Here’s a good tip: if you are going away for Christmas, make sure you give small presents that fit into your luggage.
Or, be like me, and buy your husband a book so vast, and so heavy, that transporting it requires a flat bed truck, seven shire horses and a police escort.
OK, I exaggerate, but barely. Here’s a picture of me with the book in question, so you can see just what scale I’m talking about here:
Another good Christmas tip is to give your partner something you’d like to read yourself. Drawn and Quarterly: Twenty-Five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics, and Graphic Novels tells the story of the Canadian micro-publisher in just 776 pages, and proved to be absolutely ideal fodder for snaffling and dipping into while others were watching Christmas TV or preparing the sprouts.
The first lengthy portion consists of first-person accounts of setting up D&Q, finding money and staff, and, of course, cartoonists. There are many descriptions of babies and toddlers playing amongst teetering piles of books: D&Q prides itself on being one of the catalysts that brought women so wholeheartedly into the comics scene.
The second half showcases some of the names they’ve published over the quarter-century. I have to say that some of the best known names, like Joe Matt, Peter Bagge and Seth leave me pretty cold, and although Julie Doucet and Lynda Barry are names I became familiar with in the very early days of my own forays into comics, they’re not really my thing any more.
But there is still plenty that I found exciting, not least the discovery of Geneviève Castrée, whose work is right up my street:
One strange side-effect of this volume’s heft is that when you experience that little downcast moment as you approach the last section of a really good book, you realise that in fact, there are still 200 pages left.
While I was grunting and sweating under the weight of my luggage, it turns out that my husband was also lugging some pretty solid gifts, as well. We are united in our lack of practicality.
My presents from him included The Sculptor by Scott McCloud, itself almost 500 pages. Of course, the irony of a good graphic novel is that you race through what must have taken the artist a year or more to draw, and I did get through this in a single evening. I hadn’t previously considered buying it, but I was absorbed and found it a very enjoyable read.
Also under the tree was volume 1 of Sunny, by Taiyo Matsumoto. Volume 5 had been in the mixed bag of goodies that was my prize for the Thought Bubble comics competition, and while I hadn’t come across this Japanese artist before, I instantly fell deeply and irrevocably in love.
(I kind of saw this gift coming, thanks to my husband’s arch questions on the lines of ‘You know that book you really liked? What was it called?’ in the weeks before Christmas – not that I am complaining; it’s the perfect gift).
I can’t state enough how perfect this series is, in style and content both. You read in the Japanese manner, back cover to front, and right to left across the pages, and subtly, in tiny details, the stories of kids in a children’s home unfold.
Not much happens, but the little things that do happen are just the sort of incidents that loom large in a child’s memories and imagination. Honestly, it’s breath-taking, really something to aspire to. I’m probably going to have to buy all the rest in the series.
Finally, talking of Japanese graphic novels, I’m going to mention Just So Happens by Fumio Obata. This came out some time ago and I read it then, but Fumio came and spoke at a recent Cartoon County, the Brighton-based comic artists’ meet-up.
I loved it before and I love it just as much on rereading, and having listened to Fumio speaking a bit about it. I found myself gazing at the pictures for ages: they are so skilled and beautiful (that’s not one of them below: that’s my far less skilled and beautiful sketch of Fumio during his talk).
It was very interesting to hear that he’d been reluctant to trade on the one big thing about himself, the fact of being a Japanese person living abroad, but that eventually he’d decided that was the most authentic and compelling experience he had to draw from.
Similarly, he’s recently been drawing around the Fukushima disaster. Along with other strips that deal with the terrible and yet fascinating things in life, this does lead to a very peculiar train of thought. On the one hand I curse my nice stable lifestyle, which gives me no injustices to rail against or campaigns to turn my pen to the aid of – while on the other hand I am, of course, exceptionally grateful not to be experiencing hard times.
Fumio also said that he’d entered the Cape/Comica/Observer Graphic Short Story competition four times, being shortlisted as a finalist twice. And that really shows how hard it is to win (although Just So Happens was published by Cape, so it did bring him to their attention).
I suppose it depends on your character whether you’d take that as an incentive to keep trying, or a sign that you should give up all together.
So, that’s what has kept me busy over Christmas: now how about you? Any good graphic novels under your tree?