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Graphic Novelists: Comic Book Heroes

6 minute read
Andrew D. Arnold, Toko Sekiguchi and Grant Rosenberg


Paradox Found

Paul Hornschemeier writes psychologically adroit comics that are more concerned with superegos than superheroes. His next graphic novel, The Three Paradoxes, to be published in June by Fantagraphics Books, poses questions like: How do parents influence our lives? Can people change? Employing multiple narrative threads yet maintaining a clear story through varying color schemes and drawing styles, Hornschemeier’s work demonstrates that comics can address complex ideas while also telling an emotional, entertaining tale. If other comics are easy chairs, his work offers the pleasure, and the pain, of reclining on a psychiatrist’s couch.

A mostly self-taught artist, Hornschemeier, 27, says that when he was growing up in his hometown of Georgetown, Ohio, his access to comics was limited to what he could find at the county fair and in dentists’ offices. As “the kid in school who could draw,” he had ambitions of creating superhero comics until, he says, “my stories were getting much less superhero-y and much more about a guy sitting in his bedroom wondering what he’s going to do for the day.” He had never read comics that explored personal issues, so he gave up on the idea. Then, as he was completing a double major in philosophy and cognitive psychology at Ohio State, a girlfriend gave him a copy of Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel Ghost World. It was a revelation. “It presented comics,” he says, “as a vehicle for emotion and honesty.”

After graduation, Hornschemeier began self- publishing a series of black- and-white experimental comics (recently compiled as The Collected Sequential). He soon began integrating color into his increasingly sophisticated works, and early last year he released his first graphic novel, Mother, Come Home, the story of a boy struggling to cope with his mother’s death and his father’s grief. The book, which features a bold visual design and a narrative that is by turns cerebral and heartfelt, set the tone for The Three Paradoxes. The artist says his main goal is “basically, just ask a lot of questions.” There’s no question about his talent. –By Andrew D. Arnold

Comic Star Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (2003), a loosely autobiographical story of a girl growing up during the Iranian revolution, pushed its author into the front ranks of comic-book artists. Her follow-up, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return (2004), solidified her position. Born in Iran, she lives in Paris, where she is busy on a number of fronts, including adapting Persepolis into an animated movie. In April, she will release a provocative nonfiction comic book, Embroideries, that explores the sex lives of Iranian women. Her career is flourishing, but she didn’t have an easy path to the top. In the following graphic essay, which Satrapi composed for TIME, the artist portrays some of the naysaying that cartoonists endure.



Death and taxes are supposed to be life’s only two certainties, but Rieko Saibara has cut the list in half. The Japanese artist depicted her successful battle with tax authorities in Dekirukana: Datsuzei (Daring Tax Evasion), a book that began as a magazine cartoon column in which she recounted her real-life adventures. These included testing a homemade radiological monitor at a nuclear power plant and working at a hostess bar, where her job was to stroke the fragile egos of lonely men.

Her drawing skills, at first glance, may seem to resemble a 6-year-old’s. But her work has unique twists: she often incorporates photos into her comics, lending them another layer of reality. And her tone is refreshingly caustic. Saibara’s fictional characters are delinquents and outcasts, and her nonfiction characters, mostly her friends, family and herself, aren’t much better. And yet Saibara’s intimacy with the characters allows readers to laugh with the unsympathetic lot, not at them. “I grew up watching women get beat up by their drunken husbands, raising kids fathered by different men, never smiling a day in their lives,” says Saibara, 40, whose father died of alcoholism.

Saibara attended art school in Tokyo, but she wasn’t considered talented. To make ends meet, she began drawing for pornographic magazines. Publishers noticed the humorous comments she added to compensate for her lack of drawing skills; by junior year in college she had debuted as a cartoonist. After her series about losing $500,000 in illegal mah-jongg became a hit, she went on to cultivate her personal style of manga (the Japanese term for comics), which now has many imitators. Says Saibara: “People who can draw well are too proud to do anything, and many of them are still starving artists.” –By Toko Sekiguchi


Bridging Cultures With Humor

Joann Sfar, much like the feline star of his most popular comic, always seems to land on his feet. The laid-back French artist, 33, regularly confronts three of the thorniest issues of the day–politics, religion and cultural conflict–but uses a deceptively light touch that results in stories that are thoughtful, charming and hands-down funny.

Sfar began drawing incessantly at the age of 3, when his mother died, using the creative outlet as a refuge, and hasn’t stopped since. His greatest success is the graphic- novel series Le Chat du Rabbin (The Rabbi’s Cat), which explores the life of an old rabbi and his daughter in an Algerian town that is home to both Jews and Muslims–all through the eyes of his irreverent, scrawny cat. “What I wanted to do is use humor and irony to explore the daily lives of religious folk,” says Sfar, “which is a change from the rather militant antireligion sentiment in France today.” An English translation is due in the U.S. in August.

Sfar’s father’s side is Algerian Jewish, while his mother’s lineage comes from Jews in Ukraine. Sfar is a native of Nice. His stories of Sephardic and Ashkenazic differences, and Jewish-Muslim relations, have resonated with readers in France. Says Sfar: “Not long ago I gave a talk to some 17-year-old students, where most were Arab. Afterward, two girls came up to me and said, ‘We adored it because we could see how Jewish families are just as screwed up as Arab families.’ That made me smile.” –By Grant Rosenberg

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