Monday morning, again. The sleepy man knows what awaits him: the week must begin. Still, he buys time. He rubs his eyes, keeps himself warm in his pajamas and slippers. An academic might venture that the guy is frustrated, the umpteenth enslaved by work. But in the comic The shape of ideas (Garbuix Books), Grant Snider has spared himself so much explanation: he has simply drawn a colossal cup of coffee before his character. The man scales it with difficulty, and dives into it. He comes out, one frame later, in the pose of Superman and in a suit. Although, at each step, the drink leaves behind an imprint and loses its effect. Anyone understands the message: we live it every day.
For decades, essays have helped human beings to question and understand their reality. It turns out, however, that society can also be analyzed with fewer words. Or even none, when an image speaks for itself. And of any argument. Because a recent wave of non-fiction comics seeks to thoroughly draw all the silhouettes of life: in drugs (Flow Press), independent artists portray the contradictions of the official discourse on narcotics; extinctions (Garbuix Books, by Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu and Alexandre Franc) designs the disappearance of ancient species to outline the threat of global warming, a theme also dealt with climate change, by Philippe Squarzoni (Errata Naturae); in about tyranny (Salamandra Graphic), Nora Krug illustrates the homonymous book by Timothy Snyder, which warns of another very current danger. Liv Strömquist reviews the consequences of capitalism in love with I do not feel anything (Reservoir Books). And Philippe Amador sets himself an extreme challenge: to explain through the vignettes of Spinoza. In search of truth and happiness (Publishing Alliance) Treaty of the reform of the understanding for which the philosopher went down in history.
“I think comics can tackle very complicated issues in ways that are easier to understand and, above all, easier to remember. Several studies have shown that information communicated through images is much better retained. So a written text, by itself, is less effective”, says Matt Madden. He is also the author of a graphic essay that somehow encompasses them all: Bookplate (Salamandra Graphic) offers an experimental reflection on the very format of the comic and its potentialities. Watercolours, love, sketches and metafiction. All from a character trapped in a room with a shelf full of comics, where he discovers an infinite world of stories and stimuli.
“There is a growing market for visual nonfiction. Comics used to be either highly commercial or very alternative, they talked about heroes or antiheroes. Now more and more graphic novels reflect on life as it is”, adds Nora Krug. “It has become a lucrative sector. Many cartoonists are seeing that they can make a personal work that will reach few readers or a non-fiction work that can be published by a major label, picked up by the press, taught in classrooms and perhaps even translated into other languages”, completes Madden. Perhaps it represents the closing of a circle: the comic that served for decades to escape from reality today feels capable of studying it. Of course, it is also proof of the maturity of an art that is still fighting against some prejudice. “The comic is a medium, like film or dance”, summarizes Grant Snider, who in The shape of ideas humorously explores the creative process.
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“I think comics are great for giving an abstract theme a more entertaining meaning,” says the creator. In his book, a boy literally builds a brick wall in front of the table where he draws: here is a freelancer who separates life and work. Where Spinoza’s original treatise describes the “false idea that bodies produce intelligence by their very composition,” Amador’s comic accompanies the quote with a rock that he thinks. And to explain the concept of “pointing out” and doing something different before the masses, Krug draws a herd and a man who has taken off his sheep’s costume and watches from the other side of the fence.
“The objective of an illustrator should not be to translate a text as it is, but to create an additional layer that allows a different emotional access to what is told. I don’t think it’s simpler, but deeper and more complex. Sometimes I interrupted the paragraphs with images to slow down the reading, forcing you to look twice, to a greater effort and commitment to the book”, describes the author of About tyranny. Interestingly, Madden also talks about an “additional layer”, an “alchemy” between words and drawings that takes the storytelling to another level. And all the interviewees agree that a graphic essay can reach a wider audience than the traditional format. Among other things, because the most sensible subject, once drawn, is usually less scary.
Hence Some authors dared to relate the most intimate non-fiction in vignettes: that of their families. Maria and I, by Miguel Gallardo, taught the world with smiles and tears what autism means, as Madden points out. Y Mausby Art Spiegelman, or the recent Chartwell Manor, of Glenn Head, have remembered horrors as real as the Holocaust or the sexual abuse of minors in boarding schools. Although, at the same time, Madden is aware that the comic itself also instills fear or skepticism: “There are many people who are not interested because they think they are superficial pop culture, they do not like the style of drawings or it turns out that they do not know exactly how to read them”. Just what happens to the protagonist of his book. She until she starts to open them.
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