium T-shirt, which I may or may not be wearing right now and may have or may not have since I was 16 … anyway, it’s appropriate enough.)

A lazy year-in-review for 2011

My real life has kept me preoccupied for the past couple of months. There are comics I want to review (and to those of you who sent me stuff a couple of months ago up until now — I’m going to get to it! I promise I promise I promise!) and other things, but the end-of-the-yearness has set in. Unless something really exciting happens, this is likely it for me until 2012.

This year is already kind of blurry. It was certainly dominated by Small Press Expo for me but I’m OK with that. It was an incredible amount of fun and I’m already looking forward to next year (we’re already working on it!).

I also read a tremendous amount of comics. There were plenty I loved — many I didn’t expect to — and I still get a thrill picking up new comics. Yes, there was certainly some silliness with regard to the DC reboot, but Wonder Woman has me hooked (in a lazy way — I read it when I remember). It was also an amazing year for indie comics — I am awed by all the talent that’s out there.

I didn’t get to travel to shows as much as I would’ve liked to — most of that was a money issue, but I was feeling pretty burned out on the usual ones. I didn’t attempt to go to the MoCCA Festival or New York Comic Con; KingCon III was postponed and as much as I would’ve loved to have gone to Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, the timing just didn’t work out. SPACE was fun but I don’t know if I’d go back. I always love the Baltimore Comic-Con, but that was more of just a hanging out opportunity for me this year.

(I will totally take sponsorships if people want to send me to Stumptown or Alternative Press Expo next year. Kids Read Comics Celebration is taking place in Ann Arbor on my birthday weekend and that’s a definite possibility. It may end up being mandatory.)

For some reason, in 2011, I expanded my “media” “empire.” I started up a Tumblr account (or started using it?) and a Facebook page. I also appeared on local show Fantastic Forum and Rusty and Joe interviewed me during SPX (I need to learn to speak into the microphone better. Also? No real idea what I said).

I was also greatly honored to be a part of Big Planet Comics Podcast #17 and I do hope they invite me back at some point because it was a great deal of fun (you should always listen to the podcast — even when I’m not on it).

And the photo on this post? Well, that’s me sorting through Dean Haspiel’s minicomics. Now, everything is going to the Library of Congress (I believe all are in the LoC’s possession now), but Warren Bernard just wanted to do an initial sort/inventory before we sent them off to see what was there. And certainly, it’s fresh in my mind, but when I think about all the things I’ve been privileged to be able to do this year, this felt like one of the bright spots. It was thrilling seeing all these incredible comics, even if I didn’t get to keep any of them.

I am lucky to know such amazing people who let me do so many cool things. I hope that continues in 2012.