Friday, October 5, 2018

Cecil & Jordan in New York

Cecil & Jordan in New York is a re-issue of a graphic short story collection, with a few hard-to-find additions. I had never read it before, and I was very glad to experience it with fresh eyes. This book's creator is Gabrielle Bell, a comics artist's comics artist who is revered by many (or at least many of the people I pay attention to). Her semi-autobiographical series Lucky is regarded by many of those folks as a stellar work of comics, a touchstone publication, and I am a big fan of her latest book Everything is Flammable.

What sets this book apart from her other works is that it largely contains works of fiction. It contains 13 stories, which were mostly published in anthologies in the more formative years of her career. For me the most powerful one was "Felix," about a struggling artist who finds herself teaching drawing to the young son of a famous, successful artist. It features commentary on the world (and business) of art and undefined, palpable relationships between various characters. I found it deeply moving and somewhat troubling, with touches of irony and dark humor throughout.

I found this book to have a unique, idiosyncratic voice, with a keen sense of observation that colors many of the stories from this collection. The title story features a fantastic element, that a person can transform themselves into a chair, and the resolution is simultaneously sad and darkly humorous. Overall, throughout the book, it is the strongly defined characters situated in a random, often hostile world that really stands out to me. They are often positioned as outsiders, trying to somehow to fit in. Some try to forge connections with others, but they are often tentative, and the connections themselves strain, surprise, and often break. Nothing really comes easy for the characters in this book, but for the reader, I felt myself readily impressed by Bell's characters, storytelling, and world-creating abilities. She is a world-class comics maker.

I was not able to locate any reviews of this edition of the book, but the ones of a prior edition were mostly positive. Rob Clough wrote that "she's a master of subtlety, restraint, and repressed emotion--yet this volume sees her veering in some unusual, even fantastical, directions." Karin L. Cross was more critical of the stories collected here, stating that they, "though perceptively written and executed with technical skill, are weighed down by their relentlessly heavy mood and self-consciousness." Paul Doyle called the book "funny" and added that it "shows some inventive story telling ideas."

This expanded version of Cecil & Jordan in New York was published by uncivilized books, and they offer a preview and more info about it here.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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