LONG FORM COMICS NOW: A SELECTION

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Here is an assortment of five long form comics published in 2020 that you can pick up and read. They are chosen by the comics enthusiast, Pinaki De.

1. The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist (2020)
Adrian Tomine
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly

In his latest outing, Tomine departs his characteristic style, laying bare the disappointments, humiliations and professional slights in his journey from a self- publishing prodigy to an internationally regarded cartoonist. In a series of autobiographical sketches from childhood to the present day, Tomine casts a cynical and unforgiving eye on his fragile ego, the dubious rewards of his successful career and the absurdity of the comic- book industry.

His care to attention to detail is indicative in his approach of storytelling. He forges intimate bonds with readers by capturing universal fears in a handful of minimal panels – the fear of failure, the uncertainty of what we dedicate our careers to, and the everyday apprehension of navigating through our lives. This personalised approach is further emphasised in the format of the book which resemble a notebook or a diary –squared paper, faux-leather cover with an elasticated band across the front.

2. Paying the Land (2020)
Joe Sacco
Publisher: Metropolitan Books

This is Joe Sacco’s first book since the stunning The Great War: July 1, 1916 (2013) and it’s well worth the wait. He spent six weeks reporting with the Dene people, a native society with deep roots in the Mackenzie River Valley in Canada’s Northwest Territories. When Charles II handed those areas over to the Hudson’s Bay Company, the indigenous Metis and Dene population were not even asked. Apart from the small matter of land ownership, the arrangement was mutually beneficial. In the late 1800s, when oil and gold was found, “the Dominion extended its control not by the slaughter —that defined the white race south of the national border—but clinically, methodically, and administratively – through treaties.”

These treaties required the Dene and Metis to “cede, release, surrender and yield … their rights, title, privileges … for $5 a year, for some bullets and fishnets”, a baffling exchange. The exploitation has continued in various forms ever since. Part of what makes Sacco’s portrayal so masterful is his proficiency as a journalist; he uses the real words of Dene citizens to tell their stories, augmenting them with his extraordinary artistic insight. Here the visual format of graphic reportage helps, because it enables Sacco to introduce himself to the reader in a more direct and compelling way than prose text might allow. He does so with humility, depicting as an outsider, with limited knowledge who is entering a new subject area about which he himself hopes to learn as well as educate his readers.

3. Lupus (2020)
Frederik Peeters
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions

Though never been released in English before, Lupus is actually Swiss cartoonist Frederik Peeters’ first work after his sensational Blue Pills, a memoir about his HIV positive partner and her son. The book is an interplanetary sci fi epic woven around its eponymous character, Lupus Lablennorre. Like a cosmic Odysseus, he wanders from planet to planet, haunted by his past. It starts as a drug-fuelled fishing trip with his old pal, Tony. However, it’s their encounter with Sanaa, a beautiful runaway, that changes the tone of the trip. When tragedy strikes, they’re forced to flee to new worlds, each offering many ways to disappear. But Lupus gradually discovers that the umbilical chords of friendship, love, and family are not severed so easily. Peeters’ smudgy expressive black and white brushwork gives the story a dreamy, intimate feeling. In this sweeping work, Peeters shows that he has a great vision for the contemplative and intellectual aspects of storytelling that science fiction offers, in contrast to the action-oriented products that dominate the genre in our popular culture.

4. The Man Without Talent (2020)
Yoshiharu Tsuge
Publisher: New York Review Comics

The Man Without Talent is a contemplative long form comic by the cult Japanese manga artist Yoshiharu Tsuge. Originally serialized in the quarterly magazine Comics Baku from 1985–6, it now appears in English for the first time in a translation by the comics historian Ryan Holmberg.

Holmberg informs us that the book belongs to the genre of the shishōsetsu, or “I-novel”, a Japanese confessional form. Tsuge’s semi-autobiographical novel tells the tale of a former mangaka, Sukezō Sukegawa, who, disenchanted with the comics industry, quits drawing and embarks on a series of fruitless get-rich-quick schemes, including renovating antique cameras and selling rocks by the Tama river, an absurdly Sisyphean venture.

Sukezō wants to flee the chains of existence, but the domestic circumstances that imprison him are also his greatest refuge. In the novel’s bleakest moments, Sukezō’s son always arrives just in time to save him with the rallying cry, “Daddy. It’s time to come home”. Tsuge saves his most intricately illustrated panels for the most moving moments of silence and reflection. The result is a deeply philosophical parable about capitalism, art and beauty, and the pressures of modern life.

5. The Piano (2020)
Nandita Basu
Publisher: Duckbill Books

Basu’s debut, The Piano is a story of a special friendship – between a lonely girl Meera and a piano (aptly named “Marcus Aurelius”) which she came to own in 1992. Meera observes, “As I was searching for my friend, my friend was searching for me.” Multiple contexts are neatly woven through it, including both the World Wars, India’s freedom struggle and the global economic meltdown of 1997. The heart-warming moments of solitude in this slim book are beautifully illustrated and narrated. At the end of the narrative, Basu narrates the bond she shares with her own piano, offering an origin story of sorts