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Friday August 30, 2013 MYT 2:25:00 PM
Friday August 30, 2013 MYT 2:52:28 PM
by sharmilla ganesan
We take a detour from the mainstream to review two excellent books from independent publisher Fantagraphics Books.
Writer/illustrator: Gilbert Hernandez
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
PEOPLE’S lives are never simple. Even the quietest, blandest, seemingly most unimpressive people are made up of moments and stories, thoughts and feelings, that are unfathomably complex.
It may not be immediately apparent why Julio, the titular character of Gilbert Hernandez’s Julio’s Day, should have his story told; he does very little, says even less, and seems to be the kind of person that things happen around, rather than someone who makes things happen. And yet Julio, like every one of us, has a story and deserves his day in the sun, which Hernandez ensures both literally and metaphorically in his subtle yet touching graphic novel.
Julio’s Day begins with his birth in 1900, and ends with his demise in 2000, and while it is very much the story of Julio and the people around him, it is also the story of a century. Without making a point of doing so, Hernandez colours his characters’ lives with the major events of the 20th century, from the world wars to the Great Depression to the Flower Power era.
Tracing four generations of Julio’s family, Mexican immigrants in a small town in California, the book tells a tale that is at once personal and expansive. Family secrets are exposed and buried, relatives come together and grow apart, townsfolk live, love and die, and we are kept fascinated from beginning to end.
This is thanks to Hernandez’s ability to focus on core emotional moments that resonate with all of us: whether it is Julio’s sister losing her children, a handsome young man returning from war a quadruple amputee, or a small-town man dreaming of leaving for greener pastures – these are all stories we can identify with and feel for.
The lush black-and-white illustrations perfectly convey the story, with expressions being captured or scenes being set by just a few well-drawn lines. Particularly interesting is the way Hernandez manages to keep his characters recognisable over the years while capturing their changing appearances.
You may well forget about Julio while reading many parts of Julio’s Day, for many things happen that often seem more interesting than the quiet and unobtrusive man. Yet that somehow seems to be the point: the world is certainly a part of Julio’s life, but he is also no less a part of the world.
Heads Or Tails
Writer/illustrator: Lilli Carre
Nominated for two awards (Best Single Issue and Best Graphic Album – Reprint) at the 2013 Eisner Awards, Heads Or Tails by Lilli Carre caught my attention because it’s described as a collection of short literary fiction – a pretty bold claim for a book that would traditionally be classified as a graphic novel. A couple of pages into the gorgeously illustrated volume, however, it makes sense.
Carre’s stories do exactly what every good short literary story should do: entice you with its language, play with your imagination, and unexpectedly surprise you with its story. Her method of doing this may be with a delicate interplay of visuals and text, but the effect is potent nonetheless.
Heads Or Tails is a collection of stories created by Carre, best known for her award-winning graphic novel The Lagoon, over the last five years. Each story is a gem in itself – beautifully crafted, perfectly balanced between absurdism and poignancy, and thoroughly enjoyable.
In keeping with the book’s title, the stories all loosely revolve around the theme of ambivalence, and often, you don’t know whether you should laugh or be horrified at the plight of the characters. Stories like The Thing About Madeline, where an office worker finds her mundane life being taken over by another woman, are disturbing yet droll, and strike close to home. Others like Rainbow Moment, where a story within a story within a story is used to illustrate the isolation many feel from those around them, delight with their cleverness while also dealing with fairly depressing concepts.
Carre uses an impressive array of graphic styles and colour palettes to bring these stories to life, making each turn of the page a delightful surprise. The illustrations range from richly detailed to spare strokes, with black-and-white drawings shifting to monochromatic panels to pastels to neon – so much so, even someone not used to graphic novels will find Heads Or Tails a fascinating experience.
The most impressive thing is how seamlessly the illustrations and text merge to tell a tale; the pictures are as capable of speaking volumes with no words to accompany them while at other times, the lettering becomes a part of the visual effect.
This is most apparent in a section entitled Short Bits, stories only one or two pages long, where quirky and often downright nutty pieces tackle ideas as diverse as love, stress, obsession and government. Being able to say so much with just a few striking images and a line or two is sheer genius.
Whether you enjoy graphic novels, literary fiction, pretty pictures or big ideas, it doesn’t really matter. Heads Or Tails, like the flip of a coin, is something you should just take a chance on. You won’t be disappointed.
The books featured here are available at Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC. Call 03-2164 8133 / e-mail email@example.com / visit www.kinokuniya.com.
Tags / Keywords:
Lifestyle, Lifestyle, Worlds Of Wonder, Julio's Day, Gilbert Hernandez, Heads Or Tails, Lilli Carre
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