20 November 2007

Russian Comix Collections

Under Review

  1. К9! Журнал комиксов [K9! A Journal of Comics] No.1 (2003) [75R]
  2. Наполеон всегда счастлив: истории о счастливых людях [Napoleon is Always Happy: Stories about Happy People] (2006) [350 R]
  3. Альманах рисованных историй [Almanac of Illustrated Stories] (2006) [350 R]
The hunt for Russian comics had been abandoned. My initial perusal of Moscow’s major bookstores turned up bupkis. Digging around music stores and artsy cafes got me nowhere and, to this day, I have yet to see a Russian anywhere reading a comic book or graphic novel. But thanks to a link from a commenter over at Sean’s Russia Blog (hat tip to Chrisius Maximus), I located Pangloss (M: Kitai-Gorod, B. Cherkasskii Pereulok, d. 13/14, str. 4).

Based on previous adventures in dive comics shops in the States, I was expecting the worst: a cramped, tiny space with creepy dudes hanging around, reading super-hero tales and talking about their prospects of someday going on a date. But after four months in Moscow, I’ve found that creepy dudes are everywhere, I squeeze into cramped, tiny spaces every time I ride public transportation, and, frankly speaking, I’ve got no immediate prospects for any dates on this continent. So, I hopped on the subway and prepared my best slurry-tenor-man-accent (usually reserved for negotiating cab fares) to meet the comics rebyata.

But instead of geekniki puffing on cigarettes and wallowing in their loser’stvo, I found a well-lighted large shop run by an older Francophile. The French connection, of course, accounts for the huge comics selection, as the frogs have long had the good sense to value bande dessinee as an art form. I immediately picked out three small collections in order to sample a variety of artists and one full-length graphic novel, Дед мороз [Grandpa Frost], which I will review at a later date.

I’ll be blunt. Having finished the three collections, I can say that overall the level of artwork and story-telling was lower than what I see coming out in America, Europe, and Japan. But rather than run through all the mediocrity, I’ll focus on the highlights.

In K9!, a pretty weak collection as a whole, the work of Roman Sokolov really stands out. His “Nothing Special” is a short gritty mix of the post-Soviet detective genre and classic Russian anecdote, with a story-within-a-story conclusion that escapes triteness. The artwork is appropriately stark and jagged. Another strong showing in the volume was C!zenko, a Kiev-based cartoonist, who shows promise with interesting greyed-out pencilwork, marred only by the jarring use of terrible fonts for the lettering and a dreadful application of photoshop in the concluding frame. Moscow's Bogdan blends euro-manga with an older Soviet mul’tfilm aesthetic and riffs on classic folk tale themes. Not really my thing, but it's an interesting play with different vernacular traditions.

Napoleon is Always Happy, in contrast with K9!, collects some strong artists, who one imagines are capable of quite interesting work. Unfortuantely, editor Sokolov constricts them with the task of writing a story related to the title of the collection, a slogan supposed written on the door of every home Napoleon resided in. It’s a playful idea, but prohibitively obscure, to my mind, to allow for much creative work in terms of content. Artist Khikhus does the best job with his matching of dark illustration, busy frame-movement and almost incoherent philosophizing about the meaning of happiness; it reminds me a bit of Peter Kuper’s more psychedelic work in terms of style. Sokolov puts in another solid effort of a similar type to his work in K9!. Namida’s “The Cloud” reads like a well-done art school project on an assigned theme: the talent is evident, but some depth is missing. Alim Velitov and Yuri Maksimov’s contribution is the most developed story, but the artwork suffers from a style that might best be described as Prince-Valiant-meets-MS-Paint. While the theme of this volume doesn’t work to the advantage of the artists, I was happy to be introduced to many of them and look forward to seeing them elsewhere in an expanded, free forum.

On this score, Almanac of Illustrated Stories is much better, combining talented artists and letting them tell whatever stories they’d like. The most impressive work is the first entry, “Sterva: The Off-Season,” a urban dystopic, political portrait written by Elena Voronovich and drawn by Andrei “Drew” Tkalenko. (See above.) Fans of America’s AiT and Vertigo imprints ought to enjoy this work. Khikhus’s story from Napoleon is re-printed here, along with an inventive story of romance, discontent and artistic inspiration. (See below.) On the universal comics-navel-gazing tip, Askol’d Akashin delves into his boyhood fascination with American super-heroes, while Aleks Hatchett and Bogdan bemoan the difficulties of finding Russian comics. (It was nice to know that it wasn’t just my ineptitude.)

Needless to say, I am now in hot pursuit of more by these authors. As always, you’ll be kept updated and you can expect Russian comix reviews to become a steady feature of MTBE. And if anyone has suggestions--send them in!


Chrisius Maximus said...

Wow! I'm really glad I was of some help!

kg said...

Cosmo dlya chainikov?! Is that where your discovered your key to Russian women?!