In. by Will McPhail

Get In to In. Get INvolved. Nick is trying to find his way In to life. Into his life. I pick graphic books for their looks. Or often leave them on the shelf, if the art doesn’t appeal. In “In” the art appealed. The cover has Nick mostly in a blank space. He is tentatively peering through a door that is filled with deep green, tropical foliage.

Maybe the art here draws you in more than the story.  But the story has power too. It’s about how a man who can’t connect with the world. A man who needs the women in his life to break through his performance as a sad lonely artist in coffee shops. It’s an act, but it has become who he is, and he can’t connect.

Throughout the book, Nick visits coffee shops and bars where he interacts with the bartenders and baristas.  The first place he enters is Graham’s Bar. It’s empty. In his head, he begs the barman to ask, “Rough day?” And the barman does. Then Nick asks, “If I were a sad man, what would I drink.”  “That’s a Russian Imperial Milk Stout.”

Wren arrives. She’s waiting for her date, but she starts a conversation with Nick. She has a sense of humour. His characters, mumbles, “I guess I’m…” He begs himself to “Stay in character.” Wren replies, “You’re not sad.” Nick stares for a moment, then says, “O.K.” And her date arrives. He is served another milk stout, “from the girl.”

He’s trying to find a world beyond the white and grey of his life. Where he acts sad and lonely, where he is sad and lonely, where he never figures out what to say.

His mother is decorating a derelict house. He helps her paint the architraves. Her focus in on the details, while the building crumbles.

He visits a variety of trendy coffee shops: Gentrificchiato, where there are “twelve varieties of milk, nary one from an udder.” Twill and Sons, where you are supposed to pay by barter, but they take Apple Pay too. There’s Artisanal Kick in the Back, where they charge by the number of pages you write.

On his way home, from a day in at the coffee-face, Nick is called out for drawing a woman on the subway without her permission, The woman walks off. Wren appears on the same train. They connect and sleep together. She is the perfect foil for him. She sees through his pose. She plays his game but seems to take him as he is behind the façade.

The coffee shops start to comment on the story, in the cold ironic way that the names of certain businesses do in the way the half pun is avoiding wit or location.

Wren’s smile brings colour to  Nick’s life in the way several inserted sequences of coloured panels depict Nick’s inner struggles as he climbs crags, wades through rivers, braves waterfalls, and crowds. These are works of art that delve into the emotions that Nick can’t reach until the struggles of his sister to cope with her son, and of his mother constantly trying to decorate the derelict house as she faces pancreatic cancer, and as Wren brings real joy to the moments they have together. Then. He and his sister go visit the doctor with his mother. I could have seen it coming. We know from the beginning that Wren is an oncologist.  It turns out to be she is his mother’s consultant. Wren knows she can’t continue treating Nick’s mother, and the narrative speeds up as his mother declines. When she dies—another colour sequence screams regret. And as Nick tells Wren he doesn’t regret her passing but mourns that, “I’ve lost everything that I didn’t get to know about her.” Wren stares. For once speechless. And then the final colour sequence is her on a rooftop. Staring at faceless buildings, before climbing down and walking steadily into deeper and deeper water and ending with her staring at the Greek pillared building with the caduceus, with its staff and two coiled snakes carved into the stone of the pediment.

A somewhat glib story about a young artist who can not figure out how to connect to his community suddenly pulls you in as his sister, his mother, and his maybe idealized lover bring him towards connection and love.

Alasdair Gray dies

Canongate announces Alasdair Gray’s death

The Guardian obituary

Paris Review interview

Website and Blog

Wikipedia

Novels

Lanark (1981)
1982, Janine (1984)
The Fall of Kelvin Walker (1985)
Something Leather (1990)
McGrotty and Ludmilla (1990)
Poor Things (1992)
A History Maker (1994)
Mavis Belfrage (1996)
Old Men In Love (2007)

Short stories

Unlikely Stories, Mostly (1983)
Lean Tales (1985) (with James Kelman and Agnes Owens) (1995)
Ten Tales Tall & True (1993)
The Ends of Our Tethers: 13 Sorry Stories (2005)
Every Short Story by Alasdair Gray 1951-2012 (2012)

Poetry

Old Negatives (1989)
Sixteen Occasional Poems (2000)
Collected Verse (2010)

Translations

Hell: Dante’s Divine Trilogy Part One Decorated and Englished in Prosaic Verse (2018)
Purgatory: Dante’s Divine Trilogy Part Two Englished in Prosaic Verse (2019)

Theatre

A Gray Play Book (2009)
Fleck (2011)

Non-fiction

Why Scots Should Rule Scotland (1992; revised 1997)
The Book of Prefaces (ed.) (2000)
A Short Survey of Classic Scottish Writing (2001)
How We Should Rule Ourselves (2005) (with Adam Tomkins)
Alasdair Gray A Life In Pictures. (2010)
Of Me & Others: An Autobiography (2014)

Your Black Friend by Ben Passmore

Your Black Friend and Other Strangers Published in 2018 by Siver Sprocket.

These are short pieces about race and more. In the introduction Passmore writes: “I know you picked this book up thinking you were gonna read a whole lot of wokeness…I am not really that type of SJW…I’m conscious of a pronounced self-satisfied mentality that people (myself included) approach these types of ‘political works’ with.”

Passmore works to undermine our expectations saying that it’s about “how to be dangerous, how to be a failure, and how to laugh in the face of a world that wants to crush us.” He contemplates the issues that Black Lives Matter has been raising all along, and really is doing what many of us white people want which is telling us about Black experience and suggesting what we can do. Some other pieces just go off into places in Passmore’s imagination where it is not always easy for me to follow him. But give him a chance. Take the ride. His drawing is sometimes clear and sharp, other times unfinished and suggestive, but he moves you along with him.

In a one page chapter, “No Justice, Just Us!”, he writes: “I’ve seen a lot of preference of performance over substance, lately…Maybe a lot of revisionist thinking around the Civil Rights movement has people thinking that nice speeches will shake the dust of the brokers of power and make them fix everything? The reality is that the history of change in the US is a story of communities acting autonomously and the state playing catch up.” and in “Take ‘Em Down!”: which is about taking down confederate statues, “in the future it would be nice to see our country celebrate the people who were really responsible for our freedoms. in the meantime, it’s up to us to be our own symbols of liberation.”

He celebrates individuals and their actions when they are good and not so good, but all the time human.

https://www.npr.org/2018/05/03/605001927/your-black-friend-is-back-with-plenty-to-say

Sports is Hell by Ben Passmore

Koyama Press (2020)

From the title on, Passmore is aiming to unsettle. Sports meets Black Lives Matter. Black pain meets white do-gooders meets white militias. The first words are “Bomb out.” Spoken by a child playing, inside real conflict. The last words are, “I don’t understand!” screamed out across the cityscape.

A cheer rises from the football stadium. A police cruiser drives through the neighbourhood. Some kids are playing soldiers with a water-soaker and a wooden gun, when an older man stops them and asks, “Where are the bullets? Where is the clip?. The boy responds, “I emptied it on the pig…” We see the speech bubble of the older man, who continues speaking out of frame speaking over an image of two white policemen standing by their cruiser talking to two young black men. “You don’t play with them. If you point something at them make sure it’s real. Go play with your friends.”

The book follows several people. Each in the own group. The football fans start a fight over whether there should have been a call for grabbing a face mask when the Birds’ star Collins scored the winning touchdown. At the same time, a protest is building non-violent revolutionaries and street-fighters clash as the football fans take over the streets. And we end up in a convenience store when the white militia move in and kill a white man who is trying to help his Black neighbours, but who was uncomfortable with the violence. Everyone is deciding who is on their team, who the other teams are and responding to each other. Seinfeld has a joke about supporting a sports team is like “cheering for laundry” because the players change so often. Passmore has us doing this in life. Even in the fear and chaos of street battles over the results of a football game and civil rights. No one wins when we are all on different teams. “Sports celebration turned to to riot to the formation of hundreds of armed factions.”

Passmore succeeds in jolting the status quos that allow us to sit back and let things happen. How we have fallen apart unable to talk outside our groups, groups that we work so hard to define, unable to hear what the others have to say? And outside forces try to keep us fighting so that we root for them against the others, and at the same time they lie to us that we can all pull together, but we can’t pull together, not because we are on different teams, but because we have real differences in belief systems, financial and physical circumstance, cultures and individuality. The problem with teams is that there are differences across the team. We need to look at our world. Figure out what is wrong and try to fix it. In everchanging combinations, with love not hate.

BEN PASSMORE is a Philadelphia, PA based cartoonist and illustrator best known for his award-winning comic Your Black Friend (Silver Sprocket), which deftly tackles issues of racism, identity and alienation, and was adapted into a short animated film. His political cartooning appears in The Nib, and he is the cartoonist behind the post-apocalyptic series Daygloahole (Silver Sprocket). He will be partnering with Ezra Claytan Daniels (Upgrade Soul) to bring the body horrific BTTM FDRS (Fantagraphics). 

Wimbledon Green by Seth

Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World:
A Story from the Sketchbook of the Cartoonist “Seth”.

This is my first review of a book by Seth (a pen name for Canadian comic book artist Gregory Gallant.) And if you haven’t you read him, you need to. Everything about the man and his work is reminiscent of days of ties and tweed suits. It’s modern day work that brings to life the history of graphic literature. from the 1930s on. Is there 21st century ironic detachment there? Maybe.

He also did the cover for Aimee Mann’s album Lost in Space

The book is inspired in part by Seth’s reading of A Gentle Madness Nicholas A. Basbanes’ book about bibliophiles and also inspired by Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware and David Heatley, Wimbledon Green is revealed in a series of separate comics that build into the fuller story.

Wimbledon Green is the story a sad world, of a sad man who finds joy in small moments. As does Seth. A sad man whose small moments are his comics. But this sad man is revealed to us in conflicting narratives, by unreliable and ill-informed narrators: comic collectors, comic bookstore owners and critics and researchers, all of whom try and fail to identify Wimbledon Green, and how he came to posses the much sought-after Wilbur R Webb collection. We are also given pages of choice items from Wimbledon’s collection. Extracts from actual comics. All simply but expressively drawn.

Wimbledon Green is not liked by anyone as far as we can see. The warmest interactions he has are transient when he is buying books or comics. The final sequence we might finally find the protagonist as he narrates the story of his lonely upbringing, or is this another fantasy inspired by his comics. There’s a harshness, and sadness that permeates each frame. Seth takes time to tell a story, and

In his introduction Seth tells us that these are sketches and rough drawings that were never meant to be published. The comic was drawn in the spirit of “good enough,: and the of character designs are “gross and rubbery” mad up of “balloons and tire tubes. Seth writes in his introduction, even I find some the characters ugly. My apologies for all of this”