Rome Morgan

THIS WOMAN'S WORK

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THIS WOMAN’S WORK BY JULIE DELPORTE, TRANSLATED BY ALESHIA JENSEN AND HELGE DASCHER

Julie Delporte’s This Woman’s Work, translated by Aleshia Jensen and Helge Dascher, is a beautiful and resonant autobiographical meditation on art, gender, and identity. The author sifts through her cultural consumption to find the root of her frustrations with gender inequality, sometimes so deeply ingrained that it is impossible to pinpoint their original source. She wonders, “What are the images that hold us captive?” Captive, that is, in repeated performances of gender that feel impossible to break. In pursuit of this question, Delporte presents the reader with her recollections of paintings, film stills, statues and texts, all evoked in bright and expressive colored pencil. Through vignettes, she wrestles with difficult breakups, pregnancy, and the fear of being alone. She expresses her anxiety and frustration with gender roles too. Recalling experiences of sexual assault as a child as well as potent micro-aggressions and barriers ingrained in the language of the adults she loved—and indeed, language itself, the masculine-centric French—the artist seeks to be liberated from womanhood, imagining herself as a wolf or a dolphin.

At the same time, much of her meditation centers on the life of Tove Jansson, a Finnish author and painter whose story and work inspires Delporte to explore her own trajectory as a working artist and the additional stumbling blocks that female artists face. Still, as she reads Jansson’s books and letters, it is through them that she eventually begins to feel that she is finally able to find that she is “falling in love with the idea of being a woman.” While This Woman’s Work captivates in its personal expression of womanhood in all its vicissitudes and complexities, Delporte, by placing her life within the contexts of larger cultural narratives and the lives of other artists, also earnestly opens the door to other women’s experiences, asking how much of her story is her own, and how much is “the story of all women”?

Drawn & Quarterly.

—Review by Rome Morgan

REVOLUTION SUNDAY

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REVOLUTION SUNDAY BY WENDY GUERRA, TRANSLATED BY ACHY OBEJAS

In Wendy Guerra’s debut in the English language, Revolution Sunday, translated from the Spanish by Achy Obejas, her protagonist Cleo is a writer; indeed, she is an award winning writer, but only outside of her home country, Cuba, where her work has been denied publication. In the face of this severe censorship and increasing surveillance, Cleo doubts everything. When her parents pass away in a mysterious accident, she confines herself to her house, turning inward, working only on her writing. After continual raids and surprise visits from government agents, the only person she can trust is her housekeeper, Márgara. And when Gerónimo, a Hollywood actor, appears at her doorstep, he claims to be working on a documentary about Cleo’s father—only, the man he describes is not the man Cleo has long believed to be her father, but a political revolutionary.

Guerra’s Revolution Sunday is a story about the nature of art in the face of censorship and surveillance, and shows how the survival of art mirrors the survival of the soul.

Melville House.

—Review by Rome Morgan

FRUIT GEODE

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FRUIT GEODE BY ALICIA JO RABINS

Alicia Jo Rabin’s second poetry collection, Fruit Geode, explores the multitudes contained within the body. Past, present, and future overlap and part within the cycle of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood, and the speaker finds herself “juggling too many lifetimes to count / so I let them drop like planets / marbles falling on the carpet of ocean.” Her beautifully precise descriptions of fertility and pregnancy, “seed lined arc / mother papaya,” create a kaleidoscopic palette of the body, a subject which she treats with honesty—at turns praising the body, at others lamenting its changes, but always returning, again and again, to gratitude.

In examining these experiences of womanhood, the poems of Fruit Geode also sift through a wide variety of collective and inherited wisdom. Jewish mysticism, climate change, ritual, and herbal medicine thread through these poems, creating a web of experience that centers the speaker’s journey in her own body, her own relationships. Within this center lies the creative self, a witchy spirit, in which the speaker asks herself, “don’t you want / to steal one more spirit / from the spirit world / and bring her down / in the form of a small body / weaving itself / of stem cells?” and where the speaker looks back to the time before motherhood, where, “once life was a blank / white sea with blue lines.” Instead of loss and regret, the speaker renews her creative journey, finds transformation, and declares, “I become the page / that holds the story.”

Augury Books.

— Review by Rome Morgan

WOMAN WORLD

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WOMAN WORLD BY AMINDER DHALIWAL

Woman World compiles Aminder Dhaliwal’s popular Instagram comic about a world in which men have mysteriously gone extinct. Although this premise has been explored in comic books before, Dhaliwal’s characters experience less apocalyptic panic than low key curiosity. What did men look like? Were high heels a type of construction boot for creating tiny holes? In a world without men, does feminism still exist?

But characters don’t spend too much time puzzling over the past and its obscure artifacts. They’re too busy with day to day concerns like relationships, self-care, and building a new society from the ground up. It doesn’t include old social stigmas—some women go nude, others wear a hodgepodge of clothing, and no one frowns at a fart joke. And while this isn’t a complete utopia—women still struggle with external obstacles, as well as internal ones like anxiety and self-confidence—at the end of the day women support each other and differences are celebrated. And that is what is most endearing about this book—imagining a world where women feel free to be their authentic selves, no strings attached.

Drawn & Quarterly.

—Review by Rome Morgan

SLUM WOLF

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SLUM WOLF BY TADAO TSUGE, TRANSLATED BY RYAN HOLMBERG

Tadeo Tsuge’s Slum Wolf, a collection of stories from the sixties and seventies, translated by Ryan Holmberg, conjures a fantasy of post-war Japan that is as bleak as it is raw and energetic. With loose lines interspersed with careful details, Tsuge creates a world of forgotten ruins, populated with forgotten people, impoverished and marginalized. These stories don’t offer the hope for a better life waiting somewhere outside the world of the slums, yet moments of calm and deliverance are achieved in the connections between people, in the bonds that can form even under the harshest conditions, and offer a reprieve from poverty and trauma.

Ex-kamikaze pilot Keisei Sabu’s reckless brawling becomes the stuff of legend in the slum. His antics echo throughout the collection like a ghost, that of a man who never expected to find himself growing old. The disciplined soldier turned company man, Ryokichi Aogishi, finds that his past traumas and regrets keep a comfortable middle-class life just outside his reach. These characters—as well as the drunks, vagrants, and prostitutes that reside among them—are striking in their expressions, contorting in a way that defies realism, but instead achieves a naturalistic translation of emotion with a spontaneity of gesture. One can feel Tsuge’s desire to preserve a sketch of this moment in time, not with a moralizing or political aim, but simply to carve a space where post-war trauma can exist undisturbed.

New York Review Comics.

—Review by Rome Morgan

YELLOW NEGROES AND OTHER IMAGINARY CREATURES

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YELLOW NEGROES AND OTHER IMAGINARY CREATURES, BY YVAN ALAGBÉ, TRANSLATED BY DONALD NICHOLSON-SMITH

“Yellow Negroes” was first published approximately twenty-years ago, but it’s creator, the French-Beninese artist Yvan Alagbé has been layering this titular story with parallel and intersecting narratives ever since, leading to his collection of graphic short stories: Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures. While Alagbé was involved in the creation of two of the most influential anthologies in French alternative comics, L’Oeil carnivore and Le Cheval sans tête, this collection—never before available in English until rendered from French by the translator Donald Nicholson-Smith—is not interested in conventional comic forms. It chooses instead to rely on expressive brushstrokes in black ink, the simplicity of which is instead more focused on drawing out the complexity of physical features and emotive gestures.

Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures explores the destructive legacy of French colonialism and illuminates the lives of the marginalized. In its title story, undocumented Beninese immigrant Alain, along with his sister Martine, and their friend Sam become the objects of obsession of former Algerian police officer, Mario, who is complicit in the brutal suppression of dissidents during Algeria’s war for independence. When left alienated from the new, independent Algeria, as well as from France, Mario lives in a limbo of historical erasure and wracked with guilt. Desperate to find a place for himself, Mario leeches onto the young immigrants, creating a miserable cycle of dependency that leads to a tragic end. Above all, this collection is urgent and timely—it handles the impossible situations of its characters with tender care, exposing the absurdity of racism.

New York Review Comics.

—Review by Rome Morgan

VON SPATZ

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VON SPATZ, BY ANNA HAIFISCH

In Anna Haifisch’s absurdist graphic novel, visionary artist Walt Disney suffers a breakdown caused by artistic self-doubt, disillusionment, and perfectionism. To restore him back to health, Walt’s wife, Lillian, delivers him to Von Spatz Rehabilitation Center. Apparently tailored to artistic clientele, its unconventional grounds include a penguin pool, a hot dog stand, an art supply store, and personal studios. There, Walt spends his days with artists Tomi Ungerer and Saul Steinberg, both artists who, like Disney, stray from realism to relay deeply imaginative and surprising images.

By acting out the struggles of the average artist with these iconic figures, Haifisch makes us see these struggles in a new light. The world she creates is strange—characters all have animal heads, and Walt suspects he spots Spongebob under a beach blanket. Nevertheless, they go about mundane activities: Tomi takes his cat to the vet, Walt struggles to use the copy machine, and all three draw constantly. The three artists have so much to gain—recognition, connection, comradery—but to do so they must risk vulnerability and failure, sharing their drawings and accepting each other’s callous critiques. These “tortured artists” are not romantic figures, instead they are comically thin-skinned and grouchy. “The complete and total arbitrariness of the world as well as my sense of self hits me,” Walt thinks, before jolted out of his thoughts by a man nearby who “eats like a crocodile,” no doubt due to his crocodile head. “Have some dignity, moron,” he gripes. Still, their depression and anxiety is both realistic and relatable. With its simple, unvaried lines, offbeat color palette, and scrawled lettering, Von Spatz takes its audience into the mind of visionaries, where the border between the real and the fantastic often blurs, and creativity can be both destructive and liberating.

Drawn & Quarterly.

—Review by Rome Morgan

HER MOTHER’S MOTHER’S MOTHER & HER DAUGHTERS

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HER MOTHER’S MOTHER’S MOTHER & HER DAUGHTERS, BY MARIA JOSÉ SILVEIRA, TRANSLATED BY ERIC M. B. BECKER

Maria José Silveira’s novel, Her Mother’s Mother’s Mother and Her Daughters, translated by Eric M. B. Becker, traces the matrilineal ancestry of a family throughout Brazil’s history. Beginning in 1500 with the arrival of Portuguese ships and a Tupiniquim woman named Inaiá, each woman’s life is detailed in full before the focus passes to her daughter, ending in 2001 with the most recent descendant, Maria Flor. Each woman’s story, though shadowed by the events that came before her, is illuminated by her own unique personality. These episodic narratives chronicle the changes to the customs in Brazilian culture, fads that come and go, as well as waves of political and social movements.

These women’s trials are woven with the history of Brazil, creating a powerful critique of patriarchy, racism, and authoritarianism. The indigenous woman Sahy, the first of several characters to be enslaved by the Portuguese, is an interpreter of dreams, a woman who feels deeply in touch with the natural world. After her capture, she becomes disassociated from her own life, “and soon reached a stage in which she was always beyond, the stage where she could accept and contemplate the world as a passive observer of the infinite human capacity to inflict suffering.” The author’s own personal trials are ingrained here, as well, for similar to the character Ligia, Silveira was accused of subversive activities by the military dictatorship and was exiled to Peru in the early seventies. Tragedy and joy unite to form holistic portraits—the women of Silveira’s novel may be constrained by the time periods they live in, but they are not the product of them.

Open Letter.

—Review by Rome Morgan