Cartooning Like You Mean It

Cartooning, Teaching & Living – by Tom Hart

Archive for February 2009

Tsuge in French

with 3 comments

PART 1 of an article in progress.

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There is a book by Yoshiharu Tsuge that I have never read, called in French- “L’homme Sans Talent” -The Man With No Talents. I’ve seen it in French and its original Japanese. My French being awful and my Japanese non-existent, I have barely penetrated this world, but I am absolutely obsessed with this above image and what I can read of the story. I’ve gone to friends’ houses, I’ve sought out this image so I can just stare at it, like a 3 year old transfixed by a scary doll or damaged stuffed animal; I’m obsessed with a simulacrum of a human.

I stare at it. Who is this man selling stones? What brings a cartoon man to this point in his life? Why is he lying like that, in that strange position, and composed of those scratchy short lines? I gaze at this drawing and try to answer those questions on my own. I look, ask and imagine. And then I realize: what Tsuge has created with this simple panel is a space in my heart for a new story to appear.

And when I look at this man without talent I know one thing, because my spirit knows about a story: that some other character or object or beast from this same linefield will intrude upon this character’s world and story. Some other beast must emerge to confront in a new way, this scratched, sketched-out man. It will probably be some visual and immediate thing, but it could come from his own memories (full of other creatures and things, no doubt) or his own concerns- newly manifest from the alchemy of his own thoughts. A beast in spirit, a beast-thought. But something will emerge from the linefield to become story.

Forcing myself through this story, in a new language of lines, light and shadow and little (computerized) French squiggles, I’m propelled to slow down and immerse myself in the meaning. I’m in the perfect frame of mind to take in artwork: immersed in form and content, slowing down, perceptions open, looking for meaning. This new language IS the linefield. The linefield is about finding meaning, sometimes found whether you search for it or not.

Trying to read Tsuge in French is like trying to read Rege in english. Puzzling and troublesome, yes, but something is shimmering and calling out for attention, suggesting meaning where you might have thought you just saw a drawing, a doodle, or an tiny unimportant foreign word. In Rege’s Against Pain, or in a slow-moving master work translated into a unfamiliar language, every millimeter seems to speak.

The first story (or chapter?) begins on page 5 of the volume itself (I’ll use that method of numbering from now on) and is a title page. Along with the title, “Le Marchand de Pierres”- we see a landscape in a ceramic pot. The shine and man-creafted shape tells us it’s ceramic, but set in there, a landscape of streams and crevices and plateaus, is it a rock? Atop that, the silhouette of a man (I think, from the broad shoulders) in a hat, seated still. Is this a real landscape and a normal sized man? Or a small rock and a tiny, tiny abstract person? Anyway, it’s totemistic- it’s inviting us into the story.

Page 6- Our man, lying down, on a rocky beach landscape, beneath a tarp, stones for sale to his right on small boxes and shelves. Behind him, a sign in Japanese on a pole, a bird in flight, silhouetted. The next panel zooms in and flips our view of the sign on the pole. Thus, are we looking from the sea shore? Are we the bird in flight? It stretches time or space, maybe both, doing this. On the sign: “stones.” My struggle to read the computerized French caption is minimal: I became a seller of stones. But at the start of that sentence, does “pour finir” mean “finally” or “in the end” or even “in order to finish?” Each incarnation means something new: resigned in the first two possibilities, or something more willful in the third.

Panel 3 of this page- a close up of the stones. Suddenly they are higher in contrast, and differentiated from each other. Some are splotchy, some textured with thin gradations, some lumpy, some smooth. A price adorns each rock. Everything depicted in the story up til now sits there stock still, solid, a heavy, deadened part of some otherwise transient (ocean, river currents, wind currents) landscape.

Page 7, a giant silhouetted crow with a berry or stone in its beak rests on a wooden pillar. These pillars line a road to the back of the space of the panel. The atmosphere in the sky and/or water is troubled with lines, but the crow is unbothered. In the text, the man says he tried other things- some sort of cartoonist, some sort of photographer, nothing worked. Man is bothered, nature unmoved.

The man is viewed closer and closer, seeming more like the first vision of him we saw. He has read some books on selling stones, it doesn’t cost anything to begin such an endeavor, he thought it was a good trade for him. Our last view is presumably his view, looking onto a small marshy area of reeds, plains and water.

Action begins on page 9 (page 8 sets us up to see the giant river-landscape he is on). As our man prods and beats and pokes at stones, he tells us he’s going to do this well, and deciding this, he was given the idea for his project. It’s the last two panels here that are riveting. Panel 5, where the text about him getting his little idea, the man is on a little jetty or wooden plank. It’s precarious- he’s careful, on the edge of his world, and maybe his understanding. An idea is forming. The next panel, “My project”, as the man shuts his eyes and looks serene, a silhouetted train thunders by above his head, on a bridge over the river. The effect: “It’s risky, but a powerful idea.”

We’re fully in this man’s world now. As his lines and shadow assemble to re-form him panel after panel, he makes his way through his new chosen profession.

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Written by hutchowen

February 11, 2009 at 2:51 pm

ALI’S HOUSE and you

with 2 comments

So Margo and I are now gearing up to launch ALI’S HOUSE! Target date: May 3.

We could use your help- write your local daily newspaper editor, tell them you hear there is a new strip that you would like to read, called Ali’s House. Tell them the truth- you’re interested in our work, you’re interested in the project, in the culture of the strip, whatever,  just tell them you want to read it.

Below are a few favorites as teasers.

Thanks!

Tom and Margo

Written by hutchowen

February 3, 2009 at 10:21 pm

Posted in --N E W S, ali's house

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