Thursday, March 14, 2013

Quick Hits: Delicate Creatures, Persepolis, and Last Day in Vietnam

Delicate Creatures
by J. Michael Straczynski
Art by Michael Zulli
Top Cow/Image, 2001
Reviewed in this week's Quick Hits, three works that reflect on the cost of war and revolution, in two memoirs and a modern fantasy.

Delicate Creatures is often listed as one of J. Michael Straczynski's graphic novels, but this is not a comic by any standard - it's an illustrated novella in album format, featuring art by Michael Zulli. At first blush a light modern fantasy story about tiny whimsical children's story characters living within the walls of a castle in war-torn Europe, it quickly evolves into a parable of loss, pain, freedom, death and revenge as these creatures witness and try to come to terms with the horrors of human war and occupation unfolding before them. Soon, one of these Delicate Creatures intervenes in the conflict with ramifications that can destroy everything around them. Straight-forward, beautiful, and heart-breaking, the only weakness is in the art which again isn't any kind of graphic narrative but simple representative fantasy illustration. Straczynski's exemplary storytelling takes the forefront in this, one of his better early works.

The Complete Persepolis
by Marjane Satrapi
Pantheon, 2007
Marjane Satrapi was 8 years old when the revolution started. Born into relative wealth and comfort in a western, modern Iran, it was in her formative years that a popular uprising unseated the US-friendly Shah in favor of a restrictive, conservative theocratic government. This was an uprising committed by the people, against the people. In her stunning and influential memoir Persepolis (originally serialized in France by L'Association), Satrapi tells her story and her country's story with gripping simplicity from the perspective of a child witness to the confusion and loss that such a revolution (and resultant brutal war with Iraq) can cause. The revolution and war took its toll on her home country and her people and played a unique role in her own personal development. While uneven in its second half, the narrative hits all the right notes in a fascinating and brutally honest character study flawlessly interwoven with the developing cultural history of one of the world's oldest and most complex countries. Perceptive, entertaining, educating, Persepolis is one of the new century's truly required reads, a graphic novel of unique power and importance, a vital historical document and startlingly fresh and important work in the often uninteresting genre of the graphic memoir.

Last Day in Vietnam
by Will Eisner
Dark Horse, 2000/2013
While not the inventor of the graphic novel, Will Eisner is often duly credited with popularizing the term and the form - although many of his works were in reality collections of short stories. Last Day in Vietnam, his 2000 collection re-released last week in a fantastic new edition by Dark Horse, is one of his most focused and best. A memoir of his experiences in World War II as a soldier and later conflicts as a military journalist, most of the short stories are simply told in engaging, first-person vignettes, relating tales that re funny, thought-provoking, and most of all honest and real. The collection's concluding comic, A Purple Heart for George, is an astonishingly concise synthesis of story and art, relating in less than ten pages one of the Second World War's tiny personal tragedies in a conflict full of them. It's works like that again put Eisner on the map after an already long and influential career, one of the medium's true giants.

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