Archive for the ‘Purchases’ Category

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The French comic book publisher Glénat has just released this new book, Capitales Européens en BD. Celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome that created the European Union, it collates a large number of excerpts from recent comic books that are set in European capitals.

Citizens of some of the E.U.’s newer member states might be disappointed not to see their cities represented; the collection omits a few states without explanation. I’m pretty sure that if the editors had looked hard enough, for instance, they could have found small scale local artists depicting Sofia or Ljubljana. Ultimately the collection offers snapshots of Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Bucarest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Lisbon, London, Luxembourg, Madrid, Nicosia, Paris, Prague, Rome, Stockholm, Talinn, Warsaw and Vienna. The emphasis remains largely on the known centres of European comic book publishing, with the largest entries for Brussels, Paris and London. The majority of artists included seem to be of western European origin, a shame considering the potential this book had for showcasing central and eastern European talent that might be unknown to a wider audience more used to the artists and authors included.

Fans of these Franco-Belgian albums will enjoy the collection, but it does unwittingly offer perhaps the strongest argument yet for non-European commentators to fall into the trap of describing a single ‘European’ style of comics illustration. The complex classical architecture of western Europe is beautiful rendered by the precise line drawing of authors such as Tito or Borile, Rivière and Carin. All four seasons of Paris, past, present and future are rendered full of atmosphere and some dark flashes of mystery. Occasional sparks of artisitic independence and brilliance emerge, such as the views of Madrid drawn in striking monochrome by Cava and Bel Barrio.

You can order the book direct from Glénat (€14.99, with prefaces in French, English and German, ISBN: 9782723457842). The caveat I suggest is that you should at least flip through a copy before buying, so as to not be disappointed by what is largely an ‘old-Europe’-centric album. I had naïvely hoped to have seen Slovenian artists included, even if they were young and outside the mainstream of European comics publishing. Is there really not one Hungarian comic book illustrator who could have shown be Budapest?

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A couple of weeks ago Comics Journal message board user billym directed me towards the work of Ben Katchor. Katchor is the New York based artist behind the long running syndicated comic strip Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer.

Knipl lives in a city not unlike New York City. It looks and feels like New York City, but it’s certainly not the New York City that we might recognise. It is, as Michael Chabon explains in the introduction to the 1996 collected volume of Julius Knipl strips, a “crumbling, lunar cityscape” and…

…a world of rumpled suits, fireproof office blocks with the date of their erection engraved on the pediment, transom windows, and hare-brained if ingenious small businesses; a sleepless, hacking-cough, dyspeptic, masculine world the colour of the standing lining of a hat.

Michael Chabon, Julis Knipl: Real Estate Photographer
New York City: Little, Brown and Company 1996, introduction

So the setting is a dreamlike interpretation of a familiar urban environment. In one (unusually) extended story, Knipl discovers a copy of a nightly newspaper called the The Evening Combinator, which publishes the dreams of the city’s sleeping citizens; one such story in the newspaper, for example, is entitled “Incest Party Resumes at Synagogue Laundromat”. Even in this dream like world, Katchor introduces another layer of dreams to remove us one step further from any actual city we might be thinking of.

As the title informs us, Knipl is a professional real estate photographer: a photographer of buildings that are about to be rented or sold. One imagines that this places him a lower down the pecking order than a wedding photographer.

The seeds of my dissertation project were sown a couple of years ago when I submitted my undergraduate dissertation on the subject of architecture and photography. At the time, I was particularly interested in the way that newly completed buildings were photographed for architectural journals and exhibitions. It was this lifeless representation of the building after completion and before occupation (as a pure, static piece of art) that inspired me to consider looking at the difference between comic book narratives and the presentation of architecture. Knipl, however, reminds me of a type of architectural photography that I had not considered: the images of buildings that are used to advertise them as commodities. Although we never see Knipl doing his job in the course of the comic strips, we can imagine him attaching a wide angled lens to his camera and contorting himself into the corner of a room to capture an image that depicts a space in its most spacious and illuminated form.

I would be interested to discover why Katchor chose Knipl’s profession, especially since we never see Knipl in action. I would suggest that it is because Knipl’s role in the strips is that of the detached observer – similar to that of his job. He is both a protagonist and an observer, and a recognisable figure (with his two camera bags, one in front of his slightly portly frame and one behind) who admits us into these strange personal encounters, justifies our presence and who involves us. Not only is he a casual observer, he represents us, the reader, bringing us right into the surreal urban landscape that he explores. With Knipl as our guide and alter-ego in this nameless city, we are even closer to the people and and places that Katchor depicts.

There is, as with almost all comic strips, an occupation of time and space in all of Katchor’s strips. But what is much more sophisticated is the inferred nostalgia of Knipl’s city, which Chabon discusses at length in the book’s introduction.

Katchor carefully devises a seemingly endless series of regrets in the heart of Juliuis Knipl for the things not only gone or rapidly disappearing, such as paper straws and television aerials, but also wholly imaginary: the Vitaloper, the Directory of the Alimentary Canal…

Michael Chabon, Julis Knipl: Real Estate Photographer
New York City: Little, Brown and Company 1996, introduction

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The passage of time in Kathor’s comic strips is not expressed solely through the momentary changes from panel to panel, but by the subtle and underlying expression of emotion and regret with regard to the passing of time. What is fascinating about Julius Knipl Real Estate Photographer is the almost tangible comprehension of time before the narrative in the comic strip began. The occasional appearance of dates and years on calendars in the comic strip remind us that this strip is contempoorary, but it often feels more like a nostalgic vision of New York City in the fifties or sixties than an imagined modern day world.

Did Knipl’s city ever really exist in reality? Or is it just imagined nostalgia? I’m not American, but along with Garrison Keillor’s weekly tales from northern Minnesota, Julius Knipl Real Estate Photographer is one of the closest renditions that I have encountered to my romanticised vision of middle America. The streets are lined with independently managed retailers and diners, above which one room businesses occupy tall red brick tenaments. Starbucks, McDonalds and Maceys have yet to invade and destroy the characterful enterprises of this American city. For me, a highlight of any visit to the USA is a $3 breakfast special sitting at the zinc-topped bar of a diner, drinking endlessly refilled cups of weak-as-water black coffee. But what inspired this nostalgic streak in me?

…Katchor is more – far more – than a simple archaeologist of out-moded technologies and abandoned pastimes. In fact he often plays a kind of involuted Borgesian game with the entire notion of nostalgia itself, proving that one can feel nostalgia not only for times before one’s own but, surprisingly, for things that never existed.

Michael Chabon, Julis Knipl: Real Estate Photographer
New York City: Little, Brown and Company 1996, introduction

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Being somewhat peeved to find my weekly French class cancelled again without any notice, I dropped by the Strasbourg manga bookstore Librairie Kaobang this morning and picked up Nihei Tsutomu’s newest book Abara and Yuichi Yokoyama’s Travaux Publics. Note that although this study is being carried out in English, it’s ten times quicker and easier for me to get hold of Japanese books in their French editions; as far as I know Travaux Publics has yet to be published in English, although I’d welcome any corrections on that.

Read my last post to hear how I found out about these two books. Thanks once again to Matt Kish and Chris Lanier on the Comics Journal Forum who corrected my spelling and suggested them to me. These two books should more than keep me entertained on the trains to and from Stuttgart over the easter weekend.

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Last weekend’s messy gastric-virus-in-Paris hoopla pretty much knocked me and all my study plans for six this week, so I’ve been busy trying to catch up with my design class obligations here in Strasbourg before letting myself get distracted by any juicy reading. However, the good old credit card helped me lift my spirits with two new additions to the bookshelf which will be arriving shortly. First up, I’ve finally got round to subscribing to that bastion of comics culture, The Comics Journal. I’ve picked up the odd issue from time to time in the past, and always been impressed (if not by it’s sometimes arrogant editorial tone) by the sheer weight and intelligence of its contents. Big, chunky and incisive interviews and articles with dozens of new book reviews. Buying a year’s worth in dollars reminded me just how little I take advantage of the weak dollar; it will be a very worthwhile investment.

Secondly, Jan Tromp, Henk Doll and Charles Reichblum have put together a monograph on Joost Swarte‘s colloborative project with Mecanoo Architects, the Toneelschuur Theatre Haarlem, which I’m very much looking forward to getting my hands on. A trip to Haarlem looks unlikely in the next few months, but then after my miserable experiences being ill in a Paris hostel, I think I’m going to be relatively happy staying still for a while.




  • ABOUT THE PROJECT

    "no words no action" was an experiment in academic blogging. The blog recorded the progress of reading, research and investigations that lead to a Masters in Architecture dissertation at the University of Sheffield in autumn 2007. You can find out more about the author's interest in blogging here.

    To find out more about the thesis, download the original dissertation proposal (pdf format) from February 2007 or the semi-formal first chapter (pdf format) from April 2007.

    Further research projects are in the works, and their dependence on human interaction and networking suggests more blogging will be inevitable when the time comes.


  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    At the time that this blog was created, James Benedict Brown was a fifth year Masters of Architecture student at the University of Sheffield. James' personal blog is here.

    James graduated in 2008 and now lives and works in Glasgow.


  • ABOUT THE TUTOR

    This project was supervised by Renata Tyszczuk at the University of Sheffield


  • ABOUT YOU

    If you want to correct me on something, offer an opinion on a particular artist or building, or if you'd like to recommend someone or something to find out about, please feel free to leave a comment. Just click on 'Comments' under the headline of the relevant post...


  • BOOKSHELF

    Click here to browse James' bookshelf, and to purchase books being used in this project.


  • CONFERENCE DIARY

    I've managed to miss almost half a dozen compelling conferences around the world so far this year, simply because I have no (more) money to travel and no time to escape my studies in Strasbourg and Sheffield. However, if I had a magic plane ticket and plenty of time, here's my selection of essential conferences to attend. Hopefully I'll be there for more of them next year... click here for the diary (updated every time I miss another one).


  • NOTE

    All images are used for illustrative purposes only, and the copyright remains with the artist and/or creator. Please contact me if I have misappropriated an image or incorrectly credited it. Thanks... JBB


  • SOME RIGHTS RESERVED

    Creative Commons License
    The content of this blog is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.


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