Posts Tagged ‘sad comics’

Lighter than My Shadow – Katie Green

Lighter than My Shadow  was one of my picks in our 2013 year-in-review podcast. It’s the best Sad Comics I’ve read in a while, and definitely one of the better comics I read last year. It’s acute and painful, and sometimes hopeful, and it’s beautifully produced and drawn.

Lighter Than My Shadow - Katie GreenYou need to be having a good day to get through it, and even then the odds are fair that it’ll make you cry.

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Sad Comics Reviewed – The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln

Quick bit of due diligence to get out of the way first: this is not the first book I’ve read about the melancholy of Abraham Lincoln (that honour goes to this one). But Noah Van Sciver’s graphic take on the subject, whilst overlapping a fair bit with Joshua Wolf Shenk’s study, is fresh, charming and probably a much better introduction. In case the mental state of the 16th president is something you’re interested in. Which you definitely should be.

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Sad Comics Reviewed: When David Lost His Voice

David’s first grandchild has just been born when he learns that he has terminal cancer. When David Lost His Voice, by Belgian comics artist Judith Vanistendael, is the story of David’s last days, framed through the lens of his experiences and those of the women around him. This is sad comics fare on a number of levels: the English translation (from the original Dutch) is beautiful and poignant, the artwork is watercoloury and lovely, and cancer is definitely one of the sadder things to make comics about. Top five at the very least.

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Sad Comics Reviewed: Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes

Good news, everyone! Comics aren’t just for kids any more! I know we’ve been saying this for a while – about Watchmen, about Fun Home, about Maus – but we really mean it this time. Adults of impeccable taste who enjoy really good books, as long as they’re reliably proven to be literature by the judges of major literary prizes sponsored by famous coffee chains, are finally allowed to read stuff that comes with pictures as well as text. Huzzah!

Now, I don’t begrudge Dotter of her Father’s Eyes its success. I don’t begrudge it anything, in fact, because it’s splendid. It combines two of my favourite ographies, biography and autobiography, and does so with aplomb. If you’re not familiar with Mary Talbot’s work on critical discourse analysis, or Bryan Talbot’s stint at 2000AD in the eighties and/or taste in bad puns, there’s no need to worry. Even if you weren’t lucky enough (as at least two thirds of the ConSequential team were) to see Bryan bumming a smoke off someone outside the main hall at Thought Bubble this year, you’ve got nothing to worry about with Dotter. It’s both charming and accessible. Maybe that’s why fancy people love it so much.

I should confess at this point that I, too, am fancy people.

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Not My Bag

Not My Bag - Sina Grace closeup1

Appropriately for a book that is at least in part about the lure of luxury aesthetics, Not My Bag is a gorgeous piece of publishing deign. The endpapers are a grey marl like polished concrete, the print stock is thick, the type is clear and stylish – it’s beautiful  and it should probably have been a hardback.

In it, Sina Grace (Books with Pictures,  Lil’ Depressed Boy, and Cedric Hollows) recounts his days working in a department store, being sucked into its high-competition, high-fashion world, and going just slightly mad at the edges. It’s not quite Sad Comics, but it’s definitely black and white, slice of life, nodding to Blankets comics. That may not be a genre, but it’s certainly a recognizable package of styles.

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Sad Comics Reviewed – The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song


The Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song

It’s often said that there’s something out there for everyone, and I knew from the moment I saw some of the preview pages from The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song that it would be absolute catnip for me. Frank M. Young and David Lasky, with the help of 150 or so Kickstarter backers, have pulled off something very special. It also happens to be a perfect constellation of my interests: comics, sadness, biography and folk music, set against the somewhat dour backdrop of rural early 20th century America.

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Sad Comics Reviewed: Ellerbisms

I finished Marc Ellerby’s Ellerbisms over the weekend. It was both a quick read and a good one. What with the nice colouring on the cover (yep, I judge books by their covers too) and with Marc Ellerby being such a genial chap when I met him for all of thirty seconds at this year’s Thought Bubble, I didn’t immediately peg Ellerbisms as sad comics. From the blurb on the back of the printed edition* – “A relationship told in pictures through the autobiographical comics of Marc Ellerby, Ellerbisms catches a glimpse into the life of a young couple, their highs and lows, their sighs and lols.” – it could have gone either way.

And there’s a lot of light-hearted stuff to be found in the pages of Ellerbisms. Plenty of the strips are about two young people geeking out over stuff and being in love. It’s very sweet and very funny in many places. In others, it’s pretty desperately sad. And, every now and then, it goes to some really rather dark places. As much as it’s about a couple of kids in love, it’s also about a young guy trying to process some difficult experiences, and the fact that Ellerbisms is autobiographical means that that processing feels truer and rawer, perhaps, than if the same themes had been presented behind the veil of fiction.

The fact that they’re daily diary snapshots (“The idea of Ellerbisms originally was to take a moment of the day, no matter how trivial and small it seemed, and illustrate it as a comic in a Moleskine sketchbook”**), and not just autobiographical comics, has some pretty interesting ramifications in terms of the overall narrative. Ellerby is fairly upfront about the fact that he used the collation of a series of strips which were originally webcomics into a printed book as an opportunity to give the narrative more shape, but it’s still fragmented – much more so than anything with a more traditional narrative style – and the prologue and epilogue which were added to round out the story for the print edition share this fragmentation rather than easing it.

The strips are small scenes from a greater life, the details of which we as readers are not totally privy to. We’re left to fill in the gaps – both literally and emotionally – between the events Ellerby depicts, and this process of constantly playing catchup within the shifting scenes of two people’s relationship is both fascinating and exhausting. Ellerbisms drags the reader through a series of emotional cruxes (often the things which naturally would have stood out on any given day – it’s not a surprise that this is the stuff he picked to draw) with minimal explanation or editorialising. And it’s this, I think, which gives Ellerbisms a lot of its rawness and power as a story and as a book.

It’s not all dark, and there are plenty of cameos and in-jokes for anyone even fleetingly familiar with the UK (and occasionally transatlantic) comics scene – my favourite being “Jamie McKelvie appears courtesy of Kieron Gillen” – but Ellerbisms is, at its heart, a comic about love and loss. They’re very human themes, and Ellerby handles them tenderly and largely without comment, which is adds to the emotional potency of his treatment.

It’s a charming, sweet and funny book, the art is lovely and I thoroughly recommend it – but Ellerbisms is definitely sad comics.

* I’m aware that this tactic is the blog review equivalent of opening an essay or presentation on any given topic with the dictionary definition of that topic, but bear with me here.

** Marc Ellerby himself, in the introduction to the print version

Why Sad Comics?

Let’s talk comics. Sad comics, specifically. After all, comics aren’t just for kids any more, and I’m very interested in the darker side of things. This isn’t much of a surprise – I started out as a strange, morbid child reading 19th century children’s novels (the kind where someone dies of scarlet fever or typhus once every twenty pages or so), graduating onto Will Self and Don DeLillo and all kinds of disturbing postmodern shit by my early teens. Not to mention a meandering detour through the sad lady novelists of the last fifty or so years, from The Bell Jar and Girl, Interrupted through to Prozac Nation. I prefer my melancholy anatomised and my demons noonday. The sad comics were waiting for me, and I was waiting for them.

But there were obstacles standing between us. Mostly the fact that I’d spent those dour
teenage years modelling myself as a serious student of literature, and then went straight
from that youthful posturing to fancying around in a ludicrous neoclassical enclave. I
meant serious business, and comics were not serious business. Oh, sure, I took the odd
foray here and there. I delved into the Sandman series in my second year, smugly
appreciating the Shakespeare-y bit, and someone forced Watchmen into my hands about
six months before the film came out. I liked both comics a great deal, but had no idea there
was more (equally good, much sadder) stuff out there. I had no one to curate my first
tentative steps into the world of comics, and no real idea where to begin.

Fortunately, all of that changed at the beginning of 2011. A dear friend gave me a copy of
Fun Home, and it legitimately changed my life. Fun Home was my road to Damascus. The
scales fell from my eyes. Until that moment, I’d had no idea that comics could be so good.
Or so sad. It became my litmus test – my Bechdel test, almost, if that weren’t already
something awesome – and I spent the rest of the year trying desperately to find something
sequential that pushed every single one of my buttons in the same way. It took a lot longer
than it should have to properly plug into the specific kinds of comics that happen to get me
going, which is mostly the reason I want to write up some reviews and do a bit more
exploration of the subgenre: so that today’s sad kids can find more of the good stuff and
less of the less good stuff*, and more quickly.

Since then, I’ve been very lucky in finding comics which hammer on my sad, sad buttons
like nothing else. Stuff which lights up every miserable neuron the way Fun Home did
when I first tore through it in the space of an afternoon, gasping at every crisp, unhappy
turn. And I want to share them with the world – few are as well-known as Bechdel’s recent
work, but many are just as good.

After all, misery loves company. So join me. Let’s dive into the slough of despond.

*There are plenty of comics out there which look or sound, on cursory inspection, like sad
comics. And yet they are not. It’s a dangerous liminal space, and I’d like to guide as many
miserable children through it safely as I can.