Friday, February 02, 2007

Snow in the Comics, Part 2

Part 2 of 3
"We're Wolf" by Genevieve Castree
Drawn and Quarterly Showcase Three
edited by Chris Oliveros
95 pages
ISBN 1-896597-88-2
$19.95 Cdn/$14.95 US

It's snowing again today, which puts me in mind of snow in the comics (technically, since it hasn't really stopped snowing for several weeks, there should be many more of these entries, but I've been too busy shoveling).

Perhaps the most famous of all snow-themed comics is Herge's Tintin in Tibet, the classic, austere graphic novel that Herge identified as his favourite. Who could forget, after reading this story as a child, the epic journey of the indomitable boy reporter to find his long-lost friend Chang? During a troubled period of his life, Herge poured all his artistry into this simple tale of Tintin's adventure in the Himalayas, his encounter with the lonely Yeti, and the struggles of his companions to survive and reunite Tintin with Chang, his friend from an adventure drawn decades earlier. The only Tintin album without a villain, Tintin in Tibet is full of haunting cartoon images, emotion, and lots and lots of snow.

The iconic nature of this book, and the place it holds in the imagination of its readers, is one of the themes of Genevieve Castree's (she signs herself Genevieve Elverum here) contribution to the third volume of the Drawn and Quarterly Showcase anthology. "We're Wolf!" is a beautiful meditation on nostalgia, self, and lycanthropy that takes as its inspiration Tintin's snow-bound adventure --its pace, use of silence, and feeling. The story follows a young woman through two seasons, Summer and Winter, both highly suggestive of states of mind as well as stages of life and love, and with aspects of Herge's book used as outward emblems of an interior life.

The title page of Castree's story features a highly stylized version of the famous cover from Tintin in Tibet, grasped in a tiny hand --an elaborate play on words that refers to her title ("We're Wolf" or "Werewolf") and her subject, as well as to the character on her faux-Tintin cover.

The metaphor is stretched even further throughout the story as Castree's character, a young woman/cartoonist surrogate, in turn reads the comic, imagines herself inside it, hiking over snow-covered mountains, and finally giving birth to a brood of tiny Yeti-like werewolves. The narrative is quite dreamlike and Castree's art is a charming mix of ligne-clare cartooning and gorgeous colour with a very personal style. And of course there is quite a bit of snow. Ice-caves, mountain peaks, sleeping bags, pine-needles, vast expanses of white. The story is very evocative of childhood (I particulary like the idea of dealing with a Summer-time depression by curling up with your favourite kids comic --kind of like a snowball saved from winter in the freezer and unwrapped in the hottest day of the year) and it is wide open to interpretation.

How are these images connected? What does it all symbolize? I cannot say. I only know that it is beautiful and that the book (and Castree) is a treasure: the other selections include a nice coming-of-age story by Sammy Harkham ("Somersaulting") and a quirky postmodern pastiche of a 1930s pulp adventure by Matt Broersma ("The Mummy") that is someways reminiscent of early Herge. And yes, I know this book was published in 2005 --I've been saving it for a snowy day.

Next time: the forecast calls for more snow
Part 3
Part 1

R.I.P. Geneviève. Her husband wrote a song about their first meeting and reading comics.

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