Wednesday, February 28, 2007

realms of experience

One of the things I value most about reading is the ability of a well written book to put you into a world outside of your realm of experience. With much of my fiction reading those worlds are outside everyone's realm of experience, I don't know anyone whose lived through "the Princess Bride" or Pullmans "His dark materials" books. They are fantasy and are given meaning through the skill of the writer in creating "real" characters and situations within the fantasy that have greater resonance with the world outside. Then there's Walter Mosely's "Little Scarlet" set in the aftermath of the Watts riots in LA at the tale end of the 60's. I have no idea what it would be like to ride a segregated bus, to be threatened by police or attacked by strangers because of the colour of my skin but reading Mosely's Easy Rawlins books I can get a small insight. Mosely captures the sense of fear and anger that comes from living in such a world so well that it becomes tangible and it's made all the more real when you read of gangs attacking a mna simply for being Polish or black teenagers being shot in London.

We live in a country where racism is still institutionalised to too great an extent and a chance to walk in another man's shoes gives you a chance to see your part in this evil and see what it's like on the other side.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

viral enteritis and vampires

two weeks of viral gastro enteritis, so I've done little more than read over the last fortnight. No work, rarely out of the house but my mind has been busy getting out and about into fictional worlds.

Just finished Joann Sfarr's "Vampire Loves". Never read Sfarr before although I knew of him and after this I will give anything with his name on it a close look. Despite the vampire and monster theme prevailant among the characters I can think of few books that seemed more autobiographical. The book is a collection of four french albums telling, primarily, of the romantic misadventures of Ferdinand, the vampire, and his circle of friends and aquaintances. The mixture of romantically confused characters carrying torches for loves unrequited and failing to find love in other places has the potential of turning into crass soap opera but never makes it thanks to the believably awkward dialogue that characterises each coupling and encounter. Ferdinand is suprised, and I think a little horrified, when the woman he moons after rejects him but the women he treats with disdain seem to love him all the more. An experience that has to be almost universal.

Another plus for the book is the scratchy, shakey, heavily rendered artwork. European comics seem to have an interesting dichotomy in art styles. The European split seems to be between the "ligne claire" of Herge and his ilk and the blotchy and scratchy pen work of Sfarr and people like Tardi. Although each school runs a gamut of styles from realistic to cartoony there are few artists I can look at and not put into one camp or another. Sfarr is slightly reminiscient of people like Glen Dakin in the organic fluidity of his art style and the surreal nature of his stories. Like Dakin, Sfarr is much more concerned with the relationships between his characters and uses his art to emphasise the nature of each of them. Ferdinand, the Vampire, insecure and dreamy, is drawn spindly and angular, staring at his shoes as he flies. The treeman is solid and reliable in appearance and this is how he is perceived by the other characters although the changability of his appearance demonstrates his inner conflicts.

Despite connections to Sfarrs "Little Vampire" this isn't a kids book like his "Sardine" volumes. There is little action or excitement in the conventional sense but once they've felt the pangs of a first unrequited love this book will speak volumes to the reader.

Oliver Jeffers

Lost and Found, How to catch a star, Oliver Jeffers is a wonderful creator of kids picture books with a captivating, ethereal style that is actually enjoyable to read to a child several days in a row. His website is somewhat slow loading but a treasure trove of wonders. , visit if you've time on your hands.