Monday, March 13, 2006

Schizo #4

The fourth issue of Ivan Brunetti's comic Schizo has been published by Fantagraphics, and it's a tabloid-sized collection of masterful cartoons drawn by the artist between December 1999 and July 2005. Schizo #3 was first printed way back in 1998 (a second printing appeared in 2003), so the series is on an open-ended publication schedule that refuses, as the author says, to "conform to Euclidean timespace."

Words that describe Brunetti's cartoons from issues 1-3:

Angry; surreal; hyper-violent; self-absorbed; self-lacerating; sexually explicit; misanthropic; misogynistic; offensive; scabrous; scatalogical; suicide- and death-obsessed; and really, really, really funny.

As an introduction to the "tone" of Schizo, here's the title splash from issue #1:
Yes, that's the title of the strip that follows. And here's the first page of the strip which closes the collection:



I first learned of Brunetti's work by reading an interview conducted by Gary Groth that appeared in The Comics Journal #264 in December, 2004. (An excerpt of the interview is available here.) This was one of the most compelling pieces dealing with an individual's creative process that I'd ever read.

Extended excerpts:

Brunetti: I remember being a really angry person at that time, and that really gave me a lot of energy. And I just cannot get that back. I'm just not that angry a person any more. I'm not that repressed a person any more, either. I was really repressed.

Groth: Do you think that putting this all on paper was a way of breaking through that repression?

Brunetti: Totally. Yeah. ... It was like a "healing" process. That's what I see it as now. It wasn't even art. To me it's not even art. It's just therapy.

Groth: Well, we don't want you to be too healed. ... You said you were full of anger ...

Brunetti: Kind of undefined. I'm not someone who would start fights in a bar, or something like that, but it's just a lot of repressed anger. I think all my life I'd repressed how angry I was. That's what it was.

Groth: But that anger it seems to me is still on display in Schizo #2 and #3.

Brunetti: Yeah, it didn't get much better. Schizo #3 is not so angry ... At that point, I think I knew how to laugh a little bit at myself ... I knew my excesses. ...It's hard for me to look at the first two issues, Gary. It's like I can't even read them. The second issue especially, is completely insanne. I was out of my mind. Out of my mind.

....

Groth: Were you more confident doing Schizo #1, #2 and #3, than you were doing work post Schizo #3?

Brunetti: I think the anger gave me some kind of arrogance.

Groth: Fueled you.

Brunetti: It did. ... It was fueling me, and then I was communicating that, and I got it out of my system, and now, I'm just exploring other parts of myself. And those things are much more painful than expressing my anger because now, I've really been delving into how sad and depressed I've been ... The weird thing is I'm still trying to make people laugh. ... That's important to me.

So what's my verdict on Brunetti's post-Schizo #3 cartoons?

Many of the strips are very funny, most are thoughtful, and several of them are sublime.

"Whither Shermy?" an homage to Charles Shulz printed on the comic's outside wrapper, and the untitled strip appearing on the reverse page, both evince Brunetti's deep understanding of how cartoons work. The first utilizes a strict, repetitive "four box" structure (itself a homage to Shulz), but blends interesting images and a dense text to make this a thoughtful, memorable strip. The second, (accessible at Brunetti's website here), is an autobiographical depiction of a morning in the artist's life. Brunetti allows the shape of the house to structure and limit individual frames, as well as direct the narrative flow.

The strips that I especially liked were the biographical ones: "P. Mondrian," "S. Kjerkegaard," and "Erik Satie: Compositeur de Musique," previously appeared in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern #13 (2004). "Francoise Hardy," "Louise Brooks," and "Joris-Karl Huysmans" appear here for the first time (that I'm aware of).

The biographical strips are, of course, actually about Brunetti. (As is "Whither Shermy?", too.) He has chosen to depict particular individuals, and specific moments in their lives, because of who he is, how he feels about life, and what he wants to "tell" us about this. However, in choosing subjects that are (by definition) outside of himself, Brunetti produces effective cartoons that are less inward-looking and, I think, more effective.

My favorite, "Louise Brooks," is available online at Brunetti's own website, here. It works on many different levels, combining an interesting life with the subject's iconic "look"--her hairstyle perfectly matches his drawing style. Most importantly, Brunetti provides a humane and empathetic portrayal of Brooks' life experience, even allowing her to speak the strip's final words. (Several of the other biographical subjects are depicted bleakly, on their deathbeds, in their strip's final panel.)

This past fall Brunetti curated a show at Columbia College in Chicago titled "The Cartoonist's Eye." (Milo George provided a nice description of the exhibit at Tom Spurgeon's The Comics Reporter site.) An adjunct to that show is Brunetti's forthcoming book, An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories, (Yale University Press), which will be published in October. I'll be on the look-out for it.

Comments:
Excellent stuff. I really like the discoveries you present on your blog. Thank you.
 
Hello, Nida! That's very kind of you to say.
 
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