So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Monday, December 29, 2014

It Rhymes with Lust

It Rhymes with Lust by Arnold Drake & Leslie Waller with Illustrations by Matt Baker
It Rhymes with Lust, written in 1949, lays claim to being the first graphic novel, combining a novel-length story with comic book art and speech balloon dialog. At the time the authors called it a picture novel as the term graphic novel didn't come into use until the 1970s. Reprinted in 2006 by Black Horse Books, this early graphic novel while primarily of interest for its historic significance, remains a beautifully drawn work that is filled with panels that create lasting impressions.
The book is about a power struggle in Copper City, a mining town run by mine owner Buck Masson until his death. In his absence, Buck's scheming second wife Rust Masson and political boss Marcus Jeffers are fighting for control. Rust asks her old lover Hal Weber, a disillusioned newspaperman who still has a powerful longing for her, to be editor of the local paper and help her fight Jeffers. While Hal still longs for Rust, he finds himself smitten with Audrey Masson, Buck's virtuous and beautiful daughter from his first wife. Can she convince him of Rust's treachery, win his heart, and save the town?
While the story is well-written, it suffers from age, and plot elements that were fresh 65 years ago can seem corny or formulaic. What makes this book a joy to read is the artwork of Matt Baker that has held up well over the years. Baker was one of the few African-American artists in the field at the time, and his female characters are not only well-drawn, but their stylish clothing is amazing.
The 2006 edition contains a 5-page Afterword by Arnold Drake that provides the historic setting for this groundbreaking novel. Also included are brief biographies of Matt Baker and the two authors.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995

Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995, by Joe Sacco
A friend of mine loaned Safe Area Goražde to me. When I started reading it, I discovered that it has to do with the same region of Bosnia as Ivo Andric's Nobel Prize winning 1945 novel Bridge on the Drina. In fact, on page 110 of Safe Area Goražde, Sacco tells how on June 17, 1992 Serbian Chetniks killed 300 Bosnian Muslims on this bridge and threw the corpses into the Drina River. Andric used the historic Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge in Višegrad (the next town down the river from Goražde) as the principle "character" in his novel that covers 400 years of life in this small area of Bosnia, telling the history of the Serb and Muslim people in a series of episodes over time.
In his graphic novel Joe Sacco tells of his visits to Goražde in 1995 and 1996, his interviews with the people of the city, and their memories of the war in eastern Bosnia that started in 1992. His work reminds me of Martha Gellhorn's reporting of the turmoil in Europe in the 1930s in the personal touch he brings by telling the story through the people he met. Gelhorn was no artist and relied on her prose, while Sacco brings his story to life with his great black and white drawings.
Sacco's story is of the Muslim residents of Goražde and the assault on their UN designated "safe zone" by Serbian forces. It is one-sided as is most war reporting, but his attention to detail and his closeness to the people he writes about makes this a compelling and powerful story. His being "embedded" with the people of the city allows him to get details and personalities that escape most war reporting. What he doesn't do well is explain why the Serbs suddenly turn on their neighbors in such a violent and deadly fashion.
I recommend reading Andric's Bridge on the Drina for people who wonder why the Serbs suddenly turned to armed conflict and ethnic cleansing after living together in peace with the other nationalities in Yugoslavia.