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Herge (#110 of 2)

The Call of the Lizard Brain Charles Burns’s X’ed Out and The Hive

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The Call of the Lizard Brain: Charles Burns’s X’ed Out and The Hive
The Call of the Lizard Brain: Charles Burns’s X’ed Out and The Hive

By explicitly referencing the colorful boys’ adventures of Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin, Charles Burns turns his latest works, X’ed Out and The Hive, into something of an intertextual puzzle box. But the surreal, existential horror of Burns’s work has never remotely resembled Hergé’s. In his warped evocation of Hergé’s impressively realized world (which in itself was a rather off-kilter, and sometimes bizarre, vision of our own), Burns highlights its peculiarities: boy hero Tintin’s careful asexuality, the conspicuous absence of female characters or any kind of romance or sex, the surreal exoticization of the real and the familiar. He does this not as metatextual critique, but as a catalyst for his own tale of the meeting of two wounded souls, Doug and Sarah, both art students making their way through a pretension-laden underworld of entitled middle-class youth during the 1970s.

Doug’s appropriation of a Tintin-like comic-book character, “Nitnit,” as a secondary artistic persona becomes a telling indicator of the way he, and in turn all of humanity, interacts with art—as medicine and mask for everything ugly and animal about us. Doug puts on a Nitnit mask and recites poetry “cut-ups” at an art show, cruelly hoping that Sarah, the girl he has a crush on, will “push her way through the crowd to get [him]” even as his current girlfriend looks on. When his recitation is interrupted by a harsh critic, he fantasizes about looking on as his heckler shamefully admits she’s never heard of William Burroughs. Doug’s hypocrisy is key to understanding his terrifying, vivid fantasies and dreams. Burns weaves Doug’s dream life into the two books along with his memories, creating one continuous hallucinatory, cascading narrative that skips across different times and realities.

Far from Home Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

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Far from Home: Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
Far from Home: Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

A question for the history of the graphic novel: Will anyone ever write a cartoon equivalent of Moby-Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or For Whom the Bell Tolls? Will there ever be a cartoonist who in his or her real life does a bunch of dangerous and exciting stuff, such as work on a whaling ship, pilot a river boat, or fight in a war, and who then sublimates those experiences via the imagination into a work of fiction that’s vivid and dense and spiritually substantial? More specifically, will there ever be a cartoonist who can combine with his or her comics all that you get in Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin (the audacity, the action, the energetic globetrotting) with all that you get in Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (the disappointment, the ambiguity, the baroque psychology)?

Guy Delisle’s new Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City is a nonfictional graphic novel about being far away from home in an occasionally dangerous and precarious and confusing place. It’s about living for a year in Israel while trying to be a husband, a father, and an itinerant cartoonist. Insofar as it’s a memoir, Jerusalem is low-key and humorous, and brings to mind Ross McElwee’s documentary Sherman’s March. Insofar as it’s a travelogue, Jerusalem is inquisitive and observant, and brings to mind another doc: Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil. As a whole, the book is both enjoyable and instructive; it makes you chuckle and grin, and it makes you feel like a more informed, concerned citizen of the world.