Sunday, June 30, 2013

When Keeping It Real Gets Real

 I apologize about the distance between this and the last post, the reasons for this are mainly selfish, though it could also be somewhat attributed to more recent events in the international comics community.  In the past week and a half I have written several other posts, not knowing what to do with them.  Mostly they will surface in the next coming weeks, but I thought it was important, at least, to mention something about current events.  I am writing of course about the passing of Kim Thompson; a man I never knew personally, and never got to meet, but who has done so much to help shape who I am by exposing me to things that otherwise I would never have encountered or had the chance to make part of my personal cannon.

Rather than go on about the history of such a man and his involvement with both Fantagraphics Publishing and The Comics Journal, I think it would be more pertinent to point my readers to their bookshelves; if you are a fan of this blog, or you live in North America and are interested in foreign comics, whether you are aware of it or not, you know who Kim Thompson is.  Much like Toren Smith, another man responsible for bringing foreign comics to an American audience, and who also sadly passed this year, Thompson brought to readers in this country a sensibility not seen elsewhere at the time.  Though Smith was focused on bringing readers new and powerful works from Japan, Thompson championed entire generations of European comics; both worked as editors and translators, and both were known for their incredibly good taste in knowing what audiences of their times would latch onto.  I can honestly say that at a glance, I can't find an example of any work either man championed that I don't appreciate on some level.  Whether it was working as critics, writers, translators, or just simply promoting an artist's work, neither man chose easily, it seems, and it was with their relentless and exquisite curation that we were able to see such stunning work in our lifetime, not just in comics, but in the field of animation as well; both men were instrumental in not only servicing an audience for their respective work, but for building one where there had virtually been none.  That ability to know what audiences wanted before they did was something very special indeed, and because I never knew either one personally, instead of missing the dinners or conversations we may never have, I can only selfishly lament all the books I may never read, or the artists I may never discover.

This unfortunate event also coincides, coincidentally, with some new releases that I wanted to talk about.  The first was the new Manara Library Volume 5 by Dark Horse Comics.  This volume, like the previous one, has an all new translation by Kim Thompson, and like the previous one, is another excellent addition to the Manara Library.  In fact, I believe the entire Dark Horse Manara Library has had new Thompson translations, though I can't be totally sure about whether or not he did any of the original translations, as I don't own all of the Catalan Communications editions of Manara's work.
 Speaking strictly about the work, volume 5 is as stunning as any of the previous volumes, so if you have missed any, and you are interested in this, I don't have any reason to believe you wouldn't enjoy those ones.  If you have missed them, I wholeheartedly recommend that you go get them now.

Milo Manara is an absolute master of his craft.  I don't know any other way to say that.  Every line is precise and each form occupies the only space it could possibly occupy.  The idea that there are no wrong answers in comics or that there are no limits to what you can do becomes a questionable concept in the hands of such a storyteller, as it appears as though he has always chosen the right answer, and always made the correct choice over an unfathomably wrong one.  Nothing seems arbitrary, yet the end product seems absolutely effortless in it's execution.  His understanding of most form, especially the human (female) body, is superb, and the effect gives the often erotic nature of his work more substance, as it becomes impossible to separate the form from the substance, permeating the reader with a feeling of sensuality even when the focus of the story deviates from pure eroticism.

This volume covers the remaining adventures of Manara's eponymous Giuseppe Bergman; as Paul Pope relates in his introduction, a kind of younger brother to Hugo Pratt's Corto Maltese.  Like Corto Maltese, Bergman is an obvious stand-in for the author, and though lacking some of the former's more altruistic intentions in serving justice and liberty, the latter is not without his moral fortitude, nor is he without sympathy for our stories' various underdogs (nevermind the fact that they are almost always female).  Again, HP makes various appearances throughout this volume, and it is almost touching to see Manara's continued tribute to his mentor, especially in one of the later stories, produced after Pratt's death.

Another recent purchase of mine was Jacques Tardi's New York Mon Amour, another excellent release from Fantagraphics Books.  This book collects the short stories, Manhattan (which was the author's first introduction to American audiences years ago), It's So Hard, The Killing of Hung, as well as the slightly longer Cockroach Killer, a conspiracy thriller written by Benjamin Legrand, in which a New York City exterminator finds himself in the middle of a surreally violent tale of intrigue.
 It's So Hard and The Killing of Hung were written by Dominique Grange, whose work I have yet to explore beyond what is presented in this volume, though I would be interested to see how she would fair in a longer story, or without the aid of Tardi's expert draftsmanship.  Though I enjoyed her stories, they interest me considerably less than Tardi's collaborations with writer Jean-Patrick Manchette, especially the now on-hold English-language edition of Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell (presumably Thompson's illness and death were the reason behind this, as he was also serving as this books editor and translator).  The book has been "postponed indefinitely", so until further notice it remains in limbo, though any related news will be relayed through this blog as well.

Though my understanding of these two men was far from intimate, it isn't hard to say that they still had an intimate influence in my life, and as I still find it to be selfish of me to measure their loss in a purely consumer-based manner, further pondering makes me believe that for two men whose work was such an integral contribution to the comics industry over the past decades, they would want their work to leave the most indelible mark on the community that they obviously cared so much about.

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