Recent reading

My expedition into the world of the graphic novel (hitherto unknown territory) was quite interesting and   I thank the group for directing may attention in that direction.

Initially, I thought that the reading list might be referring to Shaun Tan, the Australian author/illustrator whose children’s books are well known and who won an Oscar for the film adaptation of ‘The Lost Thing’. I had never looked at his work before and found the books, illustrations and his award-winning short film quite fascinating. The visual style is elegant ranging from crowded imagery to stylised simplicity. I saw elements of Jeffrey Smart and John Brack in the illustrations. The story lines focus on a degree of anomie and growing self-awareness – ideal for both children and adults. His work uses elements of traditional children’s picture books and comics and reaches out toward the graphic novel.

Tan, Shaun. ‘The Lost Thing’ Lothian 2001 and  ‘The Arrival’ Lothian  2006.

I was told by our leader that I was on the wrong track so ransacked my own collection and could only find two items that came close to the genre. These items were …

Streetwize Comic #15 Special AIDS Issue, Glebe, NSW, 1989. This item I had kept because of my interest in alcohol and drug education and HIV/AIDS issues. It is in conventional black and white format and tackles alcohol drug and health issues for a range of sexualities in a condensed format. Oddly enough, priced at the time at $1.95, it is now worth $35!


‘When the Wind Blows’ Raymond Briggs Penguin London 1986.

This was an anti-war, anti-nuclear bomb polemic. It can be rather dull in its presentation and wordy. Nevertheless, for its intended audience it was probably quite effective – certainly  there is some gentle humour while macabre how could it not be with a nuclear Armageddon as the conclusion!


My local BCC library eventually put me on the right track and I found the Graphic Novels shelf. I took out two items. They were ….

‘The Sandman Library: World’s End’ Neil Gaiman with Intro by Stephen King

DC Comics 1994.




















 The introduction by Stephen King makes some interesting points out the nature of story, its relatively limited number of concepts, yet the richness that flows from constant re-workings. The following stories flow from the isolated group of story-tellers notion (as in The Canterbury Tales). The illustration formats are varied and the tales all quite involving. Two things I noted – there is difficulty in this format in avoiding the authorial (sometimes heavy handed – and the dangers of cliché in the narrative).

‘American Vampire’ stories and illustrations by Scott Snyder, Stephen King and Rafael Albuquerque Vertigo Press 2010.

This was a stylish, gripping piece of work which developed a quite interesting story line accompanied very enjoyable graphics. The text was subverted to the point of quite small slices of text and balloons. As a ‘Deadwood’ fan I enjoyed much of the central theme.

As I have been exploring e-books lately and downloading some free material (‘Stinga’ – this can wait until the meeting that will look at this), I went looking for some gay-related e-book graphic novel material. I bought and downloaded ‘God Maker : Vampires of London’ mlrpress London 2011.

This gay vampire theme piece has a very slim story line with most of the emphasis placed on graphic values which I found stylish but strangely un-erotic.

My other reading for the month consisted of

‘Gone Viral’ Frank Bowden NewSouth  Sydney 2011.

Bowden Graduated Medicine in 1983 and went straight to the Fairfield Hospital to work through the plague years. He later moved to the NT where he Coordinated AIDS and STD work. He went to Oxford to work on Math Modelling and is now the Foundation Canberra Professor at the  ANU Med School and Director of the Canberra Sex Health Centre.

He provides a succinct and lively overview of a range of bacterial and viral diseases and the history of their treatment. He looks at contemporary epidemiology and the struggle to develop worthwhile health campaigns. He is especially interesting on trichomonasis, chlamydia and the hepatitis alphabet.

One delightful insight he offers – it is better for a man not to wash his hands after micturation! This is a well-paced witty and genuinely enjoyable read. He must be a great teacher.

 ‘The man who wrote Mozart : the Extraordinary life of Lorenzo Da Ponte’ Anthony Holden, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006.

This was recommended to me by a friend who is an Opera tragic (anyone who has a phone call tone that is an aria from Lucia de Lammermoor must qualify as a tragic).

As a translator (ancient Greek) and biographer (the English royals, opera, acting, composers and a massive piece on Shakespeare) Anthony Holden has a massive output.

The most interesting aspect of the story of da Ponte, as it unfolds, lies in its ironic counterpoint to Mozart. Da Ponte had the rip-roaring life of a rake that Mozart could only have dreamed about (da Ponte knew Casanova well). He and Mozart collided artistically at a key point in the life of each and produced ‘the Marriage of Figaro’, ‘Don Giovanni’ and ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ some of the most loved operas today. The Qld Opera produced Cosi as its touring piece this year and I enjoyed it (again) at The Con Theatre. It is the opera on which da Ponte left his strongest mark in the libretto. That audiences today continue to enjoy his insights into human relationships is clear.

The contrasts continue in that Mozart died so young while da Ponte emigrated to America and forged a new life and career as a bookseller, translator and eventually first Professor of Italian at Columbia U, New York dying aged 89.

The examination of the sources of his libretti and other works is quite painless and leavened with witty insights into his life and times. Definitely not for the opera tragic alone, it was a very enjoyable read.

–  John C.


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