Month: January 2019

Weegee: Serial Photographer

Another review of a book by Max de Radiguès. This time with art by Wauter Mannaert and originally published in Paris, but with a full on Jewish–New -York-American subject: Arthur (Ascher) Fellig (also known as Weegee.)

Weegee obsessively photographs murders in the seamier streets of the city. He’s often there before the police and notoriously rearranges bodies to get a better shot. He knew the police. He knew the underworld and the prostitutes. Much of Weegee’s time is spent on the Lower East Side, where he has a marriage-like friendship with Rita a cafe owner, and has sex with Irma a local prostitute. But despite his notoriety, and the fact that the newspapers are buying his photos, he wants to be accepted in the art world and Hollywood, and he gets to try both. Just as in Bastard, the main character is unsympathetic , but Radiguès surprises and make him endearing. Check this book out. Check out the original photos. Weegee is also the inspiration for characters in films such as A Public Eye, Nightcrawler and Watchmen. And it’s Fellig photo which is the cover and inspiration for the name of Naked City’s (the John Zorn group) first album.

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Bastard by Max de Radigues

A young woman is buying tacos and Mark approaches her and says, “April, it’s me.” She replies, “You’re mistaken. Sorry…Have a good day.” Back at the motel her son, Eugene, is watching TV. “We’ve got to move,” she says. Eugene takes the bags to the car, and we realize that they are on the run. “April” (her real name is May) is a member of a gang who committed 52 simultaneous robberies in the same day in Prescott.

What’s so impressive about this book is that May is a murderer, who has double-crossed her gang and has implicated her son in her crimes, and she is loyal, an adoring mother, and someone who wants more for her son than she had. She gets more. He knows how to rescue her when some of the gang almost catch them. The two are rescued by a former banker who is now a truck driver, and they spend time with him in New Mexico, before May goes back to “sort out” the gang. There’s a twist near the end that makes the sympathetic drawings, and the loving relationship turn into a touching story.

There’s energy in the storytelling and the drawing. We are pulled along and cheer for May and Eugene to come through despite all they do. In the end we understand. Give it a go.

Young Frances by Hartley Lin

I love this book. I’ve read it several times.

Young Frances by Hartley Lin, published in 2018 by Adhouse Books, is a graphic novel, set in Toronto, that follows Frances as she almost inadvertently finds herself.  

The story alternates between her time at work as a law clerk in a large corporate law firm and her time amongst her friends. Even as she avoids attention, people are drawn to her. 

She has insomnia. She works hard, is conscientious and moves up the ladder in spite of her inclinations, even while other clerks and lawyers are being fired. As the story moves on, Frances moves from one person’s idiosyncratic life to the next. She ends up working for the leading bankruptcy partner, an alcoholic called Castonguay who lives in a hotel room next to the office. At home, she shares her flat with Vickie a spacey actress who drinks a lot and is always behind on the rent, relying on the ever-sensible Franny to bail her out. And yet Frances just keep moving forward, trying her hardest, always feeling like she is not doing the right thing, and yet Vickie loves her–and keeps in touch even when she gets a part in a cable TV show and moves to LA–Castonguay realises what he has and keeps promoting her, and finally, Peter, who just keeps hanging around, gets Frances to pay attention to him.

For many of the employers at the law firm, work defines them. The same goes for the actress Vickie.  But Peter, a builder of “other people’s dream homes” doesn’t let his work define him. By the end of the novel, Frances realises that her work does define her, she has made something for herself, and she gets home that night, and Peter is waiting on the doorstep and she hugs him.

Lin’s drawing style draws out a gentle humanity in all the characters including the ones he is satirizing.  This is a special talent. He makes fun of the actress who can’t live in the real world and the lawyer who only thinks about his work, and yet, like Frances he sees what is warm in them. The indoor spaces and the  buildings of the cityscape of Toronto are there in the scenes where we need them and just suggested or absent at other times. The fact that Frances falls in love with a gentle sensitive builder is perhaps what happens to us as readers of this engaging, humanizing work of art.

“I’m just a law clerk. I barely figure in the  pecking order. The weird thing is I think I’m pretty good at it.”

Read this now. Buy a copy, so that you can share it with your friends.

Seeking Refuge

A Graphic Novel by Irene N. Watts and Kathryn E Shoemaker

Black and white images softly drawn. Shaded background. Any white is the word balloons, letters or aprons. Marianne arrives in London on the Kindertransport and is taken in by Mrs. and Mr. Abercrombie-Jones who were looking for an older child to be a second domestic in their home. They insist on calling her Mary Anne, and yet correct her when she mispronounces their names. They do send her to school where she makes friends. The painfulness of British anti-Semitism from schoolmates, caretakers, teachers and neighbours is scratched into the background of the narrative like the hatching in each frame. Marianne does make good friends in school who move on as she does when the London schools are evacuated–she goes to Wales where a couple hope that Mairi will replace their daughter who recently died. While the prejudices are not absent in Wales, the kindly Mr. Evans, guides Marianne through Llanelli. The end is too easy, but hopeful.