A female graphic novel memoirist who hails from anywhere remotely near the Middle East will inevitably be compared to Marjane Sartrapi and her Persepolis.
Persepolis was the first graphic novel that I ever bought. And as I am a loyal library user (and a miser) I tend to not buy books, apart from my birthday binge bargain books buy once a year. So it’s kind of saying a lot when I tell you that I actually bought a book!
So anyway it seems that female graphic novel memoirists these days has to come up with a new tactic, something different to make their story stand out. Because no longer is it unique to simply (I use the word ‘simply’ here very loosely as I’m pretty sure it’s a complicated process coming up with a graphic novel. And I truly admire anyone who can draw. Let’s just say that my double-decker bus looks like a big rectangle with wheels. Still my vehicle-obsessed toddler is happy) draw a graphic novel of one’s experiences in life.
With Nylon Road, Parsua Rashi, an Iranian living in Zurich, draws upon herself. More specifically, different versions of herself at various points in her life. Like the 35-year-old version of her, at a time when she was at her most patriotic. Her 16-year-old self in 1982, the second year of the Iran-Iraq war. She relives the many changes in her life, her past decisions and regrets.
I especially like that little bit where Pasua shows herself reading Persepolis, as she probably knows everyone will compare it to her book.
Zeina Abirached takes a different route with A Game for Swallows. She focuses on one night. One night in the life of the residents of this building in Beirut, Lebanon. Zeina’s parents leave to visit her grandmother, just down the road technically, but because of a sniper’s location, the roads are no longer the way to get around (see the picture above). It’s about knowing where to hide, and when, where the obstacles are, where to climb, where to jump, where to crouch, where to wait and where to run run run. No longer is a trip to grandmother’s house (or any errand anywhere) just a skip and a stroll but it is a duck-and-hide, dicey, potentially fatal task. Luckily their neighbours are like family and stay with the children, baking a cake, sharing drinks and chitchatting about everything.
It is terrifying and yet humorous. There is such familiarity as the neighbours sit around, drink and snack, reminisce and joke. But there is always that nagging thought, are their parents ok? The telephone lines are rather unreliable so it is hard to even get a simple message through.
A Game for Swallows is first and foremost gorgeous. Its use of black and white is so effective. And the heartfelt stories of the various residents of this building are wonderfully told. One of my favourite reads of the month.
Derek Kirk Kim’s Same Difference is a little closer to home, literally. It’s situated in the San Francisco Bay Area – Oakland, Pacifica, places I live driving distance from. Fantastic illustrations. A story about regrets – for Simon, it is about the way he treated his high school friend Irene, who is blind. His friend Nancy’s problem is more current, she’s been receiving mail intended for someone who used to live at her apartment and replying to those letters as a joke. The two of them head to Pacifica to find this poor love-struck fellow.
It’s a story in which nothing earth-shattering happens. I guess it’s like its illustrative style. Simple and modern.
And phew. I finally finished Epileptic. I have never been so relieved to finish a graphic novel.
It was so very intense a read. David B’s brother is epileptic and his parents are desperate to find a cure. So they turn to alternative medicines, from a macrobiotic diet to Swedenborgian spiritualists.
It is a nightmarish, obsessive work. It’s not just about epilepsy taking both its emotional and physical toll on his brother but about how David B himself tries to understand, to handle it, ultimately, descending into a sort of madness of his own, one which he masks with his art, his obsession with epic battles, imaginary mythical companions and with his own dreams, often less bizarre and dark than his renderings of his childhood.
Reading Epileptic is like burrowing into something so deep and dark that the reader often finds herself gasping for air. But it is just absolutely, luminously brilliant.