Books Are Pretty

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Insomnia 2

One of my favorite 4-panel cartoon from the Sunday funnies that I remember reading when I was a kid was a Peanuts cartoon that had Lucy psychoanalyzing Charlie Brown through one of his drawings.

"I see the man that you’ve drawn has his hands behind his back," she observes. “This is a sign of insecurity and low self-esteem on the part of the artist. It could also mean that the artist is hiding something, or is trying to get away with something. Definitely untrustworthy. Also, it could mean –"

And Charlie Brown interrupts her here, saying crossly, "It means I can’t draw hands!"

The hands that I draw always look like five bloated hot dogs attached to a piece of bread, so I always appreciated that cartoon as one that stuck up for those of us who can't draw while lauding those who can. Drawing hands may go far in separating the good artists from the bad, but the rest of it, I think, is the intangible ability to draw a picture that looks like, if you stared at it long enough, it might begin to move. Or if you listened carefully enough, you could hear the low buzz of voices coming from the illustrated cocktail party or the sound of a thirty-year-old Oldsmobile rushing down a desert highway. Or a squeaky, tinny voice piping up cheerfully from an abstract, cartoony face.

I don't think that's something that can necessarily be learned, too bad for me, but I've long since been resigned to enjoying the work of those who can.

Matt Broersma, author of the Insomnia storyline in the Ignatz series, has the uncanny ability to bring his characters to life this way, and shows it off in the series comic to great advantage, particularly when drawing the big sky, lonesome road panels of the first book in the series, "El Dorado," but is no slouch at breathing life into the lonely New York City scenes in his second installment, "The Lock." (I should point out here that he can also draw hands. You can see for yourself – there's one right on the cover.)

Loneliness is about the only common thread running between the two seemingly separate stories. While "El Dorado" focused on a down-on-his-luck bartender fleeing to Mexico in a rickety car to escape trouble north of the border, "The Lock" concerns itself with the dual storyline of a burlesque dancer and an old man, who intersect with each other in a single unpleasant encounter.

The old man, a veteran, became obsessed with a dancer he saw in North Africa during a botched mission in World War II. He searched for the dancer for decades, finally locating a woman he thought might be her in Saigon during the Vietnam war. As he approached the hotel where she was staying, he is dismayed to see that the hotel had been bombed. While sifting through the rubble, he finds what he believes to be a lock of her hair. Meanwhile, the burlesque dancer, who, in a serious error in judgment he believes is The Girl, grapples with problems of her own. In between fighting off intruders and waiting for her version of a handsome prince to carry her away, in her dreams she knows things are not panning out for her.

How the veteran and the burlesque dancer relate to the bartender is anybody's guess, but I know I’ll be back for Insomia 3 to find out.
cross-posted at Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Insomnia 2
by Matt Broersma
2006 by Fantagraphics
Saddle Stitching, 32pp.

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