More Graphic Novelishness

"Why are you doing this?" by Jason (2005)

There is a moment in "Why are you doing this?" in which the hero, who has just been framed by a mysterious stranger for the murder of his best friend, is taken in by an archetypally trusting single mother. "Did you do it?" she asks him, recognizing him from the news bulletins describing the killing. When he denies being the murderer she looks him deep in the eyes before deciding that he is worthy of her trust, and the panel frame fills with his cartoon-dog eyes, enormous and completely blank.

In a way, this emptiness seems to be Jason's central concern. His narrative is entirely, purposively conventional, extensively worked over by Hitchcock and innumerable mystery novelists, and as his characters naively go through the expected motions their hollowness is always self-consciously evident. The characters are obsessed with narratives, determined to acquire enough stories to tell at dinner parties to prove (finally and irrevocably) that they have not lived wasted lives. It is only in the striking last page that the emptiness of narrative moves completely out of the realm of unsatisfying woodenness and into a fully fledged argument about the troubled nature of our addiction to stories. In its denouement, we can finally see the importance of asking the question of Jason's title: the last words of his narrative are "What happened?" but we know by now that the real story happens in the 'Why?".

"Why are you doing this?" - ****

"Fantastic Butterflies" by James Kochalka

This is the first of Kochalka's books that I have read, and I may need to acclimate myself to his unselfconscious melding of mundane realism and the oddities of science fiction. I find a lot of the whimsy (including the title) somewhat cloying, but in the final analysis, I have to admire (sort of) an authorial consciousness so broad and so fanciful that it even grants a burst testicle some measure of subjectivity.

"Fantastic Butterflies" - ***

"Peculia" by Richard Sala

Peculia is described by its enthusiasts and publicists as a hybrid, merging the dry gothic comedy of Edward Gorey with a sexy campiness. The substantial middle ground revealed by this hybrid draws in some surprising and delightful associations, not least with P. G. Wodehouse. Peculia is a rich young woman of considerable abilities who rebels against her quiet, confined life of privilege (and, by association, against her excessively private ex, Obscurus). In each (too too) short episode, Peculia ventures forth to be met with macabre peril (often instigated and more often resolved by the emotionally conflicted Obscurus) before being delivered (or delivering herself) unharmed into the competent hands of her impeccable butler, Ambrose. The episodes seem slight, and aren't always overly concerned with resolving the more intriguing plot points immediately, but they are carefully structured in the old comics tradition of serials like "The Spirit." By the end of this volume, I was totally enthralled by this charming group of misfits, both villainous and heroic.

"Peculia" - ***1/2

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