tisdag 25 oktober 2011

Back from the comics store, late October 2011 edition

There is currently a sale on two of Li Österberg's books, which means you have no excuse not to go down to your local comics shop and ask for them. Just like life, they have quite a bit of melancholy in them at times, and are very much worth the effort.

Book: Sergel

Finished the Swedish National Museum of Fine Arts' book "Sergel", about the Swedish 1700s sculptor Johan Tobias Sergel. Born 1740, Sergel started out working in his father's embroidery shop, showed artistic talent and received training in drawing by Jean Eric Rehn and then sculpting training from Adrien Masreliez and Pierre Hubert L'Archevêque, both of them French and recruited to work on the Swedish royal palace being built in Stockholm – and to train a generation of Swedish artists and sculptors. L'Archeveque brought Sergel with him to Paris for six months, during which time Sergel met and was inspired by neoclassicist sculptor Edme Bouchardon and retired soldier, amateur etcher and conoisseur Comte de Caylus.

Sergel brought drawings by Bouchardon with him home to Sweden and worked hard at acquiring the French master's elegant draughtsmanship, developing exquisite technique. Recognized as an impressive talent, at 27 he received a stipend to go to Rome to study the classical originals. This initially led to a "culture shock" for a Swede who hadn't really been party to this European tradition before. So he started drawing the antique sculptures, moving on to drawing paintings and eventually sculpture. And so, after a couple of years, he starts sculpting, which leads to international recognition. However, as most of his creations ended up in comparatively isolated Sweden, they haven't really entered the world art history canon. 

Eating too much rendered Sergel rather fat during his stay in Rome, and he also developed gout and depression when his future started to seem uncertain after rumors that the Swedish government might revoke his stipend. Still, he produced some impressive works, developed a reputation and received international interest. In the end, his old teacher L'Archeveque returned to France in ill health, and Sergel returned to Sweden to take his place as the royal sculptor. He largely didn't get to do the monumental statuary he was hoping for, which led to more melancholy, but was instead deluged with commissions for portrait busts of the royal family and Swedish nobility, as well as doing various decorative stuff for the king. Still, he held Gustav III in the highest esteem, and was justly celebrated for his skills.


He died in 1814. If you're ever in Stockholm, it's not a bad idea to seek out some of his works, for example the altarpiece in Adolf Fredrik's Church

This book is, if I haven't misunderstood it entirely, the catalogue for a large Sergel exhibit at the National Museum. It concentrates a bit too much on his various sketches and caricatures for my taste, good as they are – I'm not against caricatures per se, far from it but I'm a huge fan of beautiful draughtsmanship, so I would have liked to see a bit more of that.

(The ink line in this and a number of other of other drawings reminds me of  Swedish artist and
Emil of Lönneberga illustrator Björn Berg. I don't know if anybody agrees with me, but it still does.)

On the other hand, just like I often find nicely rendered sketches more interesting than the finished inked comics art and finished paintings, I find some of of his terra cotta statuary sketches more interesting than the finished, smoother marble sculptures.

Anyway, anything that shows off great art is A-OK in my book, and Sergel is well worth anybody's time, even though I think the biographical narrative could have gotten a little bit more space – though it is an exhibition catalogue, and I understand that the narrative structure is affected by that. Anyway, recommended.

måndag 10 oktober 2011

Jiro Taniguchi: A Zoo In Winter

What I've read from Taniguchi before is one (1) collection of short stories – The Ice Wanderer – which were usually strong in the human relations/interplay and nature departments. A Zoo in Winter depicts, if I understand the text on the back cover correctly, how Taniguchi got his start doing manga. It has a lot in common with other "how I started doing manga" stories, but is well worth reading and stands squarely on its own legs. The story is well told, with interesting personalities, crisp linework and a charming love story woven into it.

Taniguchi's alter ego Hamaguchi works for a textile manufacturer, doing odd jobs while dreaming about becoming a fabric designer. The boss's disgraced (= divorced, and having-taken-a-lover) daughter enters his life when the boss trusts him to be her chaperone, taking her on various outings in Kyoto – including the zoo, where Hamaguchi likes to sit sketching the animals. On one of their outings, the young woman has arranged to meet her married lover, and elopes with him.

Hamaguchi's prospects at the company dwindle.

A friend studying at a design school arranges for a visit with a manga artist's studio for an interview to become an assistant, but when the two young men arrive, deadline is approaching at a hectic pace, and Hamaguchi is simply shanghaied into service on the spot, erasing lead art filling in solid blacks. Somewhat terrified, he even ends up doing some backgrounds because the deadline is so tight. The studio works practically all night, gets the art out to the printer's – the editor has been waiting for the pages to get finished and takes them there in a taxi – and Hamaguchi is bitten by the "manga bug".

Taniguchi's pacing isn't exactly rapid; there is a lot of time spent on the various personalities of the studio and their interplay, Hamaguchi's older brother coming to check up on him and to talk him into getting a proper job – but it turns out the brother is actually quite impressed with the work done at the studio – etc. There is also a somewhat bohemian artist friend of the manga sensei who introduces Hamaguchi to drinking and to some ladies. One of those ladies turns out to have a sickly younger sister, and asks Hamaguchi if he could take the sister for some small outings in Tokyo. Hamaguchi accepts. The sister is pretty, sweet, and very frail, and naturally she and Hamaguchi become quite fond of each other. She encourages him to draw a manga of his own, even though he has tremendous problems coming up with a story that works. With her help, though, something finally starts to take shape... and at the same time, her condition worsens, and she has to leave Tokyo.

Hamaguchi works at the story, trying to finish it for her sake, to be able to show it to her, but at the same time, she doesn't want him to see her in her brittle, emaciated state, so she forbids her sister to tell him where she is...

I won't give away the ending, or talk about the many subplots that don't really go anywhere but seem to be in the story mainly because they happened – towards the middle of the book, I actually felt that some of them were distracting a bit from the main plot, but only for a short while. Basically, those parts that don't contribute to the main plot are usually interesting enough in themselves that they aren't a distraction, and what I thought was a distraction was, in fact, a necessary part of the plot (though it was a bit slow-paced; I'll stand by that). Instead, I'll say that this is a both sweet and serious story about a young man finding his way in life, suffering some setbacks but persevering through hard work and the inspiration from a sweet girl; all told with empathy and elegant artwork.

Recommended; well worth your time.

Here is another review of the book. Artwork samples here. Another review, with artwork samples, here. (I recommend taking a look at those samples if you're in doubt whether to buy the book – I don't think the slightly bland painted cover represents Taniguchi's best work; however, his line art, complemented by excellent zip-a-tone "painting", is strong and beautiful.)

lördag 8 oktober 2011

Back from the comics store, October 2011 edition

Yeah, well, I ought to do a proper post but I've ben a bit under the weather and had a lot of work to do, etc etc. I'll steal the time to read at least one of these this weekend. I really liked most of the short stories in Taniguchi's collection Toudo no tabibito (Swedish title Isvandraren – "The ice wanderer" – from Epix), so I may go for A Zoo in Winter.