Three new graphic novels you should see

Cult MTL reviews three new graphic books: the English-language debut by Hong Kong artist Chihoi, local multimedia artist Jessica MacCormack’s The See, and Journal, by Julie Delporte.

The See, by Jessica MacCormack.

The following are three new works by Canadian artists or publishers that push the envelope in their non-traditional marriage of text and illustration, and examine a range of difficult emotional experiences from unique perspectives.

The See, a new artist book by Montreal interdisciplinary artist Jessica MacCormack, offers a unique vision of trauma and survival. Comprised of watercolour images and collage works integrated with a surreal, poetic text, the book invites readers to experience a damaged narrator’s fractured perception of the world. This intense account narrates an ongoing experience of abuse that is only obliquely described in the book, but whose ramifications are nevertheless profoundly felt by the reader.

The See’s narrative initially possesses a near dreamlike quality that replicates a memoryscape or a child’s partial perspective. With growing awareness and lucidity, the story also comes to be punctuated by instances of intense fear and terror. In these moments the text recedes, and the book’s rich illustrations come to the fore. These images similarly appear innocent at first, including images of domestic animals and the little goldfish that stands in for the narrator. But as the book progresses these images become more violent, the imagery deployed including fish hooks, foot-hold traps, guns and masks.

The See is beautifully designed and produced throughout and was risograph-printed by Toronto’s Paper Pusher Printworks. MacCormack writes in the opening pages that “There is no way to say these things anymore… Being a victim is passé.” Fighting against the impulse to be silent, The See is a brave text which addresses the legacy of trauma, and MacCormack’s book is a harrowing and necessary story.

The Library, by Chihoi

Hong Kong graphic novelist’s Chichoi’s first work published in English, The Library is comprised of a series of surreal stories drawn in a simple, yet compelling, black and white style. As the inaugural title published under the International imprint of Wolfville, NS (formerly Montreal) publisher Conundrum Press, The Library is an impressive debut.

These inventive aesthetic experiments expand the boundaries of the graphic novel genre. In “Summer,” the first story in the collection, a young man comes to terms with the suicide of a young friend who had left Hong Kong to study in Canada. After this the book gets much stranger. In “Father,” a young man looking for work is given the job of burying his father by a snakelike creature, and “Sorry” offers a claustrophobic portrayal of life in a crowded urban setting. The final two stories in the collection detail the surreal events which occur in a mysterious dream-like library.

These stories are drawn in pencil rather than ink, which adds a layer of visual subtlety to Chihoi’s style, and are more complex, powerfully meditating on grief, loss, and sorrow. Hopefully this is the first of many books by this talented writer to be translated to English.

Journal, by Julie Delporte

Montreal artist Julie Delporte’s English-language debut, Journal is just that, a collection of colourful illustrated pages from her diary, which originally appeared on her website. Delporte’s pages are as colourful as Chihoi’s are monochromatic, but the rough and improvised style of her illustrations and the accompanying hand-written observations underline that this book is not intended to be a polished narrative, but is rather an attempt to honestly reflect the chaos of daily life.

These pages touch on the dissolution of a long term relationship, an artist’s residency, and other major events in the young artist’s life over a year and a half. By the end of the book the reader has a clear sense of the artist’s anxieties and the things that bring her joy. The book might have benefitted from tighter editing in some places, but Delporte is a talented artist and Journal is a beautiful collection of words and images. ■

Chihoi and Julie Delporte launch The Library and Journal at Librairie Drawn & Quarterly (211 Bernard O.), Tuesday May 14 at 7 p.m., free

The See by Jessica MacCormack, 2013, 90 pp. (self-published risograph artist book), available at Librairie Drawn & Quarterly and Monastiraki 

The Library by Chihoi trans. by the artist, 2013, 160 pp. $20.00 hardback (Conundrum)

Journal by Julie Delporte, trans. Judith Talboy, 2013, $23.95 184 pp. softcover (Koyama) 

Jeff Miller is the author of the award-winning short story collection Ghost Pine: All Stories True. He lives and drinks coffee in Little Italy.

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