A veteran photojournalist on the Toronto arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.
University of Toronto European History professor Dr. Carolyn Harris (centre) speaks about Magna Carta's role in global democracy at the International Festival of Authors-sponsored event at the Fort York barracks on October 22 .
International Festival of Authors 2015 Reviews
Part 1 of 2-part series
IFOA@Fort York: Magna Carta and the Modern World
Blue Barracks, Fort York National Historic Site, 250 Fort York Boulevard
Thursday, October 22; 8 p.m.
After (almost) fumbling towards the far end of the Fort York site towards the said talk at the Blue Barracks in the dark, speaker Dr. Carolyn Harris presented herself to be a lively talker on her forum in regard to the Magna Carta currently on view at the venue (until November 8) on its 800th anniversary world tour, as well as put in a plug on her book, Magna Carta and its Gifts to Canada (Dundurn Press), as she provided quite a layperson’s insight on its importance on present-day democracy.
“The reason we’re still talking about the Magna Carta is because this document has taken on a life of its own and it’s been interpreted and reinterpreted by political figures and jurists for centuries after [it was written in] 1215,” explained the University of Toronto European History professor, accompanied by her 45-minute slideshow while fiddling about with a wayward microphone, of interesting quotes from the parchment and visuals from medieval times to Jay-Z (more on that later).
Slogging through its early beginnings as a peace treaty between rebellious English barons versus King John in what would become the DNA strand of establishing basic universal rights and civil laws in almost every democratic constitution in the world, Harris gave some lightly insights from royal family infightings and intrigues to plenty of political wrangling in regard to England and its relations with mainland Europe – mostly through wars and plagues – on each steps and revisions to the first draft right up to the 1300 version and as to why there were so few surviving copies today.
“There are only four surviving copies from that time,” as she told of one slide, “as most cathedrals, courthouses and castles when they received a new version of Magna Carta, they simply got rid of the earlier ones and that’s why there’s not one (copy) surviving during the reign of John’s son, Henry III or John’s grandson Edward I than there are copies from 1215 as the newer versions of Magna Carta tended to supersede the later ones.”
Among several points in the talk, Harris went into a fascinating sojourn into how women’s rights first got established in the document due to a rather embarrassing event in the 15th century. “In 1441, King Henry VI’s aunt Eleanor de Bohun, the Duchess of Gloucester is accused of witchcraft and visiting with astrologers to predict the king’s death. And that’s considered treasonous, especially since her husband’s the Duke of Gloucester was next in line to the throne. And she had also been seen visiting Margery Jourdemayne, known as the Witch of Eye; of reputedly to get poisons from her, although the Duchess would argue of that she had been there for fertility potions so that she could conceive.
“So this is the trial that grips London in the mid-fifteenth century” she continued, “(and) normally women accused of witchcraft are quite marginal figures, village wisewomen or (those) seeking the charity of the [local] parish and the king’s aunt to be accused of witchcraft is a very big deal as it transfixes the whole city. And the Duchess of Gloucester becomes outraged that she’s being held in captivity, all these accusations and rumours are swirling. But she’s not being given a trial and her husband supports in this, believing his wife to be innocent of these charges and it’s all to be [perceived as] one big political plot against him, so she insists on having a fair trial and historian Nicolas Vincent, one of foremost experts on Magna Carta explains, ‘As a result of the case…the sixth statutes of Henry III was remedied by extended to ladies of great estate, the right to trial before the judges and the lords.’ So by the fifteen century, women as well are being explicitly covered by the terms of Magna Carta.”
One interesting figure she brings up in this history is one Sir Edward Coke (pronounced “cook”), a prominent lawyer and parliamentarian who brought the Magna Carta back from obscurity plus wrote a succession of law books and texts read throughout the English-speaking world in his time; constantly challenged the court of King Charles I in the early 1600s on absolute rule by the throne and even inspired the constitutions and future political thinkers like feminist activists Olympe de Gouges and Mary Wollstonecraft who helped include women’s rights in the constitution of revolutionary France (but weren’t implemented for another century) to Nelson Mandela which he stated at his defence at his trial at Ramona in 1964 protesting against the unjust racist rule by South Africa’s leaders and would later included its values in its post-apartheid constitution 30 years later.
“In Canada,” Harris said in relation to our own history, “the historical context is varied here, we don’t have a violent revolution like the United States or France does. In Canada, (it) achieves confederation and self-government in the 19th century with Confederation in 1867. And this is a time when parliamentary statutes in the U.K. were gradually superseding aspects of Magna Carta, there were only three clauses of Magna Carta still on the statute books in the U.K. today: freedom for the church, freedom for the city of London and that ‘justice shall not be delayed or denied’ in that key clause of 39 and 40 which got combined into clause 29 in the 1295 and 1300 reissue of Magna Carta.
“So the British North America Act of 1867, Canada inherits these legal and political traditions: the Common Law system, Magna Carta, the sixth statutes, the Petition of Rights, (and) the Bill of Rights, all become part of Canada’s legal constitution framework. And when the (Canadian) Constitution’s repatriated [from England] in 1982, we sort of remarkably held similar language to that core of Magna Carta that refers of right to justice: ‘that everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of the person and the right not to be deprived of thereof except accordance to the principles of fundamental justice; everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned; any person charged with any offence has the right to be informed without reasonable delay and to be tried within a reasonable time.’”
Harris, in trying to tie-up before a brief post-talk Q&A; also added Rudyard Kipling and music superstar Jay-Z to the presentation to show how Magna Carta inspired both artists in bringing the document into the lexicon from a segment of the poem “What Says the Reeds of Runnymede” by the former that he wrote during the 700th anniversary of Magna Carta and the latter’s cover album art from 2014’s Magna Carter – a riff on his last name – that was shown in display at the Salisbury Cathedral next to one of the original version of the Magna Carta since “I didn’t think me trying to rap [the song “Holy Grail”] would be the best idea,” she quipped.
Left-right: Polish journalist and author Witold Szabłowski speaking with interviewer Bert Archer on his travels around Turkey.
Reportage - Turkey
Studio Theatre, Bill Boyle Artsport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Saturday, October 24; 12 p.m.
As an unexpected player on the world stage at the beginning of the decade first as a go-between for the Arab World during the Arab Spring to the current refugee crisis swamping the European Union from its consequence and as a frontline state bearing some of the brunt of the ongoing Syrian Revolution, Turkey still remains an outsider to the West in concerning the geopolitics of the situation, as was discussed from a outsider’s point of view in the Reportage – Turkey forum.
Hosted by travel writer/literary critic Bert Archer with Polish journalist/author Witold Szabłowski, there was a firm discussion as he presented his debut English-language translation of his award-winning The Assassin from Apricot City with his insight on the nation straddling the European-Arabic divide from his experiences five years ago that he had collected on the varying degrees of that society from honour killings to the family of Pope John Paul II’s failed killer.
“I had a great because I went to Turkey when I was a (journalism) student,” Szabłowski said, in getting different stories from different people from the secular to the devout, “and because before I had worked for a Polish TV station so I applied for an internship at the TV station in Turkey. So then they took me for an amazing tour, they had a local election there and I was going into every provincial town, to talk with people about who they were going to vote for, what are their needs, their problems, etcetera.
“And they paid me for the trip, they paid me for the meals and I had opportunity to spend a day with them, but they didn’t pay me for accommodations, which is crucial because I was spending the whole day with most inspiring, interesting people and I was meeting mayors, people of business, people with different perspectives and people with power. But then, I was a student and during that scholarship in Turkey it was hard to make ends meet. So I had five dollars for each night for accommodation and I was going to five-dollar hotels, which meant that I was meeting people who were like me after (meeting) with people with power and beauty and I was meeting with people who were poor, looking for a job or looking for a new perspective. So I met with a strong ‘leg’ and a much weaker ‘leg’ [of Turkey society] and staying in these cheap hotels, some of these stinking holes with really extraordinary people.”
“You don’t smile to young girls in eastern Turkey,” he said half-seriously. “That’s what I was trying to say [in the book]. Now that Turkey is changing, maybe that chapter was written five or six years ago. Maybe it is slowly, slowly changing but I’m not too sure. But at that moment I felt pretty uncomfortable if I smiled to young girls. You are in a place and you’re a yabancı; (pronounced yah-ban-chi) – which means you’re a foreigner – because there’s not many tourists coming to the cities in eastern Turkey. So it’s not about feeling, it’s about socializing with the people. I mean, you can socialize with the men and I was easily smiling to the men, they were inviting me to their shops, to their workshops, to where they lived but you shouldn’t do that with the women.”
It eventually came to the touchy subject of so-called honour killings coming into view where Szabłowski had to rely on some psychoanalytical research through a fifty-part questionnaire on men imprisoned for the murders of their sisters, wives, cousins or daughters who on the surface stated their sincere love for them but felt justified in engaging in their deaths, mainly due to their economic lot in life where if you don’t have a higher standard of living, all that is left is your honour that could shut you out of certain circles in these areas since a man’s honour is also contain in the women in his family.
“But on the fiftieth question,” he recalls, “was ‘What would you tell to your sister if you met her now?’. And that was the moment when most of these strong, or pretending to be strong, men began crying and they were like for the first time they were faced with the fact that they really killed someone and they had to deal with it. Many of them said, ‘I did it because I loved her.’
“And are not lying because, how can you kill your sister/cousin/daughter [like] that’s so easy to blame someone for this? But we in the Western society have to deal that there are regions in the world where people do such a thing and outsiders like me are to go there to check, not to blame, but to check what people do such a thing and to commit such a crime. It was very hard to answer this question.”
Moving onto the subject of Mehmet Ali Ağca , the Turk whose attempt to shoot Pope John Paul II in Vatican Square in 1981 brought a mixture of cultural misunderstanding and discomforting humour in regards to forgiving his would-be killer in prison when the authored interviewed the family of the assassin one afternoon, considering the Pope was a national hero in his native land and the difference in freedom of speech in Turkey when it centres around its founding leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
“You cannot [openly] criticize Atatürk [in Turkey],” said Szabłowski. “He was a great politician and without him the country wouldn’t be where they are now. But it’s not about criticizing him, but you can’t say in public that you don’t love this person. Even if you come from Poland where somebody counted where we have four hundred-something monuments of Pope John Paul II, but it’s no problem to say you don’t love him. When he died (in 2005), we had a lot of emotions like people were crying as he was a very important person to us. Some people had t-shirts [of the pope] and some people were tired of all the mourning, so some made t-shirts (saying) ‘I didn’t cry after the Pope died’ and that was okay, nobody would sue them. But in Turkey if you were to wear a t-shirt saying ‘I don’t love Atatürk,’ I don’t think you would go to jail but it would get you into trouble.”
Left-right: Canadian poets Brecken Hancock, Tayla Rubin and Zachariah Wells at the Poet Summit event.
Lakeside Terrace, Bill Boyle Artsport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Saturday, October 24; 2 p.m.
Three young Canadian poets took up a corner to showcase their poetry, Brecken Hancock and Tayla Rubin of Ontario and Zachariah Wells of Nova Scotia for their component of IFOA ranging from adolescent angst to shout-outs to the late Oliver Sacks that seemed fitting for a rainy day down at Harbourfront Centre. Starting with Hancock’s collection Broom Broom, loosely inspired by “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and her late mother’s fastidious cleanliness habit whom she would lose the fight to early onset dementia brought about at age forty when the poet was still a teenager, the rage and grief over her struggle and non-closure (“Sandy”; “Once More”) to allowing herself to be self-critical of that time (“Evil Brecken”) had a lot of force in her words, even if Hancock didn’t put much on her reading of her work in the first two (perhaps the emotion behind them), but remedied that in the last one.
Rubin was attuned to her mostly travelogue-based debut Leaving the Island, from her younger days of travel and slice-of-life observances with the titular work reflecting the isolationism and yawning beauty of the Scottish island of St. Kilda and its aviary populace on life and death (“Mischievous Rock”; “After the Solan Geese”) and its Australian namesake (“Crossing Over”), days of misspent youth and anorexia (“The Good Years”) to the wistful tributary “Stalking Christopher Reeve” on the teenaged idolatry over the legendary Superman actor and his final decade as a quadriplegic had a funny sad undertone.
Putting on a storyteller stance for his work Sum, Wells nailed it all on the oft-humoured “Ego” on willing to laugh at himself, “Underwhelmed, If That’s a Word,” his tribute to former Toronto Blue Jay ballplayer John MacDonald “Magic Man” (after the bittersweet loss of making it to the 2015 World Series the previous night, it seemed amply fitting), the amusing tome taken on relationships “One and One” and the dark, dramatic closer “Achromatope” on the late Oliver Sacks over one’s inner feelings had some anger attached yet the rejuvenation of the soul that laid within the lines seemed almost like a healing balm for Wells in his personal matters.
Left-right: Author Jami Attenberg and cartoonist/illustrator Adrian Tomine do readings at the In Conversation event at the Fleck Dance Theatre October 24.
In Conversation with Jami Attenberg and Adrian Tomine
Fleck Dance Theatre, Queen’s Quay Terminal, 207 Queen’s Quay West, 3rd Floor
Saturday, October 24; 4 p.m.
The commonality found between author Jami Attenberg and graphic novelist Adrian Tomine are the yearning of bygone days with Attenberg of her central heroine Mazie Phillips behind Saint Maizie, based on a real-life proprietor of a bawdy New York cinema and Tomine on his “homesick” book Killing and Dying of stories based in and around his former Southern Californian stomping grounds (see book review in this edition).
After reading from their respective books, host Sue Carter chatted with them in regards to how they see the world through their characters. “I was trying to capture the stories in intangible periods of what was horrifying and beautiful to me of being in the suburban Californian atmosphere. I’ve lived in New York now for ten years and I’ll always think of myself as this guy from California who’s ‘just got here’ and that my wife and her family are lifelong Brooklynites, which has kept me in my place and I’m definitely a new visitor,” Tomine said with a chuckle. “I just didn’t feel like I wanted to write stories about that experience of being a West Coast person finding their way in the world with stories set in New York, which is out of my reach at this point.”
For Attenberg, her research for a Manhattan that no longer exists proved to be difficult, if not for visualizing certain buildings and on Phillips’ former life as a good-time girl back in late-19th century who as strong as the drinks that flowed in the pre-Prohibition period as she banters a battle of wits with a potential client, but ended up seeing the city in a new way.
Left-right: Adrian Tomine and Jami Attenberg with host Sue Carter.
“(New York) is all about money now,” she lamented in the cost of living there financially and spiritually. “It’s really, I could talk about this for a really long time, but I think it’s a city for rich people and it’s hard to afford to live there now. And so that’s the kind of thing that the city has lost, but it has a lot of energy and a lot of communities and neighbourhoods which that came across in the book.”
Now the father of two young daughters, Tomine didn’t set out to write certain stories about parenthood and its complications around it despite that Killing and Dying took six years to make, practically the lifespan of his children. “I think they came out of my subconscious, I didn’t sit down to write this book with any grand plan about the elements or what echoed around each story. When I started work on this book, I wasn’t a parent and now I have a six-year old and one-year old. And so I started the book in a situation where I committed to it under contract, it was already behind schedule when our first daughter came along, so especially when the “Hortisculpture” story was written outside the house at a café while I had an hour to get out of the house and tried to work. I reflected on where I was in my life.
“And when I look back on it now, I see a lot of the characters in it are some sort of combination of my own anxieties and my own fears in projecting into the future as a father, and also on the fathers that I had met through my own and other relatives. This was on my mind subconsciously, so it’s purely fictional and it was supposed to be a light-hearted story for “Hortisculpture.” It was going to be my Peanuts, like four-paneled gags and it was going to be funny family stuff! But in the order of the stories that I drew, it ended up being this guy breaking into someone else’s house (“Intruders”), all in the span of six years.”
Despite the huge shift of publishing going toward the digital domains, the authors still find a passion in doing things in print and that it hasn’t even fully hit those working in that realm. “I was doing some interviews for (Killing and Dying) and talked to a guy who works for a comic book website,” Tomine pointed out “as opposed to a newspaper and [I thought] here was one guy who knows everything about comic books and one of his questions was: ‘So I’m wondering what you’ve been up to? It’s been about four years since you published any comic books.’ And I said ‘I just had a comic book (Optic Nerve) out in May!’ So this guy was supposed to be in the industry and he didn’t even know that it had came out! Maybe it’s a sign that is one of an indulgence for me. I love doing comics in a comic-book form that’s exclusively for sale through those weird, eccentric comic book stores scattered across the world and it’s nice to break-up a project in portions other than having a book out every six years and not screwing up.”
As for Attenberg, she’s currently doing a work-in-progress that made something of a debut at IFOA that could be her follow up to Saint Maizie. “I have some things that I’ve worked on over the years and have thrown away. I work really, really fast and I’ve shown something to my agent and he’s going ‘Hmmm…alright, you’ll have to work on it’ and I’ll be ‘Oh, I have to work on this,’ she mockingly grumbled. “And then, in a way, it’s not good like I mean, it has to be salvaged to save time and things. And sometimes I think you do things to teach yourself how to write better than before. So I’m thinking this could be my next book, I just have to work it all out. I’m always churning things out, so I’ll have to have this thing finished by next summer or something like that. I actually started it a year ago and I didn’t like it, so instead I’ve decided to write a ghost story or then I’m like, I’ve decided to write a 1870s Chicago race story and then I’d decided I’ll just go back to my original book and experimenting with the characters involved.”
Left-right: Graphic novelists Adrian Tomine, Dylan Horrocks, Jillian Tamaki and host Evan Munday at the Round Table event Drawing (Graphic) Conclusions.
Drawing (Graphic) Conclusions
Lakeside Terrace, Bill Boyle Artsport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Saturday, October 24; 8:45 p.m.
For the gathering of today’s top graphic novelists as hosted by author Evan Munday, he asked Dylan Horrocks, Jillian Tamaki and Adrian Tomine to ask on their origins of their newest works, Canada’s Tamaki explained her Ignatz Award-winning webcomic SuperMutant Magic Academy grew out of a hobbyist thing she launched in 2010 that took a life on its own mainly as a spoofy knockoff on Harry Potter while grounding it in the tradition of a teenage angst, identity issues and the façades put up within; Horrocks as a experimental inspiration from French cartoonists wrapped up in a semi-autobiographical fantasy around his alter-ego, Sam, on a variety of topics – including an alternative history of his native New Zealand comic industry – in Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen, as Tomine wanted to wrestle with adult anxieties that come with marriage and parenthood in his most experimental project to date, Killing and Dying.
“I would take that history, which mix into it elements of an imaginary script which of what we might wish comics could be like,” Horrocks explained about his first book in ten years. “In the process, I wanted to reveal kind of a future-like scenario to explore which were not circumstraint by history. In Magic Pen, I guess I was I had some of the same impulses, but my relationship with comics became a lot more complicated. I used history to explore the inenviables and imagine the path of history just to reveal pockets of other darker comics.”
“Yeah, (SuperMutant Magic Academy) is kind of like a cynical, funny jab [at the fantasy genre],” Tamaki admitted in her subversive mini-comic series’ themes “like I’m going to hook you with this thing and then I’m going to spray like, teen drama all over you. And the relationship of (these) two characters being what real teenaged sexual repression is just like so dull and maddingly dull, and like horrifyingly, you’re just sexually repressed like it’s...‘That’s cool!’.
“I think that it’s so funny like teen drama gets dramatized way more exciting than it actually is. I teach a lot of young people and there’s some that are way too cool for you and stuff like that. So like there are mountains that are cracking on the inside [of you]. That’s what’s so fun about writing about teenagers and I think that’s why I feel like a kinship to that time, but it’s also very useful to me because it’s a time when you are so emotionally awakening, you know, and you’re feeling things for the first time like you feel empathetic and nihilistic, all these things are new to you and you’re making that observation for the first time like it’s a mundane fact of life.”
For Tomine, it was reflections on changes in his life he put into Killing and Dying that culminated in previous works Scenes from an Impending Marriage: A Prenuptial Memoir (2011) and New York Drawings (2012) about settling down, which worked their way into some of the six stories involved. “It was also a conscience decision on my part to move away from anything I was interested in working on that seemed just a little too much like the same subject matter that I’ve done over the last twenty years, off and on,” he said. “It’s just reflective of me getting older, too. I like realize that in the ten years I was living on my own in Berkeley and just being a full-time cartoonist, working for Drawn & Quarterly, putting out a comic book (Optic Nerve).
“And I could be totally oblivious in that bubble and now at this stage in my life, I’m sort of like the two ends of the life spectrum are intruding. Kids are being born, people are dying and you’re anxious about those things and I think, coming from both directions. I just think the book is about me trying to wrestle with those types of things and I try to disguise them as entertainment, that’s all.”
NEXT: Part 2 – Koffler@IFOA, Writers & Company’s 25th Anniversary Celebration and more. IFOA 2015 continues through Sunday (November 1). For tickets and information, call 416-973-4000 or ifoa.org.
PEN Canada's IFOA 2015 spotlights a group of secular Bangladeshi bloggers being murdered that made world headlines this year, among them being Avijit Roy (featured), for freely expressing their views on religion as guaranteed in their country.
Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights
by Salman Rushdie
286 pp., Knopf/Random House Canada
Getting back to his magic-realism roots for Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, circumnavigates around Salman Rushdie’s take on the One Thousand and One Nights wonder tales of Arabia – technically the timeframe connected to the book’s title – regarding the balance and imbalance of two millennia of storytelling coming into conflict in a compact and compelling tale that only he can tell for his twelfth novel.
As told by descendents one thousand years from now in the period known to them as The War of the Worlds, the story goes back to a Berber philosopher named Ibn Rushd in 1195 Arabic Spain and his union with a jinn princess Dunia who takes the form of a woman, both falling in love and bearing a succession of children with one common trait of having no earlobes. After their relationship disintegrates and their brood, the Duniazát, who spread over centuries and continents, a animosity between Rushd and his theologian rival, al-Ghazali brews between them over the nature of humanity.
Eight hundred years pass where one Raphael Maneszes, better known as Mr. Geronimo, is a modest gardener in present-day New York who wakes up after a torrential thunderstorm and finds himself able to levitate from the ground, among the other weird happenings around town including a newborn with the ability to detect the corrupt nature in people; a spiritually-wounded Teresa Saca with a streak of mean that’s about to be tapped and one budding graphic novelist, Jimmy Kapoor, who discovers a wormhole in his bedroom leading to another dimension that is connected to Peristan, the land of the jinn, opened by four destructive jinns, known as the Ifrifts, out for world domination in waves of massive destruction.
Out of this chaos brings Dunia back to Earth after a long absence who gathers up her Duniazát great-great-great-plus grandchildren, namely Mr. Geronimo and Kapoor among others; to help fight against the evil Ifrifts led by Zumurrad the Great who was influenced by the long-dead Ghazali’s misanthrope beliefs through his ghostly remains and his own personal experience with humans. What starts out as a battle to save both the human world and Peristan soon turns into a highly deadly battle for vengeance, as Mr. Geronimo looks on from his perspective on the War of the Worlds and his own quest for finding inner peace with his own troubled upbringing and lonely life.
Mix-matching pop culture, fantasy, socio-political commentary, satire and creating characters we care about, has always been Rushdie’s forte and he proves it again within Two Years as a modern story about the world’s age-old conflicts and our system of beliefs and norms getting challenged and questioned that is often funny, sometimes serious and most times thoughtful and well-versed in the content serving as a mirror to our own times of unreason and the uncertainties lying ahead.
A mini-epic on its own conviction, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights spellbinds the Rushdie reader into these worlds he brings together from its somewhat humble beginning to its climatic end with a just one doleful consequence by the heroes and heroines of the novel in what price is paid in a war of any kind, but at least there leaves hope in the aftermath that ensues.
Killing and Dying
by Adrian Tomine
121 pp., Drawn & Quarterly/Raincoast Books
Graphic Novel and Comics/Fiction/Short Story
Award-winning cartoonist/illustrator Adrian Tomine collects six of his recent short stories as published in his groundbreaking Optic Nerve comic book series, putting them into the collection Killing and Dying which takes a dynamic look at the realism behind the façade of the American Dream of ordinary peoples’ lives with some dark melodrama and seriocomic moments that he’s noted for does not disappoint in the least in his usage of old-school and new-school cartoon artistry within the pages.
The first one “Hortisculpture” has that pre-1990s serial touch of black-and-white four-panel weeklies and full-colour Sunday pages of landscaper Harold living a regular life with a loving wife and young family in the suburbs, suddenly becomes inspired with creating a hybrid art form of sculpture and landscaping – hortisculpture – after reading a quote from the Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguichi (1904-88) that becomes a six-year obsession for him, but often gets crushed by his own insecurity and frustrations in his quixotic quest in trying to gain its acceptance.
“Amber Sweet” is a straight-forward tale of mistaken identity in the internet age where one Californian college co-ed gets constantly referred to by an online porn star who’s a splitting image of her in looks and namesake with often unwanted attention by fans and complicates relationships, until fate makes the two cross each others’ paths with unpredictable results.
The May-December relationship-gone-wrong story “Go Owls” sees a young woman hooking up with a middle-age man attendee, Dennis Barry, at an Alcoholics Anonymous session in some unnamed city. Immediately moving in with him, she discovers that despite their one common connection that they’re huge fans of the local Owls baseball team; Dennis is a pot-smoking dealer and slacker with a dumbed-down attitude towards life who gets physically and mentally abusive with her, completely the opposite in trying to straighten out her own life.
“Translated, from the Japanese,” is the shortest one in the collection of a pan-Pacific travelogue using just visuals and very little or no people of a woman travelling with her young daughter on a Osaka-San Francisco flight in returning to America where her university professor husband is situated, with all the millings of culture shock and uncertainty of relocation unfurling in her mind.
The titular story looks at teenager Jesse, a budding stand-up comedian with a slight stuttering problem, tries to learn the tricks of her trade through a Learning Annex course with a supportive mother and a less-than-encouraging father in her pursuit of this career path, while over a period of time of its ups and downs from Jessie struggling to find her voice and talent at nightclubs through the loss of her mother to cancer that both in the end try to cope with and each other.
“Intruders” uses a two-tone panelized telling of a nameless, sullen discharged veteran returning from a tour of duty without much of a goal in life and a broken marriage until he runs into an acquaintance who used to housesit for him and his ex in their old apartment. Giving him the keys, he develops a pattern of illegally entering and leaving the place while the current resident goes about their workday, basically reliving a life that no longer exists until circumstances force him to leave it all behind.
Memory, identity and relationships are behind all the stories be it about the feeling of disconnection of culture and familiarity in “Translated,” the soul searches found in “Go Owls” and the title story itself to the realization of learning to move on in life without making peace with the past for “Intruders” takes the motion of the everyday lives of people put into the exceptionally crafted artwork and style as created by Tomine that certainly feels realistic in his approach.
Sad and funny all at once in the stories within Killing and Dying, it does lends itself that life’s moments (and comics) doesn’t always have that happy ending we’d all like to have that the author embellishes that notion in mirroring the feelings and fears that all beings share.
©2014-2017 Julian Bynoe/Snow Leopard ArtsEntertainment. All rights reserved.