Books

Book Review: Pachyderme by Frederik Peeters

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The maroon binding of Pachyderme has called to me from many a Graphic Novel section shelf. After years of picking it up, flipping through it and thinking, “another time,” I finally got around to reading a copy from the San Francisco Public Library.

I knew this graphic novel by Swiss cartoonist Frederik Peeters was not going to be a casual read. The woman suspended in air on the front cover portends the ominous suspended reality this book explores. There is a foreword written by the accomplished French cartoonist Jean Giraud (AKA Moebius 1938 – 2012) that says everything anyone could ever hope to say about the quality of Peeters’ story and illustrations.

Giraud writes, “Pachyderme is the perfect example of a vivid and poetic graphic novel that succeeds in conveying a sense of the unconscious, of true master. I have the feeling Pachyderme remains mysterious even to its author, who let his tale wander where his pen took it, live its own life, while paying close attention to storytelling and the quality of his art.”

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Much like the space between waking and dreaming, the story and art range from hyper realistic to completely nonsensical. Giraud uses the word, “oneric,” or dreamlike to describe this oscillation. This is a new word for me and I am excited to have it as a part of my vocabulary now!

The only problem with Giraud’s foreword is that it gives too much of the story away. So I suggest reading it after you have finished the book. I don’t want to review the plot or characters in detail because this book is best experienced firsthand and without any foreknowledge.

All you need to know is that the story is set in French speaking Switzerland in 1951 and that a woman is the central character.

Here are some of my favorite panels:

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Save Pachyderme for a quiet day to yourself.

 

 

 

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Books

Book Review: Life with Mr. Dangerous by Paul Hornschemeier

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In a flurry of excitement about San Francisco’s public libraries, I checked out a criminal number of graphic novels.

To quote Julian Smith, “I’m at the library where they call me a crook. I never even pay for my library books. I take them from the shelves and if anyone looks, I say, ‘I’m reading a book man, I’m reading a book!'”

If you don’t understand this reference, watch this video now:

 

I finally got around to reading Paul Hornschemeier’s Life with Mr. Dangerous today in my favorite reading nook. I was actually interrupted, but I didn’t mind as much as Julian Smith did.

The first thing I will say about Hornschemeier, is that his drawing style seems to be heavily influenced by Daniel Clowes. I could be completely wrong about that though. Hornschemeier is skilled at weaving different cartooning styles into his narrative, although I think his pages that delve into the surreal are stronger than his representations of daily life.

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I loved this page about Amy’s relationship to her sweet tooth

The book gets its title from a cartoon show that the main character Amy is infatuated with. Unfortunately, the cartoon does not make much sense in my view, but perhaps that’s the point. With amnesia curing manure plot devices and catchy sayings like “My, but you’re fecund!” that may be hard to believe.

The dialogue was sometimes too wordy or sparse for my liking. At one point, Amy thinks to herself, “…Sigh… Barren, sweating, and twelve minutes late. What’s not to like?” This kind of forced exposition takes me right out of the story. What does Amy’s fertility have to do with going to dinner with her mother?

 

Hornschemeier’s biography for this book says a lot about his style of writing:

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“Paul Hornschemeier was born in 1977 [. . .] He currently lives in Evanston, Illinois with his wife. As he writes this about himself, a discarded Christmas tree rests on its side, waiting by the curb outside his window, to be picked up as trash, breeding simultaneous and oft-coupled pangs of nostalgia and depression. Then a dog walks by.”

I’m still cringing. Sorry Paul.

During a major turning point in the story, I was forced to skim some of the wordiest panels I have ever encountered in a graphic novel. Here’s a little taste without any spoilers, “Here you are, an invisible referee for an interspecies cage match. Your method of invisibility was explained to me by Moritz as he tamped a pipe with tobacco (that hinted of raisins and the South), but I lost the details. Something about string theory and a since discredited biography of Milton Berle [. . .]”

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Is it just me, or is this a lot of text?

As complex as these sentences may be, the story itself ended up being fairly bland and straight forward. There were certain themes that were well thought out and explored in the story, including ageism in the workplace and mother-daughter relationships, but Amy’s overarching trials in love were not among them in my book.

Perhaps Hornschemeier will speak more deeply to you if you work in retail and actively seek out manic pixie dream girls/guys?

 

 

 

 

 

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Books

Book Review: A Year in Japan by Kate T. Williamson

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I have had this graphic travelogue on my Amazon wishlist for almost as long as I’ve had an Amazon wishlist (so, ten years? The copyright on this book is 2006, so that checks out). Recently I have been dreaming of visiting my cousin Laurel who has been teaching English in Japan for the past three years. Now, more than ever I’ve been trying to get my hands on a copy of this book. Sadly, every bookstore I’ve been in recently hasn’t had it in stock.

While logged into the San Francisco Public Library App, I got the bright idea to see if it was anywhere within their system, and it was! After missing my hold opportunity and re-ordering it, I finally got to take this elusive book in my hands!

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Parts of this book are so beautiful, I’m considering buying my own copy just so I can leaf through it any time I need some inspiration. If you’re going to invest in physical books for a personal library, I highly recommend graphic novels, because they do not translate well into digital media. It was a challenge to even take these photos!

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Williamson has a gift for turning small details into thoughtful insights. My favorites are her observations about Japanese socks and fabrics. I whipped out my traditional Japanese furoshiki cloth for this photo shoot. You can read an article I wrote about this traditional art of wrapping here on my website or KQED Arts.

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If you have any interest in Japanese culture, I highly recommend this book. Check out the book’s website, where you can order prints and stationary with illustrations from the books and learn more about Williamson’s other projects!

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