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Posts Tagged ‘graphic novels’

In Brief

April 3, 2014 | by

bintel

From the cover of Liana Finck’s A Binkel Brief.

Dear Editor,
I am a Russian revolutionist and a freethinker. Here in America I became acquainted with a girl who is also a freethinker. We decided to marry, but the problem is that she has Orthodox parents, and for their sake we must have a religious ceremony. If we refuse the ceremony we will be cut off from them forever. Her parents also want me to go to the synagogue with them before the wedding, and I don’t know what to do. Therefore I ask
you to advise me how to act.
Respectfully,
J. B.

Answer: The advice is that there are times when it pays to give in to old parents and not grieve them. It depends on the circumstances. When one can get along with kindness it is better not to break off relations with the parents.

You have probably heard of “A Bintel Brief,” the famous Yiddish advice column that ran in Der Forvertz, guiding several generations of newly arrived Jewish immigrants through the confusions of the new world. Penned by editor Abraham Cahan, the column, which has been anthologized, makes for evocative reading. It’s often heartbreaking and sometimes funny; the tersely definitive responses are compassionate and generally wise.

It was with great pleasure, then, that I came upon a copy of Liana Finck’s new graphic novel, A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York. Finck illustrates a number of the “Bintel Brief” letters—from an educated young woman engaged to an old-world greenhorn; from a poor mother whose watch has been stolen by an even poorer friend; from a cuckolded husband—but she does more than that. She speculates about what might have happened to the writers. She illustrates unspoken byplay, read between the lines. She records her own reactions. In so doing, she brings an entirely new dimension to what has become, for modern readers, a portal into a world that feels impossibly distant. It is about nostalgia, yes—Finck would not have been alive when the column ran—but it is also about how we engage with the past. The letters alone feel like such an anachronism.

But are they? Funnily enough, I was reading through Finck’s book, which I have been meting out like a treat, when a friend sent me this. It’s gotten some exposure on Reddit, as one might expect.

There is one particularly moving letter that Finck chooses to illustrate, in which the survivor of a pogrom wonders whether to uproot his elderly father, now alone, and bring him to safety in America. Cahan wrote, “For various reasons we need to answer this heart-wrenching letter privately. The writer should send us his full address.”

 

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Heroes of the Civil Service: An Interview with Antonin Baudry

April 2, 2014 | by

Antonin Baudry 2013 photo credit clarisse rebotier

Antonin Baudry, 2013. Photo: Clarisse Rebotier

In 2010, a graphic novel, Quai D’Orsay, was published in France under a pseudonym, causing a quiet sensation. Set in, of all places, the Foreign Ministry, Quai D’Orsay starred a young speechwriter frantically learning on the job—the novel featured recognizable public figures, including the foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, who famously said non to the war in Iraq.

In France, graphic novels, or comic books (bandes dessinées), are a revered venue for pointed satire. The bestseller’s author, it turned out, was a wunderkind former staffer for Villepin named Antonin Baudry. A man of varied passions—board games, Metallica, Greek philosophy—Baudry is currently the French Cultural Counselor for the U.S. Last fall, he adapted the graphic novel for the big screen. The resulting film, The Minister, became an instant hit in France, earning the rookie screenwriter a nomination for a César, the French Oscar. The Minister is now showing (under the title The French Minister) at select theaters in the U.S., including the IFC Center, in New York; the graphic novel is available in English under the title Weapons of Mass Diplomacy.

Sitting in his cavernous office in the French embassy, overlooking Central Park, the informal diplomat says he would love to try another graphic novel “on globalism, set in the Middle Ages.”

Both in the graphic novel and the movie, you make it seem as if you hadn’t the slightest qualification to write speeches for the foreign minister. Is that true?

Yes. I didn’t have the background that all the people there had at all. I had never met a politician before. I had never met a diplomat. What happened was that Dominique de Villepin was looking for young people from different universes to write for him. He heard through a mutual friend that I had done master’s theses in math and literature, and he wanted to meet me. I totally panicked. I said to my friend, Why did you do this to me? I had to buy a suit. The minister received me at the Quai D’Orsay, and it was just like being hypnotized. He explained a lot of things to me and everything seemed clear, and then when I left, I couldn’t remember a thing. And there was this time pressure. He said I had to answer within twenty-four hours because we were possibly on the eve of a Third World War. I was twenty-six, and I thought, Why not? I’d done academic writing and I knew I wanted to write novels. I accepted the job because I think many writers have no experience of the world. I once worked for the sanitation department in Berlin, cleaning the streets at five in the morning. I loved it for the same reason—it gave me the chance to observe another universe instead of staying in my room, contemplating myself. Read More »

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The Silent Treatment

February 13, 2014 | by

On Art Spiegelman’s new stage show, Wordless!

Photo: Robert Kozloff/The University of Chicago

Photo: Robert Kozloff/The University of Chicago

In 1970, when Art Spiegelman was twenty-two, he went to a gallery opening in Binghamton, New York, for an exhibition of woodcuts by Lynd Ward. Spiegelman wanted to tell Ward how much he admired the wordless novels the artist had made in the 1930s, but also, and no less importantly, he wanted to ask him what his favorite comic books were. The way Spiegelman tells it, the sixty-five-year-old Ward was gracious but confused: he didn’t know much about comics; his Methodist minister father had forbidden them. Ward’s woodcut novels, which blended Depression-era social realism with a Faustian sense of good and evil, owed more to the biblical engravings of Gustave Doré than they did to the Sunday funnies. Spiegelman didn’t get the comics talk he came for, but he spent some time in the gallery, studying those prints. Two years later, he composed a four-page comic about his guilt over his mother’s suicide. It was just a few panels, but their startling intimacy set the pattern for much of his later work, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Maus, in which they were later included. Spiegelman titled that short comic “Prisoner on the Hell Planet,” and in its stark style and pitch-black outlook, you can see the influence of Ward’s woodcuts.

Spiegelman has given Ward’s novels a central role in Wordless!, the new stage show he created with the composer Phillip Johnston, and which the two men presented twice last Saturday to sold-out crowds at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts. Wordless! weaves together Spiegelman’s reflections on the history of wordless novels with slide show projections of the genre’s classic works, which Johnston and his sextet accompany with rollicking, klezmer-inflected, vaudeville jazz. The back-and-forth between lecture and performance neatly captured Spiegelman’s ambivalence about his role on stage. On the one hand, he was a comic artist on a mission, there to add a new branch to the family tree of the graphic novel, one that would demonstrate the genre’s deep roots and help solidify its place in the canon of “real literature.” Mostly though, Spiegelman was having fun. He was there to give the crowd what he had sought from Ward: a conversation about some of his favorite comics and a taste of the overwhelming pleasure they give him. “Don’t worry if you get a little lost while you’re watching,” he reassured his listeners between puffs on his e-cigarette. “I’m hoping you will careen between my words and these picture stories until you’re left as breathlessly unbalanced as I am.” Read More »

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Underwear Life: An Interview with Francesco Pacifico

March 12, 2013 | by

9780374270445_p0_v1_s260x420Francesco Pacifico’s novel The Story of My Purity is narrated by Piero Rosini. This Piero seems like most other modern schlubs—thirty, overweight, bourgeois, in a sexless marriage, you know it—but the thing that makes him unusual is his deep belief in Christ. This is the most Catholic narrator in contemporary literature. He is also the funniest Catholic narrator in contemporary literature. And what happens to Piero is some kind of picaresque adventure that takes him from Rome to Paris and beyond, into all the problems of his innocence. What else do you need to know about Piero’s creator? Francesco Pacifico is also a translator from English into Italian, and translation is something we talk about a lot. In fact, he has almost definitely read more fiction in English than you have. And if an inglese italianato is the devil incarnate, then what does that make an italiano americano? I just mean that Francesco Pacifico is one of the least innocent novelists I know.

There’s a moment where Piero says “nobody’s Roman,” and this setting of Rome is crucial to the book’s opening. So my first question is, are you Roman?

I am, and I’m not. I was born in Rome and have lived there all my life. But I don’t know how to cook trippa and pajata, I know nothing of Rome’s cuisine pauvre, my family’s half-assed culinary traditions are half abbruzzese and half everything. My father’s side comes from L’Aquila, Abbruzzio, where my granddad’s family was big during the Fascist era, or so I’m told. My mother’s side is from everywhere, the hills of Sabina, and remotely Spain and France, and they travelled the country as my granddad was an engineer for the electric company—Milan, Genoa, Terni. I don’t feel Roman. You can spot a real Roman from miles. Savvy, gritty, ironic. I’m not.

And now—to keep with first things first—could you talk a little about this theme of purity? It seems such a gorgeously perverse subject for a contemporary novel. What’s the beauty of purity?

I experimented with not having sex for years. And I am a renowned lover of women. There was a time in my midtwenties where I thought of my life as an ongoing piece of performance art, and I realized the big thing I should try was to stop having sex. I had this romantic view of my love for my girlfriend being exalted and enhanced by abstinence. I became impotent. Read More »

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