Grant Morrison and Seth are two of my favorite comics artists. And recently, both have come out with new releases, books I made a point of reading over the holidays. Joe the Barbarian, an eight-issue comic-book series that began in early 2010, has recently been published as a deluxe edition hardback. Sometimes I’m a little suspicious of “deluxe editions,” feeling that they are a way to repackage and charge more for what has previously been published, and with little additional material. And while I would have liked for there to have been more input/material from Morrison to justify the “deluxe” aspect of the book, I did appreciate the supplemental material from the series’ artist, Sean Murphy. The art in this book is phenomenal, and Murphy does a great job of contextualizing much of it and providing sketches and a bit of history behind some of the page layouts. This is an excellent work to demonstrate the nuances of visual storytelling. Morrison is a great writer, sure, but Murphy’s illustrations not only supplement, but greatly enhance, the general narrative.
This is the story of Joe, an introverted and hyperglycemic adolescent greatly affected by his father’s death (he had been a soldier fighting overseas), and with a vivid imagination. His fantasy life takes on a life all its own when bullies steal the snack his mother provides him with, and Joe returns home to his secluded room and suddenly becomes weakened because of his lack of food. In this uncertain state, he is drained of energy and feels almost completely powerless. More important, he begins to have visions…and these visions become the gist of the narrative. His world, complete with books, and toys, and a pet rat, is completely transformed into epic proportions. This is another example of Grant Morrison infusing the real with the imaginary, showing the thin line that separates our fantasy lives from our lived experiences. And, as one might expect from Morrison, the book includes meta-commentaries on the medium of comics itself.
The other book I recently read was Seth’s The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists. Outstanding! I’m not sure what else to say about this title. I love Seth’s work, so I was predisposed to like this book anyhow. This one is much like his previous “sketchbook,” Wimbledon Green, which I really liked. But whereas Wimbledon Green seemed more of a side project–and Seth, by his own admission, states as much–The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists is a full-blown narrative project. One of the things I love about Seth’s work is when his comics are about comics and the history surrounding the medium (whether that history is real or not). This book gives us all of that with a vengeance, and in this way, Seth’s work is similar to that of Grant Morrison. The two writers are at their best when they focus on their love of comics and the power of the medium. In fact, by the time I finished this book I felt that this was Seth’s tribute to his chosen profession, complete with reverence, frustration, pathos, and of course imagination. The latter largely takes the form of a faux history, complete with detailed backstory and all. As Seth points out, this book is similar, to a point, to Dylan Horrack’s Hicksville, a book I haven’t read in a few years. Now, after being so bowled over by The GNBCC, I want to go back and reread Horrack’s work, just to see how the two sit well together.