Books Are Pretty

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Babel 2

Oh, Ignatz, you had me at Hello.
I love the high quality paper stock.
I love the 2-ink minimalist coloring.
I love the sexy little book jackets.
For all these superficial reasons, I love you, Ignatz series. But to give me David B., well, you’ve really outdone yourself.

The Ignatz series, an internationally-produced collection that’s part graphic novel and part cheapie pamphlet, has been consistently turning out volumes that make me dizzy. The rotating collection, featuring everyone from Italian comic goddess Francesca Ghermandi to Brit Matt Broersma, is also incorporating French graphic novelist David B., whose masterful memoir Epileptic blew me away when I reviewed it last year.

In Epileptic, David B. writes of his older brother’s struggle with a devastatingly severe form of epilepsy. Searching for treatment in France in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, before the existence of MRIs and before brain disabilities were well-researched or well-understood, David’s family gets sucked into the vortex of his brother’s illness, and the entire family devotes their lives to his care. David B. wrote so emotionally and convincingly of how profoundly epilepsy has affected his own life, even though he is not the one suffering from it, that when I saw the gorgeous cover of Babel 2, an illustration of an Indonesian war mask, I thought, “That’s his brother’s face.”

And it was. Babel 2 does not go into the depths of his family life the way Epileptic does, of course, but the river of his brother’s illness runs through it all the same.

Babel 2 begins with David and his brother, Tito, looking at a magazine article in an issue of Paris Match featuring war as waged by the Indonesian Dani tribe. The article, called “The Papuans’ Last War,” describes the tribe’s manner of exacting justice against other tribes, and how, at the advent of the Cold War, the government of Indonesia outlawed tribal warfare. Using a Dani warrior as a narrator and guide, David B. explains that his warfare has become outdated, that “war is supposed to be profitable,” and that since the Cold War mandated that wars not be fought on the soil of industrialized nations, “the West takes off and wages its battles in the Third World, forcing the Third Worlders to fight on its behalf..”

The narrative drifts back and forth and begins to weave in his brother’s illness as an enemy combatant against his brother and the family, and opens up a story that illustrates the Cold War’s effect on Third World countries by introducing the French-Algerian war.

Babel 2 is incredibly engaging and instantly addictive. The two-color format works beautifully here, giving soft warmth from the brown and shocking vitality from the red. But like almost everything I’ve read in the Ignatz series so far, you come for the pretty visual, but you stay for the story.

This article first appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society

Buy Babel 2!

Babel 2
by David B.
2006 by Fantagraphics Press
2-color saddle stitched 8 1/2” x 11", with jacket.

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