This is the first commentary on JustcomiX that is not about a comic book. It is not a non-fiction study of comics (I’ve writer about Jules Feiffer before), and it isn’t even illustrated.
What gives is that a few months ago I came across a novel that I originally mistook for a comic book but turned out to be a gift in a different package instead. It is called “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”, by Michael Chabon. Now, there is a superhero – The Escapist. There are villains. And it is even part of the Golden Age of American comics – late 1930’s and 1940’s. Aye, that it all has, but in text only.
The story is a beautiful one about Sam Klayman, a Jewish boy in Brooklyn, who gets a roommate in Josef Kavalier, his cousin recently escaped from Nazi-overrun Czechoslovakia. Sam has a toe in the comics industry, Joe is a trained artist, come together they create a hugely successful comics franchise for their employers and rake in the money, all the while letting go of their intellectual property.
The other, and larger part of the novel, is Joe’s constant attempts at reestablishing contact with his family back in Czechoslovakia and especially his obsession with getting a safe passage for his younger brother to New York.
It is an enourmous work – over 600 pages of teeny print, and possibly the largest novel I will ever read. And a word of warning is that don’t go into it expecting lots of exposes on comics, or insights or even humour. The book contains all of these, but scant more than a few dozen pages. More light is shed on the tricks of the professional escape artist than on comics. Take it as a book on 2 people who happen to make comics, as much as “Kane and Abel” is about hotel management.
Yet, for those of you who are as seriously devoted to this medium as I am, a story that includes comics is a big event. This novel was even awarded the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. A reading of this book is recommended not as a tribute to comics, but as a tribute to comics creators – dogged and talented individuals, adding on the art of the deal to the art of the comics, fighting accusations of subversion while also fighting personal demons in some cases.
A comics creator is not more special than other artists. But, let it be acknowledged that they are no less special either.