Rolling Blackouts

Sarah Glidden

Drawn & Quarterly, £16.99

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What does it take to be a foreign reporter? What do you do? Where do you go? Who do you meet? Do you trust what they tell you? What are the questions you ask? What are the questions you ask of yourself?

In the autumn of 2010 the American cartoonist Sarah Glidden headed east. Starting in Istanbul she travelled to Iraq and Syria accompanying multimedia journalists Sarah Stuteville, Jessica Partnow and Alex Stonehill as they sought stories to sell to print and broadcast media. In a two-month trip they talked to Kurds, Iraqis and Syrians, government spokesmen, refugees and deportees.

Along for the journey was Stuteville’s childhood friend Dan O’Brien, an ex-marine who had himself served in Iraq. Glidden’s job in this was to be an observer; to chart the process in comic strip form.

The result, Rolling Blackouts, is a fascinating metatextual document that both reports on what the group found and reports on the process of reportage. “What is journalistic distance?” Glidden asks at one point. “Can it be measured? How much does it even matter?”

Glidden watches as her colleagues try to find stories, weigh up what they’ve been told and find that nothing quite adds up the way they expect. Nowhere more so in their relationship to O’Brien who continually butts heads with his friend Stuteville over America’s involvement in the region and his own responsibility to the people of the Middle East as a former soldier.

The result is a fascinating investigation into the morality and limitations of journalism and how the news we receive is shaped by events and structures we might not give a second thought to.

More than that, and this might not seem obvious, from my description so far, it’s also an account of the people the team meet. Here are people living in squalor, in former prisons, in poverty, or separated from their family. Here is the human cost of conflict, the scars all too evident.

Glidden approaches all this in a simple panel-to-panel style that rather disguises the complexity of the storytelling going on here. Her ability to almost invisibly change the frame of the narrative is hugely impressive and not always immediately apparent on a first read.

Inevitably what is currently happening in Syria has rather overtaken the events displayed in Rolling Blackouts. But that’s not to diminish the achievement. This is an impressive act of reportage and an intriguing questioning of the stories we tell ourselves and the way we tell them.

Stardust Nation

Deborah Levy and Andrezej Klimowski

Self Made Hero, £12.99

HeraldScotland:

And still they come. Literary writers dipping their toes  into the world of graphic fiction. Already this year Margaret Atwood has written a graphic novel Angel Catbird. For Dark Horse Comics and Ta-Nehisi Coates is currently writing Marvel’s ongoing Black Panther comic. So there’s nothing groundbreaking about recent Booker nominee Deborah Levy turning to graphic fiction in the company of artist Andrzej Klimowski.

The difference is that in adapting her own short story she’s not interested in playing with fantasy tropes a la Atwood and Coates. Instead, she has gone for fully-fledged surrealism

Levy’s story concerns a doppelganger. Thomas Banbury and Nick Gazidis work at a rather recondite marketing and advertising agency (or at least I think that’s what it is). Thomas is Nick’s boss. Increasingly Nick is Thomas’s doppelganger. He takes to phoning Thomas and telling him about his childhood. Except it’s really Thomas’s childhood he is describing.

HeraldScotland:

What follows is a cool, emotionally murky slice of surrealism, full of Freudian imagery (literally so at one point), dominating women figures and hospital visits. Klimowski, who is a graphic novelist in his own right, provides simple, stark images – often single images to a page - to go along with Levy’s wilfully mysterious story. It’s possible you won’t know what is going on here but does it matter? Isn ‘t the mystery always more interesting than the solution?

A Walk in Eden

Anders Nilsen

Drawn & Quarterly, £12.99

HeraldScotland:

Here’s a curiosity. Cartoonist Anders Nilsen gave us one of Graphic Content’s books of the year in 2015 in Poetry is Useless.  In A Walk in Eden he taps into the burgeoning taste for colouring-in books. In doing so he is also giving us a disturbingly beautiful (or should that read beautifully disturbing) vision of fantastical flora and fauna that might owe something to the designs of Ernest Haeckel but remains utterly Nilsenian in the intricacy of form and the fusion of the alien with the familiar.

The question is how you might feel spending your days colouring in these alien nightmares on the page? And what colours will you need anyway?

The Return of the Honey Buzzard

Aimee de Jongh

Self Made Hero, £14.99

HeraldScotland:

The curious thing about Dutch cartoonist Aimee de Jongh’s new graphic novel is the plot of pure melodrama, a thing of painful memories and guilt, suicide and death, and yet the telling has a calmness, a sense of space and distance that never feels overheated. It’s the story of a bookseller whose business is failing and whose memories of a childhood friendship are stirred when he witnesses a woman killing herself.

HeraldScotland:

De Jongh’s black and white artwork is cinematic and full of character. Reading it you both rattle through the story and linger on the imagery. A genuine pleasure.

Love and Rockets 1

Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez

Fantagraphics, £4.35

HeraldScotland:

Not so much a review as a vote of thanks. The greatest comic of the 20th century (and even that might be underselling it) returns to magazine format. So it was in the beginning … In the new iteration Los Bros Hernandez continue to chart the lives of the characters they first created more than 30 years ago. For that reason it might be difficult for the newcomer diving into this first issue and expecting to know what’s going on. But for those who have been keeping up here are Jaime’s most famous characters Maggie and Hopey hanging out at gigs and comic cons, while Gilbert gives us latest psychosexual chapter in the life of Fritz Martinez.

This is not where to start if you haven’t read Love and Rockets. But if you haven’t read it before you’ve more than three decades of some of the best comic strips ever created to catch up with. We're rather jealous.