Dan Archer has some interesting reporting in the BBC News magazine today. He has a comic story about human trafficking in Nepal. Instead of writing a traditional narrative, Archer turned his report into a comic. Some of it is typically “illustrated narrative,” but that seems unavoidable in such a comic. This is a new area of journalism that is being explored by the BBC, so kudos to them.
The watercolor is very nice, but most importantly, this is a good piece of journalism with multiple sources and quotes that fits well into the comic format. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more of this from Archer and the BBC.
“Madam & Eve” is a daily comic strip published in twelve South African newspapers and one Namibian newspaper. Since 1992, “Madam & Eve” has followed the intertwined lives of Madam Gwen Anderson, a greedy white woman, and Eve Sisulu, a maid looking for a raise.
Two years before the strip began, Apartheid was still in practice. Two years after the strip began, the first free elections were held. Thus, the strip has endured many of the social, political, and cultural changes in South Africa. Although the strip revolves around Madam and Eve, it frequently takes character breaks to satirize national themes, such as political parties, corruption, and racism. President Jacob Zuma and his African National Congress are frequent targets for the comic, as is Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.
Nevertheless, the main theme of “Madam & Eve” is the domestic relationship between the employer and the employee. They frequently quibble about money and the workload. Madam watches TV and reads the paper all day while Eve irons the clothes (occasionally sleeping on the ironing board, a la Snoopy on his doghouse), washes the floor, and does the dishes.
The comic is currently written by Stephen Francis and drawn by Rico Schacherl. Interestingly, Francis is from the United States and Schacherl is from Austria. During the strip’s first ten years, South African Harry Dugmore contributed as well, though he is no longer involved.
Artistically, the comic is similar to contemporary American strips. The drawings are light and airy. The strip is somewhat digitized with panels of computer-generated text occasionally added. Like most strips today, the lettering is unfortunately digital, as are the colors. The black and white strips speak for themselves and there is no need for tacky colors, even online.
Because of its popularity, “Madam & Eve” was adapted to television in 2000. Four seasons aired.
“Madam & Eve” is not the only South African comic strip. “Jet Jungle,” a defunct action strip, and a few other short-lived comedy strips have seen print; however, none have had the staying power of “Madam & Eve.”
“Madam & Eve” – Official site with strips
Penguin Films - South African studio that developed the TV show
“Madam & Eve” at 20: In Pictures – 10 December, 2012, The Guardian
While sequential art has been around for hundreds of years in one form or another, comic strips are a relatively new invention. They were added to newspapers starting in the late 1800s. Hundreds of strips have come and gone in the United States. Perhaps thousands have come and gone in major newspapers all over the world. I can’t say that I’ve read even a fraction of the titles that are out there; however, of those I have read, four keep coming back to me. These four comics, for me, are the best of the comic strip medium.
“Pogo” by Walt Kelley – No other comic strip matches the intense situational comedy and characterizations in “Pogo.” The art is lush, fluid and organic. The writing is clever and sharp. The characters are true. Their language is melodic, but never forced, and often backed up with lovely calligraphy. I can’t ask for more in a comic strip. Several story arcs occur at the same time and some of the arcs last several months, giving a great sense of depth from each story. Because he frequently touched political nerves, some newspapers censored “Pogo” at times, causing Kelley to lash out in the introductions of his uncensored paperbacks. The satirical references to J. Edgar Hoover and Lyndon B. Johnson still make sense and are funny, even for readers unfamiliar with the times. “Pogo” is absolutely beautiful literature.
“Bloom County” by Berke Breathed – My older brother liked “Bloom County” long before I did. I read my brother’s paperback collections as a kid and now I am collecting the new hardback editions. Although there are some older cultural references to Tammy Faye Baker and Boy George, the strip holds up extremely well. “Bloom County” relies on the characters and Breathed is not afraid to change them, so the strip never falls in a rut. Because he was able to talk about cultural and political topics (even getting his strip put on the editorial page of some papers), Breathed always had new gags and ideas. “Bloom County” never fails to make me laugh and that’s the mark of a great strip.
“King Aroo” by Jack Kent – In college, I spent a lot of time reading comic strips on microfiche. I discovered a few months worth of “King Aroo” and I fell in love with it. The characters are innocent and enjoyable, defying the stereotypes of a royal kingdom. The entirety of the strip pushes the innocence of his characters into wonderful and humorous situations. What impresses me the most about Kent’s writing is that he squeezes several puns and gags into every daily strip. It’s thick with humor. Kent’s art is loose, but very pretty. IDW released the first two years of “King Aroo” in hardback a year or two ago with promises to release the other eight years (we’ll see if it happens). It is great fun to read.
“Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson – After Woodie Harrelson, Paul Brown and I, Bill Watterson is probably Ohio’s favorite son. “Calvin and Hobbes” lasted only ten years, but glorious they were. I was fascinated by the strip for years. In retrospect, it’s amazing that Watterson squeezed so many silly gags out of so few characters. For the entire run of the series, Calvin tries to avoid work by sneaking into fantasy worlds and misconstruing traditions. Most stories last about two or three weeks and those story lines are frequently invoked, such as Calvin’s trials with his babysitter or his science fiction alter-ego getting lost. Artistically, the weekdays strips are economic and bare while some of the Sunday strips are colorful and detailed. A 20 pound “box set” of strips called “The Complete Calvin and Hobbes” was recently published. It is very pricey, but nice. Fortunately, paperbacks can still be found pretty cheap.
Hindi cartoonist and fundamentalist leader Bal Thackeray died this week on November 17, 2012.
Thackeray began his public life as a cartoonist for the “Free Press Journal” and “The Times of India.” Thackeray left the “Free Press Journal” because their editors wanted him to follow a leftist viewpoint. Thackeray was quickly becoming something of a rightist. In 1960, he started his own fundamentalist cartoon weekly, Marmik, which incited readers to stand up against non-Marathis, an ethnic group in western India, at the expense of other ethnic groups in Mumbai, where he was based.
By 1966, he dedicated himself full-time to the fiery politics of his Shiv Sena ultra-nationalist party. His followers began calling him “Balsaheb” because of his supposed wisdom. In 1989, he would start “Samna,” a newspaper for his party, though his days as a journalist were long gone. His politics were nationalistic and far too right-wing to do the country any good. He said that Muslims were “spreading like a cancer and should be operated on like a cancer.” He praised Adolf Hitler. His incendiary remarks are often quoted during bouts of ethnic violence in India during the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Thackeray died of cardio-resperatory failure.
The Legacy of Bal Thackeray, BBC News
“Persepolis” is a comic written and illustrated by Marjane Satrapi. It follows a one or two year period of Satrapi’s life at the beginning of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. It was first published in 2000 and has gone on to sell over a million copies in many European languages (though not in Farsi, the language of Iran).
“Zahra’s Paradise” is a comic drawn by Khalil, an anonymous Arab artist, and written by Amir, an anonymous Persian writer. The story is set just after the 2009-2010 Green Revolution in Iran. It was published on the internet starting in 2010 as a web comic translated in many languages, including Arabic and Farsi. In 2011, it was published in a hardcover format in English.
Naturally, the two comics draw a lot of comparisons because they are both set in Iran. “The Independent” from England compared the two, saying the were very similar comics. They are not similar.
“Persepolis” is a good piece of literature; however, it is more like an illustrated book than a comic. There is a small narration followed by a picture that demonstrates the small narration. This technique is somewhat outdated. Being Satrapi’s first comic, I would not expect “Persepolis” to have the artistic richness that combines words and images to create a verbal and visual masterpiece. Librarians who don’t follow the medium absolutely love this style, though. It is easier to for the non-comics fan to digest and the Spartan pictures are appealing because they are “adult.” There is no need to contemplate the art. There are no difficult visual cues or graphic themes. It’s just a simple narration with pictures.
“Persepolis” is self-indulgent at times, as are all autobiographies. The protagonist enjoys discussing her rebellious ways as she tries to figure out the Iranian Revolution. While you would think that a ten-year-old would be naive and pitiable, Satrapi is able to discuss revolutionary theory with the best of them. Her ironic demeanor outsmarts her parents and teachers. Perhaps this is not an unrealistic character trait. Perhaps it is a national flaw: at a time when Iran was delirious, the child remained sane.
“Zahra’s Paradise” is the optic opposite of “Persepolis.” There are long-running artistic themes from panel to panel as well as spreads that add to the artistry of the script. The imagery is always amazing. Individual panels often have powerful artistic effects and always have beautiful pictures. This artistic vision holds its own against the best comics. It is easy to dote on the art, which is rich, expressive, and organic.
The writing and story also stand out. “Zahra’s Paradise” takes place in the days after the 2009-2010 Green Revolution, a protest movement that was violently squashed. Mehdi is a fictional protestor who goes missing. His college-age brother and mother try to find out what happened to Mehdi. As the story progresses, the reader meets a hodgepodge of realistic characters, including the mother’s chain-smoking best friend, a copy shop owner who pirates anything the regime doesn’t like, and bureaucrats who are forced to tow the line despite their better judgment. The comic evokes political figures like Ayatollahs, mullahs, and Neda. It could have easily been written as a hard-boiled detective story but the author went out of his way to write a story with tangible characters who act logically.
Both books are definitely worth reading.
“Persepolis” is a librarian’s dream. It is a quick, easy read that provides a look at one family’s view of the Iranian Revolution. While it might not be the comic critic’s most beloved format, it is certainly important because the style reaches a wide audience. “Zahra’s Paradise” is a comic reader’s dream. It requires attention to both the story and the art as it describes the Green Revolution. It is rich in artistry and prose, making it a wonderful piece of literature.