Monday, August 29, 2011


From an interesting customer review of Mitiarjuk Nappaluk's novel of an Inuit woman's life, Sanaaq:

Cette oeuvre renseigne sur les us et coutumes des Inuit. On ne lit pas Sanaaq pour la beauté de l'écriture. L'auteur raconte tout simplement leur lutte acharnée pour survivre. La chasse et la pêche font partie de leurs activités quotidiennes.

Le phoque compose leur nourriture de base. C'est le bovin de l'Occidental. Comme il est important, il prend plusieurs noms. Ainsi un phoque est un ujjuk; mais n'ayant que la tête hors de l'eau, il devient un puiji et étendu au soleil, c'est un uutuk. Cette distinction est très utile pour un chasseur averti.

L'univers féminin des Inuites transparaît dans ce roman. L'héroïne est Sanaaq, une veuve remariée dont la vie n'est pas reléguée dans l'ombre du mari. La violence conjugale viendra ternir cette image, mais comme elle origine d'un homme équilibré mais perturbé par la maladie de son fils, le couple pourra continuer à vivre dans l'harmonie. Malgré cet incident malheureux, l'oeuvre révèle que les Inuit composent un peuple simple et sain. Si ça sent le bonheur, il ne faut pas croire que la psychologie ne joue pas dans l'Arctique. Les dépressions et les succubes s'y donnent aussi rendez-vous. Heureusement, le roman prend fin peu de temps après l'arrivée des blancs. Il n'en fallait pas plus pour engrosser la soeur de Sanaaq et les diviser à propos de la religion.

C'est un beau roman, dont la valeur est plus anthropologique que littéraire. Yves Thériault avait fait connaître les Inuit avec Agaguk. Dans Je m'en vais, Jean Echenoz a signalé l'importance de leur art. Avec Sanaaq, on les découvre vraiment.

As the above makes clear, the volume is available in French (and advertised at collectors' prices: $303). I don't have time to translate the entire passage, but the gist of it is that Sanaaq is written in spare, simple prose and tells of the customs and habits of the Inuit. It describes their life of hunting and fishing, and goes into detail, for example, about their terminology for seals. The story is told from the point of view of a remarried widow, and it portrays Inuit society just on the eve of its first contact with whites. The Inuit are described as simple and pure; however, it is a work that does not shy away from showing some of the darker sides of Inuit life, such as psychological depression.

The work was originally written in syllabics -- an alphabet that, coincidentally, bears some resemblance to Hangeul. I first came across mention of this work at the Studies in Canadian Literature website. I'd like to find out more about this volume.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Matt Kindt -- illustrator, graphic novelist

Matt Kindt of Super Spy, The Tooth, Revolver, and 3 Story (The Secret History of the Giant Man): 

1. Graphic fiction, we are told, is in; it has arrived. Academics talk about it, literary publishers include it -- sometimes -- on their lists. But how accepted is it really? Is it genuinely accepted by the high-brow, and viewed with true objectivity? Or is some of the praise that it is given merely bumpf? After all, MFA programs specialize in writing, not graphic fiction; English departments rarely if ever pay attention to graphic fiction; major publishers do not publish much of it, and major prizes never include it in short lists, even though it can be a form of novel. What needs to change for graphic fiction to gain more acceptance?
MK: I don't know if I'm qualified to answer that question - but my best guess would be readership. There needs to be shift in readers of monthly genre books that go to the store every week to more traditional readers that pick up graphic novels as they would any other book, instead of just the few that do make it to mainstream attention.

2. Literary fiction (particularly by new authors) is struggling these days while graphic novels are enjoying steady, healthy sales. Any observations on why that is?

MK: Entertainment. I think readers want to be entertained. And I can't say that I'm very impressed with "literary fiction" in its modern form anyway. Simply put, it's boring. I won't name authors but a lot of what I consider literary fiction, I can't even get through the descriptive copy on the back of the book without rolling my eyes. I think a lot of writers forget what their first goal is and it should be to entertain. The second goal should be to make a reader think differently about something. But those 2 goals need to be in that order.

3. There are a lot of comics artists who self-publish. As in the music industry -- with bands with their own labels -- this is considered perfectly acceptable as long as the creative result is good. Yet self-publishing is deeply frowned upon in literary circles. Why do you think that is?

MK: There's more history and culture there and it's really a different world. It's like the fine art community -- where the "accepted" art is determined by the academics. Comics is still the wild west to some degree -- anything goes and the good stuff rises to the top regardless of publisher or agent.

4. How did you start out?

MK: I self-published my first few comics and just hand distributed them to local comic shops. In 2000 I submitted my first finished graphic novel to Top Shelf and they agreed to publish a week after I handed it to them. There was a lot of sweat and work before that first book got handed to Top Shelf but I just didn't bother trying to get published until I thought I was ready.

5.What kinds of drawing materials do you use?

MK: Japanese Sumi Calligraphy ink, #2 sable hair brush, and windsor newton travel water colors, and water color paper

6. Cartoonists tend to refer directly in their work to the influence of other cartoonists, while traditional artists get "left out". Any fine art influences on your work?

MK: Edward Hopper and Dave McKean are probably my biggest visual influences.

7. How about literary influences?

MK: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and 9 Stories by J D Salinger are by far the most influential books I've read.

8. The United States has produced some of the biggest names in experimental comics, as the form as gone through a series of incarnations: the surreal satire of Krazy Kat by George Herriman, to the underground comics of R. Crumb, to the graphic fiction of Chris Ware. Any other names you'd like to add to the list?

MK: Dan Clowes I think really towers over everyone as well as Cristophe Blaine and Gipi.

Monday, August 01, 2011