Tuesday, December 27, 2011

GN Review -- Artichoke Tales / Megan Kelso

Set in a fictitious world where the people have artichoke leaves instead of hair, and queen artichokes are occasionally born into a generation with a physically different appearance to the populace, Artichoke Tales weaves several different narratives from various times and places, attempting collectively to tell a larger story.  Does it succeed?  My guess is that it depends how much time and effort you want to put into absorbing and synthesizing the various parts of the plot.

I've never been a huge fan of Fantagraphics publications, but that doesn't mean I won't give them a read from time to time.  I feel their approach to sequential art is a little too far from the beaten path, as though their desire to avoid the appearance of commercialism trumps even their desire or ability to tell a simple, straightforward story.  I've heard them called an "arthouse press", with all the negative connotations that applies.  I suppose I agree to an extent, but I'm not above using sequential narrative to tell a different kind of story, or to do so in a way that's different.  It's just that, so far, Fantagraphics has yet to really wow me.

Artichoke Tales is told from the perspective of three women, all from the same family but different generations, set against the backdrop of a civil war between the North and South of their civilizations.  The youngest, Brigitte, falls in love with a cannon worker from the North; her mother, Ramona, having convinced her husband to move to the South with her, gradually loses her connection with her family as she pursues her own path of mysticism and worship; and the grandmother, Charlotte, tries to pass on her knowledge to Brigitte even as she struggles with her own memory and the realization that Brigitte will eventually leave her, possibly very soon.

I really didn't feel a sense of connection with this story.  The conclusion of individuals' lives getting swept up in the greater story of the war felt emotionally distant and far removed for me.  It was often difficult to keep up with the shifts in perspective, as they are abrupt and sometimes characters in one time period look like characters from another.  Aside from all that, I often had a hard time understanding what the bigger underlying meaning behind the work was supposed to be.  I'm not saying that it doesn't exist, but that it would probably require at least another full reading for me to put it all together... and frankly, I just don't feel any enthusiasm for that idea.

I both liked and disliked the artwork in this story.  Kelso's delicate linework is visually pleasing in its apparent simplicity and cleanliness. However, it feels like more effort could have been employed to make the characters more distinctive from one another to alleviate the confusion I mentioned regarding shifts in perspective. This would have made the story much more readable.

Overall, this story felt far more plodding and arduous than I think a sequential art narrative should be.  This story might appeal to older teens, arthouse crowds, and even lovers of historical fiction, but in the final analysis I can't recommend this as a particularly exciting or emotionally involving work. Chances are I'm not the ideal audience for it.  Recommended, with reservations.

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