So I was watching The Greasy Strangler the other day and the only thing I could think of throughout the whole bizarre thing was just how much lead actor Sky Elobar really needs to be in a film based on Dan Clowes' Pussey.
COMIC OF THE WEEK : HOSTAGE
By Guy Delisle
Published By Drawn & Quarterly
Fifteen years in the making is Guy Delisle's latest work, Hostage, out now through Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly. It's Delisle's first major work that's non-autobiographical in nature and the creative switch up is refreshing. Hostage is the true story of French NGO worker Christophe Andre's harrowing experience being kidnapped and held hostage for several months in Chechnya and in lesser hands Hostage would probably read as a commercial thriller, the kind of thing you'd find in an airport bookshop. However, Delisle strips away all the trappings of a conventional thriller setting his book, largely, inside the confines of a mostly bare room with Christophe chained to a radiator and using the comics mediums strongest tools - chiefly the ability to manipulate time on the page - to breathe an air of authenticity into his book.
Isolation and helplessness are what the reader experiences through Christophe's tale and, entering his headspace, we're given to an honest and frightening portrait of enforced imprisonment.There is immense empathy generated almost immediately by Christophe’s appearance as the everyman - he's presented as just a regular guy, a little paunchy, physically unremarkable and his reliability adds to the realism as does a distinct lack of "action." Far from being a negative, however, the absence of heroic battles and escape attempts (which Christophe fantasises rather absurdly about) allows Delisle a rare opportunity to play with time and space on his stripped-back pages, building tension as days and weeks pass for Christophe in a blur of unchanging sameness and routine, and as he begins to wonder if anyone is coming for him at all.
Delisle interviewed Andre extensively for the book and the artist's spare, minimal lines help immeasurably in conveying the horror of the trapped space. Free to concoct absurd escapist fantasies and ruminate on events playing out in the world beyond the confines of his room, Christophe has nothing but a mattress and his panicked imagination to keep him company. The sparseness Delisle gives Christophe's surroundings adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere incredibly. This minimalism is far from artistic laziness however. Not only are the pages beautiful, but it's a deliberate and clever choice by Delisle to highlight the fact that Christophe is for all intents and purposes in limbo, struggling to keep track of time and to keep himself sane. Delisle is unafraid to spend multi-page sequences depicting little but Christophe staring at the ceiling, the links in his handcuff chain clinking. Crime novelist Andrew Vachss often writes about how much of the art of surviving incarceration is learning the art of waiting and Delisle depicts this wonderfully, stretching time out for the reader over these sequences, building further empathy for his protagonist.
Delisle's ability to play with time is perhaps what's most impressive about Hostage. There's a steady rhythm that Delisle builds over his pages and readers may find themselves speeding through sections as the tension ratchets up or, if disciplined enough, slowing sequences of six-panel pages down to a crawl to experience an elongation of time and the moment such as Christophe must have felt. Further to that, when Delisle needs to break the rhythm he's created, usually in terms of a change in Christophe's thinking, he'll alter his page composition drastically, such as in this sequence where Christophe attempts to halt a mounting panic attack:
Here, the shift in the flow of panels and pages that Delisle builds is instantly shattered - the comics equivalent of a record scratch moment - and such instances throughout the book are marvellously done.
Then there is the relationship between Christophe and his captors. There is an obvious language barrier between both parties and as such Christophe struggles with the motivation for his kidnapping - the endgame is unclear throughout much of the book- but his ability to remain (mostly) cordial throughout the ordeal is remarkable as is his remarkable ability to keep his mind sharp, keeping track of the days and recounting old military history facts to ensure his brain hums through the endless repetition of his days.
Now, I'm aware that all this might just sound a tad dull and if a flawless page of comics construction is, on a technical level, a little dry for you, keep in mind just how skilfully Delisle builds this story to it's flawlessly paced, tension-filled final quarter. Here, at the climax, the creator completely rearranges the quiet, rhythmic panels of earlier sections into pages jam-packed with angular, multi-panelled compositions, mirroring Christophe's anxiety/adrenalin as well as the sudden onrush of movement. Freedom, when it finally comes, is as thrillingly depicted in Hostage as in any kind of drama with a similar premise.
Whether you wish to study Hostage as a first rate piece of comics machinery or as a stirring slice of biography, this is absolutely masterful, artful stuff from Guy Delisle. Read without hesitation.
WEBCOMIC OF THE WEEK : CARRY ME
By Dan Berry
When discussing Dan Berry's 2012 comic, "Carry Me," it becomes impossible to not overload on superlatives so I'm going to cut this short before I'm reaching for a thesaurus. A rare balancing act between the heartbreakingly sad and heartwarmingly sweet, Barry's silent, symbolic comic about death is a thing of real beauty. Lovely watercolours and charming cartooning are only a part of what makes this little comic so special. "Carry Me" is wonderfully yet simply constructed, powerfully emotive, thrilling and yet genuinely tender. Please, please read it. It's truly special.
COMICS VIDEO OF THE WEEK : SKELLY/AGENT 10/TIMELAPSE
Rounding things off this week is Katie Skelly, she of the forthcoming My Pretty Vampire. In this time lapsed video, Skelly belts out a lovely page from her Agent 10 series using nothing more than paper, pencils, pens and a ruler. Super stylish and delightfully lo-fi, there will be more Skelly in this space soon as My Pretty Vampire approaches. Check this out.
See you next week. Love your comics.
Cameron Ashley spends a lot of time writing comics and other things you'll likely never read. He's the chief editor and co-publisher of Crime Factory (www.thecrimefactory.com). You can reach him @cjamesashley on Twitter.