Seconds will hopefully be the last of guilty pleasures I’ve been treating myself to after The Count of Monte Cristo. This is a graphic novel from the fecund imagination of Bryan Lee O’Malley, famous for the Scott Pilgrim series.

The artwork in this is gorgeous: heavily borrowing from manga and pictures from Russian storybooks. (The latter were easily available in Indian libraries in the 80s.) The story revolves around Katie, who co-owns a restaurant and is planning to run her own one day. She discovers a house spirit, whose mushrooms can help change reality. Weird stuff starts happening once she goes overboard on having a perfect life by fixing everything using mushrooms.

I enjoyed Seconds so much that I’m highly tempted to read Scott Pilgrim next. I found the Westernized-manga character art incredibly cute and the colors are lush and dark. The story is very funny and there is always a peppy mood about the characters, especially Katie, who is just one cool gal. Bryan borrows very generously from manga, even the idea of a house spirit (kami), how its depicted and its central role in the story shows that. Finally, don’t be surprised if you get the urge to draw out some of the sketches in the book! 🙂

Rating: 4/4

ISBN: 9780345529374


Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Couple of books by Roz Chast

In today’s society and media, there are still many topics that are taboo, with death being at the top of that list. The picture given of the years before death and death itself is totally misleading. A pretty image is painted of jolly old people with silver hair, weaker in strength, but fit in mind and spirit. And then they, presumably, need some hospitalization a few times and pass away peacefully in bed. It always irked me that this was not what I personally experienced with my grandparents, all of whom lived beyond 85-90 years. What I saw was totally different: a steady deterioration of the mind and body, senile dementia combined with most embarrassing of all: loss of bowel control. I witnessed how a person who was a rock in your life can turn out to completely stress and depress their loved ones in their last throes.

Life after 90 according to Roz Chast
Life after 90 according to Roz Chast

Though quite depressing to read, it is such experiences of her parents’ last years that Roz Chast has captured in the form of cartoons in her memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? She uses her trademark humor to lighten the mood, but there is only so much you can do when your parent is slowly losing all mental faculty. This is a great book, coming especially from an Occidental author, where these travails are hidden as much as possible.

We start off from the time her parents are living independently in their Brooklyn flat, where they have lived all their life. To be honest the first half of the book is quite cheery, filled with the oddities you will notice about your parents once you turn into an adult. After requiring a few hospitalizations, the first in their lives, it is obvious that her parents are in their last years. Though losing their memory, old people can be quite obstinate about changes and lots of these situations stress out the author. As things worsen, they finally agree to move out of their flat to a home for the aged. As health further worsens, comes inability to move around, adult diapers, liquid food and finally palliative care. In the end, the last words of a mind that is switching off is ironically the first it ever uttered: calls to a mother or a father.

Rating: 4/4

ISBN: 9781608198061

The Party After You Left

Couple of books by Roz Chast

Roz Chast is my #1 favorite among the cartoonists whose works appear regularly in The New Yorker. (Don’t you think the cartoons are the reason to flip through a New Yorker?) I have always found her cartoons to be incredibly funny and felt that they depicted the craziness of modern urban life as no other. She focuses purely on the minutiae of domestic life that everyone experiences, but seldom gives a second thought. It helps that I like her simple drawing and coloring style too. Besides The New Yorker, she also draws about the absurdity of modern technology in other media. The Party, After You Left is one of her recent compilations of such cartoons. The selected cartoons each take a while to see and savor, making this a great choice to slowly flip through on a weekend afternoon or as a coffee table book. Lots of snickering and belly laughs guaranteed! 🙂

Rating: 4/4

ISBN: 9781632861078

V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

The reason The Dark Knight is an epic film to me is not Christian Bale’s Batman, but Heath Ledger’s eponymous Joker. It is hard to call him a classic villain since he is the one who asks the hard questions and creates interesting moral dilemmas. It is that Joker I was repeatedly reminded of in V for Vendetta, the now-famous graphic novel from the duo of Alan Moore and David Lloyd. Published in 1988, it depicts a grim totalitarian regime in the near future of 1997 for England. There is a Leader who keeps a tight lid on the citizens in Big Brother style using CCTV, phone tapping, propaganda and police, creatively named the Eye, Ear, Mouth and Finger departments. Starting from Guy Fawkes Day of that year, a mysterious vigilante saves an innocent girl from the regime’s henchmen, starts killing the regime’s leaders and bombing their centers in London. Thus begins a cat and mouse game between the regime that is hell-bent on catching the killer and he in destroying their grip over the people.

Much like in Watchmen, Alan Moore’s vision of a dystopian world, its rulers and the character of V in a Guy Fawkes costume is brilliant. David Lloyd’s art is fantastic, with most panels in dark shadows, conveying the depressing mood of the story. The coloring is a letdown though, reminding me of cheap comics. This might be technical issue, maybe good inking was expensive or unavailable to the creators?

The novel is divided into 3 books, with the first two being quite riveting. It is the last book that was disappointing. In this climactic stretch, the plot literally flails around tied to a V who turns out to be increasingly psychotic. The Leader too is weakened in an unbelievably lame manner. More troubling is how lackadaisical the plot is to the plight of a society which falls into full blown anarchy.

The version of V for Vendetta I read had a section at the end where Alan Moore explains candidly how he and David Lloyd came about to create the story, characters and art of this novel. It was quite refreshing to learn that even for masters like this duo, creation is a very messy and confusing process where slowly enough things stick to the wall and take shape. The book also had various draft sketches and artwork created for this series. This section is a must read, if you ever pick up this book.

Rating: 3/4

ISBN: 9781401208417


The Leader justifies his rule:

The Romans invented fascism. A bundle of bound twigs was its symbol.
One twig could be broken. A bundle would prevail. Fascism … strength in unity.
I believe in strength. I believe in unity.
And if that strength, that unity of purpose, demands a uniformity of thought, word and deed then so be it.
I will not hear talk of freedom. I will not hear talk of individual liberty. They are luxuries. I do not believe in luxuries.
The war put paid to luxury. The war put paid to freedom.

Authority, when first detecting chaos at its heels, will entertain the vilest schemes to saves its orderly facade.
But always order without justice, without love or liberty, which cannot long postpone their world’s descent into pandemonium.
Authority allows two roles: the torturer and the tortured; twists people into joyless mannequins that fear and hate, while culture plunges into the abyss.