“Sunny Side Down” by Lev Yilmaz
“Sunny Side down” is the published book version of “Tales of Mere Existence”, an underground comic strip and animation series (very successful on youtube). The title says it all actually. Lev Yilmaz hates it, himself, the world or maybe not but he enjoys believing he might and the world may very well suck after all. A lot of people share that belief it seems, since… you know the success of Lev Yilmaz. I discovered him on youtube (yes, I’m a discoverer) and thought he was really funny. Well, he is. I dare you prove me otherwise.
Now Lev Yilmaz readily admits to the absence of a narrative. Well, it really depends on your definition I’d say. If I had to define the “story”, “plot”, “before-during-after” I would say the first part is about being a child and the horror this inspires little Lev, the second part is about chicks…I mean about the deep philosophical meaning of humanity: “I was unaware of the anthropological protocol involved in the act of stapling.” (somewhere in the book).
Lev Yilmaz’ book is also a great dating help. The author’s advice is always spot on and success is only a matter of time : “…give her a T-shirt that says “I AM (your name here)’s GIRLFRIEND” in big red letters. Girls love that sort of thing”. He also points out that MySpace offers great dating opportunities, thus helping the rest of us to find love: “”I wonder why that cute girl from Yugoslavia doesn’t email me back anymore.”
Last but not least Dr. Lev knows how to decipher job ads: “How I interpret job-hunting advice…”JUST REMEMBER, YOU’RE NOT ALONE” Like hell I’m not” So seriously, don’t buy useless and boring self-help books by writers sold to big corporations and learn something from a fellow alienated human being with a great sense of humor. Still wonder who this mysterious misanthropic artist is? Check out this video about his very own making-of:
“Literary Life” by Posy Simmonds
I’ve just finished reading Posy Simmonds “Literary Life” and I like this book just as much as “Gemma Bovery”. I met Posy Simmonds in Angoulême 2 years ago, where she signed copies of the French translation of Gemma. Angoulême is an excellent place to get a glimpse of what literary life is like but if you want to get the whole picture, I recommend reading “Literary life”.
You’ll get aquainted with petty writers reveling in their real or imagined grandeur (“You wait…any minute now they’ll be over: “Excuse me, you’re Sean Poker, aren’t you? I just love your books blablabla” Price one pays, I suppose”), the writers forced intellectual through their lack of success rather than their ideals (“Bloody party! As I said, wild horses couldn’t drag me…But I’ve got to go…People might think I haven’t been invited”), the lonely writer struggeling with an empty page (“9.05AM. Chapter One: It was raining. The sheep were 9.20AM It was raining. The sheep were in the field”), the fight of the little bookseller against the glitzy franchise with no soul but low prices, the pityless critics (“This is the least engaging book I’ve been obliged to take notice of this year”), the enthousiastic reader or publisher who believe the story to be the most compelling part of the book, basically just waiting for the film to happen (“Anyway, as I say, we have a tremendous target on this book…There is, of course the movie and TV tie-on….”). Oh and let’s not forget the publisher who confronts the modern e-book world’s obsession with content alone with his very own obsession with good craftmanship alone (“…yes, yes…I know that, Rebecca, I know times change (…) But I don’t give a toss if it’s brilliant! Just look at it! Look at the ****ing awful binding”).
Posy Simmonds points out all the little and big absurdities of literary life, but you can’t help feeling sympathy for these warriors of the printed word (especially in these times of allmighty bankers) and their flaws make them funny and sometimes touching.
Her drawing style is satirical in a subtle, soft way, cartoony but very expressive. Although at the same time very British and utterly original, Posy Simmonds’ work reminds me sometimes of Manfred Deix, who is also remarkably able to identify and exaggerate (less subtly, Deix being Deix) the flaws of his characters.
“Literary life” ends with a somewhat different Cinderella story: a retired couple becomes young again… for one night only. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the retiree’s fearlessness to speak his mind in the body of a young man with great social opportunities? Well, graphic novels like this one make it possible to criticize modern literary life without being marginalized as a result. They offer perfect free speech refugees, playing with a still marginal status in the literary world, in full contradiction with their artistic potential. Let’s hope the growing recognition of Posy Simmonds’ work won’t take away her acidic sweetness.
“The art of pho” by Julian Hanshaw
Recently I came across “The art of pho” by Julian Hanshaw, a very original book. How should I best describe it? Well, let’s borrow Shaun Tan’s words, who describes this graphic novel as “Part travelogue, part dream, part cookbook”. That’s a very description in a nutshell, since the “Art of Pho” reveals the author’s love for pho and Vietnam. He kindly shares a few recipes along the way but the novel is above all a nostalgic reflection on a bygone time, of former backpacker-expat days. Let’s keep it at that, storywise: the past relives here through a dreamy recollection, hardly linear, full of happy digressions of the mind. The colors are muted, figures leave the focus to become barely defined, like the past they represent. The actual “story” is secondary.
Much has been written on Hanshaw’s work. What I would like to share is the way the graphic novel connects with the expats, most of us have been at some point, in some way, and functions like the photo album, the diary, we never had time to complete and probably regret. The “Art of Pho” reminds me of my 4 years in Paris, my encounter with the colonial history of my country, France, the delicious vietnamese food, so authentic according to my friend, Tan Vanh.
It reminds me of all the common experiences, always lived in or near the Asian part of the city. And the smell of pho. Images popping into my mind, like the wave one night in Hanshaw’s story.
It also reminds me that I almost made it to Vietnam during those years, but that I finally didn’t go. To conclude, the “Art of Pho”, like Lars Martinson’s graphic novel “Tonoharu”, is a story of “me”, a story of a travel and its personal experiences, not only into a foreign country, but into the depths of the unconscious self. The recipes are like reassuring milestones, soothing, safe, the only thing that won’t change unless we want it to: “I didn’t ask whether it was his patience that had run its course or if nature had”. In the end, we may revisit the past, reflect upon it, but as long as we wait, it won’t come back. What it leaves us with though can be a beautiful book like this one.