DRAWN & QUARTERED
COURTESY GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING
"Shooting War" takes the reader into the craziness that is happening in the Middle East.
Two books take a piercing look at current events
That double-edged phrase "may you live in interesting times" seems, on one hand, to be aimed at artists and entrepreneurs, and on the other hand at the rest of us -- but we all benefit or suffer accordingly.
Also, an "interesting time" in the past simply becomes part of the fabric of the present, as will today's events. It's a long view, this continuum business.
Comic books and graphic stories are all about snapshots, though, slices of interpreted reality linked by the literary device called storytelling. The storytelling process is so ingrained in our psyche -- didn't Mom tell you tales when you were a toddler? -- that our brains impose storytelling conventions on random images. That's what dreaming is. More than any other medium, the graphic/comic story has stretched these embedded conventions, and mostly, we're able to go along for the ride.
And so it's interesting to look at two recently published graphic novels, both of which take a lacerating, insightful look at current events, and do so in very different styles and mediums -- and are separated by more than half a century.
"Southern Cross," by Laurence Hyde (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95), is actually a facsimile publication of Hyde's 1951 work. It is a story told entirely in woodcuts -- there was an artistic subgenre in the mid-20th century drawn to the notion of telling stories entirely through pictures, and through classical mass-production techniques like woodcutting, so that small numbers could be "printed" -- and relies on the reader (viewer?) being able to impose a story line on the sequential images. Whether it succeeds is due entirely to the graphic-narrative abilities of the artist.
Absorbing "Southern Cross" is a timeless, rather dreamlike experience. It actually takes more work than reading. The imagination has to be set in gear.
One thing is clear: Hyde's moral outrage. The book is a reaction to American atomic bomb testing in the South Pacific, and the tale concerns some prehistoric Pacific islanders caught up in this peculiarly hellish 20th-century technology. Although it doesn't end well, Hyde leaves the finish conclusionless. That is, he forces the reader to draw their own conclusions, to project their own denouement.
A Canadian artist who worked for the government film board and designed postage stamps, Hyde was hugely influenced by that crusty Yankee lefty artist Rockwell Kent -- Kent's illustrated edition of "Moby Dick" was a prized book of my youth -- and was among those dedicated artists of that era who valued their social conscience. If he had been American, Hyde would likely have created public art with the WPA (Works Progress Administration) during the 1930s, works of lasting value that remind us of our duties as citizens.
COURTESY DRAWN & QUARTERLY
"Southern Cross" is a reaction to American atomic bomb testing in the South Pacific.
HARD TO imagine that world today. Anthony Lappé and Dan Goldman's "Shooting War"
(Grand Central Publishing, $21.99) takes place in the here and soon-now, a crazy melange of Iraq-aphobia and razor-sharp slashing at media culture. It concerns a video blogger who, through sheer luck -- or un-luck -- is co-opted by a network news organization and placed on the front line in the Middle East. Things don't go well. It's hard to imagine they ever will over there.
It's scary, funny and thoughtful, and the story arc hangs together so well it's hard to imagine this not being snatched up by Hollywood.
Artistically, "Shooting War" could not be more different from "Southern Cross." The woodcuts demand our contemplation, and Hyde created them in solitude, tweaking each boxwood chiseling until it met his satisfaction; Lappé and Goldman rely on crackling dialogue and characterization to move things along, and the illustrations are PhotoShop-composited vector drawings and snapshots, hammered together into a bristling, adrenaline-sputtering collage.
Hyde worked in solitude, printing each page by hand, rolling a glass tumbler across the wood plates to make the images. "Shooting War" made an early appearance as an online comic, the creators took heed of bloggers' comments and incorporated their suggestions in the story line, and the finished work is fantastically well printed in state-of-the-art color.
But both works have the same effect, cutting through the scrim of political spin to reveal political truths. I see that writer Lappé's day job is executive editor of GNN, the Guerilla News Network. That's just the sort of CV that would make the mage of Rockwell Kent look down and smile at us.