Comics/Graphic Novels

Comics A-Z: The Arts From Kusama to Ofrenda

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S.W. Sondheimer

Staff Writer

When not prying Legos and gaming dice out of her feet, S.W. Sondheimer is a registered nurse at the Department of Therapeutic Misadventures, a herder of genetic descendants, cosplayer, and a fiction and (someday) comics writer. She is a Yinzer by way of New England and Oregon and lives in the glorious 'Burgh with her husband, 2 smaller people, 2 cats, a fish, and a snail. She occasionally tries to grow plants, drinks double-caffeine coffee, and has a habit of rooting for the underdog. It is possible she has a book/comic book problem but has no intention of doing anything about either. Twitter: @SWSondheimer

It’s been a minute since I wrapped up Heroes A-Z and I figured it was time to start another adventure. This round, we’ll go alphabetically through the arts, finding a graphic novel or comic that represents a different aspect of that gigantic and intimidating bucket. Ready? Alright, got my oxygen tank on and diving in 3…2…1…

K: Kusama

Kusama: A Graphic Biography by Elisa Macellari

Part of Laurence King’s Graphic Lives series, Kusama delves into the life and work of Yayaoi Kusama, who changed art—and the world—forever with her unique style, Infinity Net paintings, massive instillations, and performance pieces. Macellari’s biography also takes an unflinching looked at the effects Kusama’s severe OCD and PTSD had on her life and work, including her decision to return to Japan in the ’70s where, now in her 90s, she continues to live and work in a psychiatric hospital.

L: Lucifer

The Devil is a Part-Timer by Satoshi Wagahara and Akio Hiiragi

For a guy a good chunk of the Western world is supposed to abhor, the Lightbringer has certainly staked out a decent amount of real estate as a muse. As the subject of paintings, sculptures, etchings, sketches, animation, video games, comedies and dramas of both stage and screen, and of course comics, it’s entirely possible the Devil is the most frequently depicted angel of all time.

The Devil is a Part-Timer is one of his more novel depictions, though, which is why I’ve included it here: defeated in his bid to conquer a sacred island, Lucifer and his most trusted general flee…to Tokyo in 2015. Hoping to find a way to replenish their magic and achieve world domination, they do what they must to establish a bulwark: rent a crappy apartment, try to stick to a budget, and secure employment. Satan steps up for that last part, knowing that if he can only rise through the ranks in the fast food chain that takes him on as a part-timer, he can conquer Tokyo, then Japan, then the World—provided he can survive the reincarnation of the hero Emilia, natural disasters that aren’t so natural, teenage fangirls, and the crushing demands of customer service.

M: Museé d’Orsay

Moderne Olympia by Catherine Meurisse

This famous Paris museum is the setting for Catherine Meurisse’s biting cartoon strip satire of the scandal generated by Manet’s Olympia, first shown the Paris Salon of 1865. The orchid in the model’s hair, her pearl earrings, and the faux-Asian style of her shawl all mark her as a wealthy woman, which would be fine except for the fact that she’s also wearing a black ribbon around her neck, is missing a shoe, and is blocking access to her…um…lady bits with her hand (because how dare she take control over who has access to her body). That later cluster of attributes, as well as the name Olympia, mark the model as a prostitute; while the French were apparently fine with nudity and slavery, they’d be damned if they were going to admit they were totally okay with prostitution so long as no one talked or painted about prostitution. No one is going to hold Olympia back, though; she races through Meurisse’s pages, giving the double middle finger to propriety and society gallivanting about the museé, shocking other subjects and inspiring many of the greats though they doth protest too much.

I know I said I wasn’t buying any more books but excuse me, I need it.

Olympia, painting by Edouard Manet

N: Nyota Uhura

Fierce Heroines: Inspiring Female Characters in Pop Culture by Rosie Knight and Arielle Jovellanos

(Note: There is currently an availability issue with this title. Make sure to check your local library!)

Lieutenant Nyota Uhura means so much to so many. The fact that a Black woman was part of main cast of a prime time sci-fi show in the mid-1960s, that so much of what happened during those amazing adventures hinged on her ability to communicate, on the trust her crewmates and her captain put in her…I don’t know that there will ever be words that adequately convey her place in history. Uhura has since been depicted in animation, comics, official art, fanart, and various other media, always the voice of reason and compassion but she is never one to back down from a fight that threatens the beings she cares about. The ultimate avatar of “do no harm but take no shit,” she is a fierce heroine indeed.

O: Ofrenda

El Muerte: Requiem by Javier Hernandez

A lot of people think of Día de los Muertos as a second Halloween, adopting the iconography as part of pop culture. Don’t be one of those people. The tradition goes back some 3,000 years to rituals practiced by indigenous peoples in what is now Mexico. Contemporary celebrations blend indigenous ritual and European religion and take place over a three day period, welcoming the souls of departed family members briefly back to the realm of the living.

Part of the celebration involves the construction of an ofrenda, a table in the home upon which the living leave the deceased’s favorite foods along with tortillas, fruit, pan de muertos, and other edibles, candles, marigolds, and cock’s combs. Calaveras and calacas were not introduced until the 19th century.

Javier Hernadez, a Mexican American artist and writer, grew up loving Marvel and DC characters but always felt a certain lack of connection. He wanted the next generation to have what he didn’t: a comic born out of their own culture. That’s why he created his character El Muerto, a character thematically linked to both Día de Los Muertos and Aztec mythology. In Requiem, Diego de la Muerta is abducted by the Aztec gods on his way to his community’s Día de los Muertos festival in California and sacrificed. He is returned to Earth one year later with supernatural powers.

A little more than halfway there! Who says the arts aren’t necessary? People who have never done, looked at, or listened to an art apparently. Can you imagine a world without the arts? I can’t, which is why I’ve chosen it as my next A–Z umbrella topic. If there are any sub-genres you’d like be to highlight, feel free to slide into the conversation @BookRiot on Twitter!