There is a saying that “no one gets out of life alive”. I have long believed that there is a corollary to that saying and that would be “no one grows up without getting messed up.” We all come out of our teenage years with emotional baggage that needs to be dealt with in our early twenties before we are ready to pass on to adult hood. Hair Shirt is a new graphic novel by Eisner Award-winning artist Patrick McEown that follows the course of two young college students as they try to reconnect and rekindle a childhood romance.
John is a college art student coming to grips with a bad break up who is plagued by terrible dreams (mostly involving a dog with a human face) that are a manifestation of his long-ignored personal problems. Naomi, on the other hand, at first seems to have shed the emotional baggage thrust on her by an abusive, alcoholic father and a brother who can only be described as sexually abusive but as the story progresses both we and her come realize that even though she has seemly pushed through her experiences the past will not let go of her that easily and are causing her to almost subconsciously sabotage relationships to protect her from further hurt.
Reading this book my mind kept thinking that if this were a movie instead of a graphic novel the only words to describe it would be “indy” and “bleak”. There is no happiness in these characters’ lives, there is no joy, there is no light; there is only the business of living hopeless lives. Despite the darkness, McEown gives us and the characters a faint, silvery ray of hope off in the distance in that both characters realize that they need to confront their past before they can move forward.
Can John and Naomi face their past and come back together, or at least move forward with their lives? The book never says but I don’t think that is what McEown is striving for. Life rarely has nice, neat, happy endings and like this book sometimes all we can do is recognize we need help and that can be victory enough for us for now.
Over a year ago our webmaster Adam’s love of indy comics inspired me to take my own journey on seldom-travelled roads and this book makes me glad I did. Books like Hair Shirt are the reason I read comics now.
Time for a quick history lesson. During WWI Italy signed the Treaty of London which promised to give them the Austrian Littoral (which now forms parts of Italy, Croatia, and Slovenia) but NOT the city of Fiume. Italian writer Gabriele D’Annunzio marched into the city with 2600 Italian troops in late 1919 and in 1920 he declared the city of Fiume an independent state with himself as the dictator. This independent state lasted for four very uncertain years until D’Annunzio was ousted from power and the city was annexed into Italy and it is during this period of history that writer/artist David B sets his latest work Black Paths.
The set up for the story is very simple: writer/soldier Lauriano and his band of soldiers are hanging out in ravaged port city of Fiume and one day he meets and falls in love with a beautiful singer named Mina. Sensing that he has finally found what he is looking for in life he decides to “get the band back together” and stage an art heist that will set him up for the new life he hopes to have with her. But how can he succeed when everywhere he turns there are people driven mad by war? I can’t really say whether he succeeds or not without spoiling it for you but let’s just say that there are some books where the ride to the end is so good who cares what the ending is?
French small press artist David B has taken story elements from World War 2-set spy thrillers such as Casablanca, The Third Man, and mixed it with a kind of pulp-art/primitive wood carving style that gives the story a setting and sense of time all its own and the two mesh wonderfully. The only problem I have with this book is I am going to now have the find the money to purchase the English translations of his other works.