Saturday, January 24, 2009

Graphic novels: Aya and The Quitter

I've just finished two graphic novels. Aya, by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by Clément Oubrerie, which I've mentioned before, is a delightful capsule of well-to-do Ivory Coast in the 1970s. The sepia and earth tones are delightful. The story is a bit confusing, because it revolves around the sexual hijinks of two of a trio of girl friends, and they are not drawn very differently, so i found myself at some point realizing I wasn't sure who was who. An important lesson. The story itself is light soap-opera, and much is left unsaid. That is, there is no interior voice of the characters at all. Reminds us how innovative Proust and Woolf etc. were in their time, making that radical shift from the narrator (who may tell you what the characters are thinking) to the "voice" of the character, etc.

The Quitter, by Harvey Pekar and illustrated by Dean Haspiel, is in black and white, and is the opposite of Aya. Billed as semi-autobiographical, it is a fascinating portrait of a "quitter," Pekar himself. You have to know the story to know what he means. But the self-psychologizing-- the recognition, at 65, of what he was at 10 years old-- is amazing. As the father of a 10 year old, and having been one myself, I appreciate how insightful Pekar is. The disarming thing is the text flows along in an entirely straightforward style, so there is almost no style. The writing is so simple, but you realize how hard it is to get to that level of simplicity. See, I can't do it on this blog! The scene I love: Pekar recounts how his father comes to pick him up at elementary school, and Pekar suddenly realizes he is embarrassed by his father, and runs away, and when his father finally catches up, Pekar is relieved his father doesn't "realize" that he is embarrassed! And of course this is Pekar at 65 remembering his emotional state at age 8.

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