||[Mar. 10th, 2008|04:13 pm]
100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)
#88 YOTSUBA&! – Kiyohiko Azuma
Whether they’re manipulating their cynical parents into finding love again or foiling bands of smugglers hiding at Pirate’s Cove, wise children are common in fiction. Yotsuba is not one of those wise children. She’s so naïve ordinary objects like swings sometimes confuse her, she throws tantrums, lies often and badly, will happily watch the same video 20 times and is in some ways a genuine five-year-old girl. This is no hard-edged story of earnest realism, however. Each Yotsuba&! story centres on something new that she discovers, like ‘Yotsuba & Cicadas!’ or ‘Yotsuba & Moving!’ Every time, a mundane object or event is transformed into something delightful by her wide-eyed wonder.
Yotsuba is in fact so wide-eyed you could fit three pupils in there. Kiyohiko Azuma draws typically big-eyed manga with mouths that are alternately tiny and huge, non-existent noses and maximum cuteness. Yotsbuba&! is in fact the distilled essence of cuteness; kittens multiplied by puppies times a thousand. It’s so full of optimism and exuberance you could can it and make an energy drink that cures depression. Even the grumpiest old get-off-my-lawn should be charmed by Yotsuba stalking her neighbours with a water pistol, reciting jumbled and misunderstood versions of action-movie dialogue like “Even if they kill me I will make it back in one piece!” and “You must be tired of livin'” before shooting them.
The story trundles along day by day through a summer holiday that seems as endless as they do when you’re a kid. Although there are brief shadows around the edges, like the question of what happened to her biological parents (she's adopted) and her bizarre phobias (air conditioning, things that resemble eyes), sunshine practically radiates off the page. It’s so bright it might make you squint, but it’s also guaranteed to leave you grinning like an idiot.
That one managed to come in close to the magazine's word limit. This is what the Watchmen piece looked like after I'd done the same with it. It might actually be better, I dunno.
WATCHMEN – Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons
“Did the costumes make it good?”
Watchmen is such a dense, layered work it’s tempting to reduce it to one of its main elements and say, “This is what Watchmen is.” Most obviously, it’s a deconstruction of superheroes, taking archetypal characters and asking hard questions about them. Whether it’s their politics, sanity or sexuality, the series doesn’t flinch in its answers. After reading Watchmen it’s difficult not to measure other superhero comics against it and find them lacking. It’s also a parable about doomsday paranoia, showing an alternate 1985 in which America’s ownership of the Übermensch doesn’t stop fear of nuclear Armageddon driving the country crazy. In some ways it seems eerily prescient. Replace the Communists with terrorists and it could be set today. Finally, it’s a bold experiment with the structure of comics, an interconnected self-referential hall of mirrors it’s easy to get lost in. The words and pictures often become unfixed, the writing going in one direction while Gibbons’ clear and detailed artwork describes parallel events, milking the connections between them for every drop of irony they’re worth.
All that experimental trickery, apocalyptic mood and fulfilment of the genre’s promise aside, it’s another element of Watchmen that earns it the status of a masterpiece. The most memorable chapters are the most human. A psychiatrist tries to understand a madman, but risks losing his own sanity. An ordinary woman tries to convince a distant and uncaring God that people matter. A man reflects on his life. Two people fall in love. Beyond the heroics, underneath the masks, Watchmen is about ordinary people trying to come to terms with an extraordinary world. Just like us.