May was a busy month, and I only managed to read two books; I finished off Art in Nature by Tove Jansson, and a new graphic novel find, Paper Girls.
Art in Nature by Tove Jansson ★★★☆☆
Art in Nature is a collection of many short stories. In this respect it is quite similar to A Winter Book, which I read earlier this year; however, A Winter Book drew more on the author’s childhood and family experiences, whereas Art in Nature perhaps explores the role of the artist/writer/illustrator/cartoonist, depending on each story. In this way I think it reflects the anxieties or problems each medium of art brings; maybe fiction was a way for Jansson to exorcise this.
The story about a cartoonist taking over the work of a colleague who has suffered a nervous breakdown had a darkness underlying it; also, I had no idea before this that cartoonists are replaced by new artists, but pull the wool over the eyes of the public, keeping the ‘changeover’ very subtle and fooling everyone into thinking it has been the same person drawing it the whole time! This was one of the best stories I think, it called into question identity, pressure and mystery in a subtle way.
I also spied that there were two same-sex couples implied in two of the stories; it wasn’t explicitly said, but there seemed to be male partners and female partners cohabitating (and arguing, as couples do.) Jansson had a female life partner so it was nice to see some quiet representation that is of the times she lived in (Art in Nature was first published in 1978, so explicit descriptions of gay partnerships wouldn’t have been received well then.)
Jansson’s writing is concise and light but always philosophical and poignant. However, I’m giving it three stars just because I didn’t feel it lived up to her other work.
Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan ★★★☆☆
Aesthetically, this graphic novel is a dream. The story begins at dawn, and focuses on four girls doing their paper round (hence the title there) and so the colour palette is all lilacs and deep dreamy blues.
The narrative, for me, did not match up to how beautiful the design was. I quite like the premise; it’s all about apocalyptic happenings and people travelling from the future, but everything was quite muddled and got surreal very fast; it feels like they’re doing their paper round and arguing and then a gigantic pterodactyl is suddenly bearing down upon them. Maybe this was the point. But I think it leaves the reader confused in a “where did that come from” kind of way rather than a “wow this is really meta and bizarre” kind of way.
Don’t get me wrong though; I would read the next volume. (Not least because they left it on a cliffhanger!) I just think the book’s pacing and clarity could have done with a bit more work. However, points for the tough female gang, and racial diversity. And the wonderful 1980s outfits.