The Wild Piano: A Philemon Adventure
By Fred, Toon Books, 48 pages, $16.95
Over his celebrated career, French cartoonist Fred created comics of every stripe, from his adaptation of Jules Renard's introspective Journal, to his absurdist allegory of life as a nomadic circus forever trudging across a Beckettian landscape. But he's most fondly remembered for his irrepressible children's comics starring the precocious farm-boy Philemon, which are the first of his works being translated into English. This second volume follows our hero as he continues to explore a fanciful chain of islands that spell out "Atlantic," as though on a map, where each letter is actually its own topsy-turvy realm, like Alice's Wonderland or Nemo's Slumberland. As Philemon searches for his missing friend – a gnomish and easily distracted castaway – the boy gets carried off in airships, tried for silly crimes by pedants with resplendent butterfly wings and made to confront a bestial piano in a bullfighting ring. Throughout these flights of fancy, Fred's designs swirl with inspired creativity, his rococo line-work filling every panel near to bursting.
By Dustin Harbin, Koyama Press, 236 pages, $15
Curiously, it isn't the quality of Dustin Harbin's daily record keeping that distinguishes this collection of diaries. The strips themselves are amusing enough: every day for a period of a year, and irregularly thereafter, the artist captures some minor drama from life – a sick pet, an embarrassing e-mail, vehicular troubles – and inserts it into the four-paneled rhythm of gag-a-day cartooning. Drawn with fine-lined fastidiousness, the diaries use charming, self-deprecating humour to chronicle subtle changes in their author's life – from bachelor to boyfriend, and from apprentice artist to more confident craftsman. But when the cartoonist situates himself at a remove from this daily grind, reflecting on the process of keeping this journal, he reveals a meditative and complex quality to his thinking that's absent from the diaries themselves. The introductory and concluding pages, especially, weave intricate patterns of visual metaphor while asking questions about self-representation, art as therapy, and what small, daily components make up a life. By volume's end, Harbin's considerable skills as an essayist trump his efforts as diarist.
By Seth, Drawn & Quarterly, 120 pages, $22.95
The latest instalment in Seth's long-running series showcases seemingly disparate projects: a chapter from a graphic novel-in-progress, a photographic profile of his wife's debonair barbershop and a digressive excerpt from an ongoing memoir. Still, this collection of oddments somehow makes for a satisfying whole, not only because of its unifying vision of small-town Ontario as spectral and forlorn, but also since this issue represents a culmination of the artist's efforts to cobble together meaning out of tiny, telegraphic fragments. The episode presented from Clyde Fans – Seth's continuing story about a family business – at one point creates the impression of a road trip by compiling abstracted glimpses of concession roads, hydro pylons and King's Highway signage. Later, the autobiographical Nothing Lasts summons details from childhood memory – street corners, knickknacks, family photos – to construct a patchwork image of bygone years. Seth no longer invents stories about the past so much as he draws up itineraries that try to evoke it, mundane in their details, but crushing in cumulative effect.