An anti-fairy tale,

I recently read Beautiful Darkness, by Fabien Kehlmann & Kerascoët, translated from the French. The artist Kerascoët is really two people, Marie Pommepuy and Sebastien Cosset and the story is based on an idea by Marie Pommepuy. And what a great story. I must have read it 10 times in the last week (it’s not that long).

Starting with a tete-a-tete over hot chocolate and cake, a disaster forces the heroine to escape through dank, creepy, slimy collapsing corridors to freedom in forest. Freedom from a little dead girl lying in the woods with hundreds of tiny people climbing out of her eyes and nose and mouth. This is some of the anti in the fairy tale. We never really learn what ‘before’ was like. But these little people are woefully unfit to live in a forest, victims of cats, birds and ants, they nevertheless try to make a world for themselves. The origins of these little people is never explained, you probably can’t think too hard about it. They had sofas and clothes and teapots, so they must have lived in some kind of psychic space inside the girl (called Aurora). They know what sunstroke is and at least one of them can read. It seems that most of them didn’t know each other until they all ended up in the forest together.

The blurb says it’s a searing condemnation of our vast capacity for evil writ tiny. But the winnowing down of people is not just by each other, it’s mostly by the ginormous forest creatures. Even the plants are dangerous. One little creature (little girl?), turns up with a itchy swollen hand, later her entire arm and half her face is swollen, next she is swollen all over, then we never see her again (so attention to detail and rereading it a few times pays off). Keep an eye out for the triplets/twins (I didn’t notice the twins used to be triplets on the first read), their conversion from triplets to twins is one of the more horrible scenes (in a good-story way). And there’s no evidence that anyone becomes evil once civilising influences are off, the impression was more that they were themselves (evil or good) all along, only now they are up against the wall (the forest, then winter).

It’s interesting to read online reviews, Zainab suggests the four main characters can be seen as Auroras conscientiousness, psychoticism, neuroticism and openness to new experience. But the comic is more about questions than answers. What would that make all the other little people?  (their-six year-old self? their enjoys-pulling-legs-off-insects self?). While it’s interesting to think about, they are not a straightforward representation as seen in Narbonic (definitely read that review as well, it’s really good, also do read Narbonic too).

Narbonic sprites

I’ll close with a picture of something that didn’t happen. We see Aurora waking up and going home. That’s what should have happened. We never find out why it didn’t.

Aurora wakes up

HIV and AIDS in comics

At the weekend I reread a comic my sister dug out from years ago called Jo.

Written in 1990 and set in Switzerland, the heroine gets a nice new boyfriend, who is terrified he might have HIV. Jo suggests they both get tested together but while Laurent is healthy she is HIV positive. Running off to live with her boyfriend, Jo and Laurent have three years of happiness and success before Jo developes AIDS and (spoiler) dies in a matter of months.

The contrast between this story, the contemporary comic Pedro and Me and the much more recent Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story is striking.

Jo Derib cover  Pedro&MeWinick BluePillsPeeters

Again Pedro Zamora was diagnosed at 17 in 1989 and he also died within five years. The comic follows his stay in The Real World: San Francisco  which seems to have been an earlier version of Big Brother (lots of cameras but they were allowed out) where he was room mates with the author. The book describes Pedro’s life and his dedication to educating people about AIDS.

Blue pills on the other hand, was published around 2001 (in English in 2008). Again a Swiss book, Frederick Peeters’ partner and her four year old son have HIV. The difference is that as of 2012, Cati is fine and the son is 15.

Interviewed in 2008

At the same time, there was a fatalism: that’s my life, that’s the way it is. Ultimately it’s not that bad because we have the medication, we have money; in the end, it’s not that serious. I felt lots of things all at once. It’s hard to explain.

And interviewed in 2012

Cati’s son is going to be 15. With the evolution of treatments, I can say that fear has almost disappeared from our lives.

So progress.

The last example that I’ve remembered from graphic novels is one that I always found quite moving. It brings home the effect of an epidemic in a way that, being born in the right place and time, I’ve never experienced in my own life. From Neil Gaiman‘s The Wake, speaking to a character who is really 600 years old, and again set in the 1990s:

You know when I first met you I thought you were gay.

Why? Because I’m British?

No. Because so many of your friends are dead.

International Women’s day at Islington Comics Club

As it was international women’s day on March 8th, the following Islington Comic Club featured a number of comics by and about women. It was pretty disappointing to see the tiny number of books by  women and it prompted me to review my own reading, in which women authors are equally sparse.

Shaenon K. Garrity has actually written a whole short story on this theme,  well, women in gaming rather than comics, The Perils of the Lady Gamer.  I highly recomend it (and it’s quite short, you can read it in five minutes).

This has prompted me to list all the comics I know by woman authors, I recomend all of these.

Is that really it? I’m going to have to go through the list of what I’ve read. I’ll add more if there is more.