Random Musings: 11-12-2010

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         Although the superhero genre is probably the most popular of all genres depicted in comicbooks, the medium has and does explore other subject matters as well. Here are a few examples.



         Fax From Sarajevo by Joe Kubert (1996) tells the true story of Kubert’s friend, Ervin Rustemagic, during the 18 month siege of Sarajevo, Bosnia in 1992-93. Rustemagic communicated with friends, including Kubert, via fax during that time; and Kubert used those faxes (which he includes in the book) as a starting point in depicting— via words and images— the harrowing experiences of Rustemagic’s family and others trapped in that besieged city.

         The story opens with Rustemagic’s decision to return to Sarajevo in March 1992. All seems well, but that night explosions rip through his neighborhood. Before long, they find themselves without a home (it’s been destroyed by a tank), facing the ever-present danger of snipers, and having to cope with various medical needs.

         And his daughter’s 10th birthday wish? That they all stay alive.

         Through it all, Rustemagic never gives up.

         Fax from Sarajevo won the 1997 Eisner Award for Best New Graphic Album; and the 1997 Harvey Award for Best Graphic Album of Original Work. It’s well worth reading.

         Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo (Dark Horse Comics) concerns the adventures of a ronin (a master-less Samurai) named Miyamoto Usagi. In this series, Usagi is depicted as a rabbit, but Usagi Yojimbo shouldn’t be confused with a “funny animal” series. In his introduction to the 1999 collection “Grasscutter” (which won that year’s Eisner Award for best limited series), Will Eisner, who didn’t initially care for the anthropomorphic characters, said, “I felt I was somehow reading a komikkusu (another word for manga) in Japanese (italics his). Stan’s animal-people faces allow the reader to imagine and insert “real” faces out of their own memory.”

         He went on to say that after reading several stories, he was transported into the “fascinating world of Japanese folklore”; and that this has been important in the medium’s progression, because Sakai has “successfully brought to American comics a collection of Japanese fables well told in the American style.”

         Set in 1605, the “Grasscutter” storyline— originally published in Usagi Yojimbo (vol. III) issues 13-22— concerns the lost sword of the gods, Kusanagi (the Grasscutter), which was forged in heaven. A group known as the Conspiracy of Eight believes the recovery of this lost sword (one of three divine treasures; the others are a sacred jewel and a sacred mirror) could help them overthrow the Shogunate and restore the emperor. As one of them says, “the people will look upon it (the emperor once more possessing all three treasures) as a sign that the gods wish the return of the emperor to power.”

         Usagi comes into possession of the sword, and becomes the focus of this power struggle. He also finds himself in a quandary. If he delivers the sword to the emperor, it would lead to civil war. On the other hand, should he deliver it to the new, unproved Shogun? Usagi concludes that it belongs to the people, “but who can I give it to that would not use it as a political weapon?”

         While wishing he’d never found it, Usagi concludes that the gods chose to give it to him, so it’s up to him to make the correct decision.

         Usagi Yojimbo: Grasscutter II, which collects issues 39-45, sees the results of a decision made by Usagi and the warrior priest Sanshobo at the end of the “Grasscutter” storyline. Needless to say, their seemingly simple solution regarding what to do with the sword contains problems of its own.

         Eisner, (1917-2005), one of the giants of the medium, and one who strove to see that it gained more respect, published his graphic novel (a term Eisner coined) A Contract with God in 1978. In 2006, the Contract with God Trilogy, a book containing the four original Contract with God stories; 11 stories in the 1983 collection called A Life Force and the 1995 story Dropsie Avenue: The Neighborhood was published, collecting in one volume various tales of ordinary people, who live in or interact with those who live in the tenement at 55 Dropsie Avenue in the Bronx.

         These stories concern people at their best, at their worst, and all places in between.

         Other non-superhero books of note include Eric Shanower’s Age of Bronze, an ongoing series from Image Comics which re-tells the story of the Trojan War; and Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner. That graphic novel tells the story of Irish mob enforcer Michael O’Sullivan’s journey of revenge when he’s b
    etrayed by those for whom he works. It became a movie starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman in 2002.

         Road to Perdition was itself influenced by the Japanese epic Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, in which the Shogun’s former executioner, Ogami Itto, was framed and disgraced by a rival clan. He was forced to take the path of an assassin, accompanied by his three-year-old son, Daigoro, as he seeks revenge against the Yagu clan. The entire story, which can rightly be described as an epic tragedy, was recently published in 28 small paperback volumes by Dark Horse Comics.

         Other non superhero titles of recent years have included Ruse and Meridian from the now-defunct Crossgen Comics. Ruse followed the adventures of Detective Simon Archard and his assistant/partner Emma Bishop (the two argued over which term is correct) in a setting equivalent to 19th century England. Meridian focused on a teenage girl name Sephie, daughter of the late minister of the city-state Meridian. She inherits her father’s sigil of power after his murder by his brother and rival.

         Again, comics, like any other medium, have stories for pretty much everyone.


    Copyright 2010 Patrick Keating



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