NBM: On the Odd Hours, Joe and Azat, Year of Loving Dangerously

The Year of Loving Dangerously

All books are from NBM Publishing and were provided by the publisher for review.

On the Odd Hours

by Eric Liberge

The latest entry in the series co-published with the Louvre Museum is slim but elegant, with subdued colors and French flaps. I found the story more approachable than the other books in the series — On the Odd Hours is about a deaf student who takes a position as a guard at the museum.

On the Odd Hours

An older night guard, also deaf, hires him, since they both possess a unique way to interact with the art, due to their lack of hearing. The art comes alive, and the two care for the souls of the works by playing percussion instruments, which wake and control the pieces of art. It’s kind of a French, artsy version of Night at the Museum — but I suspect how well this works for you depends on how much you allow yourself to sink into it.

I was a little put off by the idea that regular museum visitors only perceived the surface of the work, that it took these special routines to really understand and serve the works the way they needed. It seemed pretentious, looking down on the tourists who shuffle through the museum. There were also times that the flow of the page didn’t go in the direction I expected, with panels within panels requiring a change in the usual left-to-right, top-to-bottom order. Plus, the ending didn’t really seem to resolve everything it should. It felt rushed and out of keeping with the rest of the comic. Perhaps I would have appreciated the book more if I was more familiar with the works of art pictured within.

Yet I was left impressed by how well comics worked to tell the story of a deaf man. Illustrated sign language is perfect for the format. It reinforces the lack of sound, making it something in itself, to exploit and manipulate, instead of a characteristic of the medium covered up by lettering effects. When his girlfriend argues with him, images spill around her as her hands gesture at him and captions explain what she’s communicating.

The publisher has posted preview pages.

Joe and Azat

Joe and Azat

by Jesse Lonergan

The author spent some time in Turkmenistan as part of the Peace Corps, and now he’s loosely fictionalized some of the experiences he had in Joe and Azat. It’s a former Soviet country run by a loony, self-centered dictator. Many of the stories here revolve around Azat, an idiotically optimistic citizen who dreams of becoming rich, like the stories he’s heard about America.

The art is simplified caricature, but since most of the story is carried through the text, it’s not a problem. It’s hard to take seriously the idea of any dangerous action or a restrictive dictatorship, though, when everyone looks and acts so silly. The book is amusing, in an “aren’t we glad we live somewhere more civilized than THAT” way, but forgettable. You’ve already seen similar stories about life in other countries — bribes for a lost passport, arranged marriages, drunken bullies, wedding parties.

There are preview pages available at the publisher’s website. The author has also blogged about the country there.

The Year of Loving Dangerously

The Year of Loving Dangerously

written by Ted Rall; art by Pablo G. Callejo

From the times I’ve seen Rall commenting online, I’ve gotten the perception that he’s quite an egomaniac, convinced that his opinion is the right one simply because he holds it. The Year of Loving Dangerously did nothing to dispel that impression. It’s a rather stupid story, one that takes place only because he was too full of himself to ask for help or admit events had gotten out of his control.

Rall spent the summer of 1984 sleeping around so he’d have a place to sleep. He’d been expelled from college due to grades and disciplinary reasons (he played stupid pranks) and found himself homeless, once the dorms kicked him out. So he’d pick up women and stay with them overnight, lying about who he was so they’d take him home. But he really wants to write about how bad the 80s were, using the sex as a hook to get your attention, and how cool and superior he was, since all these women would sleep with him without effort on his part.

If you’re at all interested in this story, skip the even more self-serving introduction, which tells the story in a much shorter space with a generous helping of “this is why it isn’t my fault”. For instance: “In the space of three months, I got arrested, fired, expelled, dumped by my very-serious girlfriend and evicted.” Since the book is about Rall’s interactions with women, knowing more about why his girlfriend dumped him might be relevant, but no — it might show him in a bad light, so no details here.

He plays up how this story shows how easy it is for anyone “to fall off the merry-go-round of U.S.-style laissez faire capitalism.” He’s wrong. It shows how Rall was too full of himself to bother to live with his mother for a while or even get some cash from her because “her price — humiliation and infantilization — would be too high.” He won’t take a temp job because it’d be “slave labor” with no time to look for a real job. His petty thefts are presented as necessary to survive.

This is all self-congratulatory, self-aggrandizing puffery, the kind of “I’m too good for this” attitude that keeps people in debt and unwilling to face the facts of their life. Living in a janitor closet because you can’t stand for your parent to know you’ve screwed up? That’s what’s humiliating, not getting help from family. He ends up working as a trader for the money, but he doesn’t make enough to help and he hates himself for what he does. Yet by the end of the book, he doesn’t demonstrate that he’s learned anything or will change in any way.

He starts in early about worrying that he’d go crazy, living on the streets, a ridiculous, over-dramatic fear he indulges in to make his story mean something and cast himself as a struggling hero. He doesn’t know true sacrifice, and this book demonstrates that he never learned it. I’m repulsed.


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