Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Month: February 2012

Review: Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes

A Tale of Two Daughters

SPOILER ALERT: I do talk about some events that happen during this book. I don’t give away everything, but if you want untouched, pristine snow of new reading, then go buy the book. And stop reading reviews, you silly.


Mary Talbot and Bryan Talbot’s Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes explores the paths of two women: Mary Talbot and Lucia Joyce, daughter of James Joyce. Mary’s memoir alternates with sections of biography about Lucia. The two are particularly suited for each other; Mary’s father was a Joycean scholar, and Mary grew up steeped in the language and culture of Joyce. While there are remarkable parallels between the women, the stories are not exact mirrors of each other. Mary and Lucia both struggle, during the tale, with their relationships with their stodgy, angry, and abusive fathers.

Talbot’s art is well designed to aid the reader in knowing exactly when and where the action is taking place. Scenes of Mary in her young adulthood are in crisp color, while scenes of Mary’s childhood are delicately watercolored sepias with less defined panel borders. Lucia Joyce’s stories are told with a watercolored blues-and-blacks palette that nicely mirrors Mary’s childhood stories.

Compared to Mary’s childhood, Lucia’s seems almost idyllic. Mary details her distant, academic, and angry father with details that cut right to the heart. “I’m not sure when longing for his presence turned into its diametrical opposite,” says Mary, as she details a scene of her father slapping her after a failed math homework session. The sophisticated, intelligent voice of Mary-the-writer blends nicely with the innocent, honest voice of Mary-the-child. Mary also uses quotes from Joyce and others in the narration, which helps Mary’s father truly become the “cold mad feary father” of Joycean prose.

While Mary’s story begins in depression and rises to somewhat of a happy ending, Lucia’s is the opposite. She begins on a high: a frugal-but-loving childhood, an adolescence pursuing the dream of dance, and an apparently decent relationship with her father. However, her story plunges into depths of tragedy and psychological turmoil even as Mary decides to get her life together and move on.

Mary’s story does not end definitely, certainly not as definitely as Lucia’s. In a way, the “soft ending” of Mary’s story is satisfying; it highlights the sadness and ridiculousness of reality, how life doesn’t follow a nice story-like path. To an extent, Mary-the-storyteller seems wrapped up in her anger with her father more than self-examination and a desire to save herself.  In some ways, however, the book suggests that these two women made different choices in their heroine’s journeys…each woman reacts to her father’s desire to infantilize and dismiss her differently. Lucia’s wild anger pushes her over the edge, while Mary’s persistence sees her through to some kind of a coherent adulthood.

In the realm of Graphic Memoirs, I find this a compelling read. It’s not as satisfying and justice-filled as Bryan Talbot’s intense fiction story about abuse, The Tale of One Bad Rat. Nor is it as nuanced and brilliant as Alison Bechdel’s Funhome. That being said, I think it has a place on the graphic novel enthusiast’s shelf, and certainly on the Joycean’s shelf and the memoirist’s shelf.

On a completely unrelated note, Mary and Bryan Talbot were adorable in the 70s. They were just the cloak-and-ankh-wearing Tolkien nerds that I would have been. Well, let’s be honest, I *was* that nerd in my early 20s. But I still would have been that nerd in the 70s. Just with more exciting hair.


Want to take a peek? Buy it at your local comic shop or online.

Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary Talbot, illus. Bryan Talbot. Dark Horse, 2012. $14.99

Book Review: Ray Fawkes’ One Soul

one soul, eighteen stories

*Spoiler alert: I do talk about things that happen in this book. That being said, I think that it doesn’t matter if you know what happens or not; you’ll still want to pick up the book and flip through it.

Ray Fawkes’ One Soul is like nothing else I’ve read. Really. People have tried parallel storytelling before, but not like this.

Firstly, I read the book eighteen times; rather, I flipped the pages eighteen times as I followed each of the eighteen stories Fawkes sets up. Each double-page spread consists of nine equally sized panels per page, tracing a total of eighteen life stories that are supposedly connected by a single soul. The strong narrative voice that shows up in the captions seems to serve as the voice of the soul, and is the reason the book holds together rather than seeming disjointed to the point of incoherence.

Fawkes makes a point of starting the book in blackness, all eighteen panels delineated, but dark. The first spark of life shows up after the page turn as a white paint splash in each panel. The concept of the soul is visible and supported by the captions that appear in several of the panels. The captions are the only words in the book; there is no direct dialogue. After the third page turn, we see all eighteen children being born in various circumstances. In effect, Fawkes is teaching us how to read the book by showing his concept through pictures and structure.

If you read the book like a traditional comic, left-to-right, then you’ll follow the stories chronologically, showing a moment from each person’s infancy, childhood, etc. The oldest story is a neolithic hunter, the newest a 70s punk girl. The characters range from slaves to military leaders, doctors to prostitutes. Aside from the interesting array of life circumstances, Fawkes’ structure allows you to compare the length and themes of the various lives. The first character dies about a quarter of the way through the book, and is thereafter represented as a black square. However, words appear in the blackness. As more and more characters die, more words appear in the blackness. The words of the dead seem to be specific to each character at first, but as the book goes on the language is more like a chorus. Eventually the words in the blackness overtake the pages and meld into one.

There is no clear moral to these stories, nor any obvious lesson to be learned. The longest-lived character, a woman who was raised by a chorus girl and grew up to be a singer, seems to be the closest the book gets to any kind of answer. At the very end, as an old woman, she says, “I’ve had some time/when I was small my mother taught me to say/thank you.” At the same time, the black panels of the dead have turned to one large panel which reads “this is me and all of this”. The character’s moment of gratitude seems to align with the uniting of the soul in darkness. This re-uniting—a striking change from the book’s opening image—seems to be the closest thing the book has to a conclusion.

In a way that mirrors the characters living and dying again and again, I read this book again and again. I read the individual stories. I read the pages across like a traditional comic, where each page took on a poem-like quality, connected by theme of events and images more than anything else. But overall, the thing that held this comic together for me was the voice. The voice asked the questions about what the point of the stories that I was wondering myself. The voice of the soul tied the stories together and allowed me to track themes across characters, both living and dead. While the voice may not have had too many answers, the visual unity of the panels at the end was enough for me.

Sounds interesting? Pick it up at your local comic shop or online.

Ray Fawkes, One Soul. Oni Press, 2011. $24.99


**article cross-posted at Geekerific**

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