Monday, 31 May 2010

[341] Everyone is Talking About the Weather

It's not enough. That needs to be said early and with emphasis, although that is not exactly a bad thing.

Julia Scheele has been grinding out an assortment of comics in a prolific and eclectic fashion for some time now, from beguiling standalone illustrations to her work with erratically-bearded writer Matthew Sheret. She has even contributed a brilliant film review for Electric Sheep, and is orchestrating the ace artists' jam How Fucking Romantic. But amid this flurry of talent, there's a sneaking suspicion that she'd make a cracking autobiographical comics creator.

Cases in point. Her two solo pieces in the Solipsistic Pop anthologies, both grounded in autobiography: the more recent ('Middle of the Storm') being an affecting study regarding the peace of romance, using chaotic page layouts to achieve a non-textual eloquence, and the other ('My Year As A Christian') being a very text-led narrative about her youth in South America. While both pieces display different stylistic qualities, they each are rooted in personal, empathic themes - love, coming of age - revealing a voice that is humble, yet charming.

Her new comic, Everyone is Talking About the Weather, fits right in with these two previous works, but has an ambition that looks far beyond any of Scheele's work so far. It is a multi-layered piece, mixing autobiographical narration, family relationships, history and politics. Like Art Spiegelman did with Maus, Scheele mixes the personal and the historical, as she takes the reader along on her journey to learn about her father's life, and his part in the 1968 student activist movements in Germany, while in the process both learning about her parents and tentatively engaging with her own political awareness.

To this end, Scheele weaves a tapestry of personal, family and cultural memory, mixing her own voice with her father's, and letting her artwork share the page with photographs. The impetus for the project, Scheele reminisces, comes from seeing unsettling photographs taken by her grandfather who was stationed on the Second World War's Eastern Front: 'they greatly disturbed me - such physical evidence, of my country's past, the past I've always felt so much guilt about...'. The worldwide youth movements of 1968 marked generational upheaval, and in Germany in particular it gathered a cathartic quality, outing the sins and trauma of the older generation and cleansing the national psyche. So it is fitting that such a crossroads of history should represent so much for Scheele, as she constructs her own identity and political stance.

Engaging with lofty politics and historical events is an ambitious task, but this is well grounded in personal tales and anecdotes that provide emotional anchors across the eras - from Scheele being perplexed by the London G20 protests in 2009, to her father's youth, which forms the backbone of this first issue. So while writers such as Heinrich Böll and Erich Maria Remarque are mentioned, the comic doesn't stumble into a pace-breaking attempt to explain their place in the discourse, with such information being footnoted in mini-biographies at the back.

Instead, we have a fascinating snapshot of Scheele's father working in a rural bank, situated near the KZ Esterwegen concentration camp, which laid claim to the SS guards' accounts twenty years after the war's end, and burned the paperwork after. Or a side-glance at her parents' developing relationship and their move to Cologne, shown in a beautiful image of her father and mother holding hands against that city's backdrop, evoking the twin spires of its Cathedral.

As she grapples with a complex mixture of topics, Scheele adapts accordingly in her artwork. It's just wonderful to see her working in this long-form setting, but the subtle tweaks are tasteful and thematically appropriate - such as a stylised, sketchy depictions of WW2, with characters and context shrouded by the depersonalising effect of history, or the stick-figure fantasy of her father as a romanticised radical.

These are augmentations to Scheele's painted approach, which simply looks stunning splashed across the comic's large newspaper-size pages, printed by the team at the Newspaper Club publishing service. It's a canvas that is used well, particularly in the front cover, which uses the fold crease to divide the comic's title and subtitle ('Everyone is Talking About the Weather: or trying to understand my own politics through my father's political history'), and further marks out Scheele's tiered themes, of linking political awareness with introspection.

But, as I said. It's not enough. Not really. At 10 interior pages, it feels short, abrupt. However, that is not strictly a negative comment on the comic itself. Sure, this is a taster, the opening issue of a much larger story, and the last page - which teases the next issue - is a terrific little strip about beards and social tension. But this is a project with large ambitions, that needs to gather its own steam (and needs supporting).

This issue is introduced by a blog post by the artist, where she first announces the project after interviewing her father. It is dated June 15th 2009. I hope we're not waiting as long for the next issue. Even though any work from Scheele is a joy to imbibe - and, boy, there's plenty of it popping up all the time - Everyone is Talking About the Weather has the potential to be something very special indeed.

After a limited run for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, Everyone is Talking About the Weather is currently for sale at Orbital Comics. A larger print run is expected to be available both online and off - as is so often the case with small press works - once the creator can afford it. Check out more of Julia Scheele's work here.

No comments: