Thursday, August 14, 2008

An Author in Search of Six Characters

What kind of a person buys second hand porn?

Am I the kind of a person who buys second hand porn?

I woke up this morning, slow and thick-headed, had a cup of coffee and a cigarette and left the house to go and see if the boxed set of Milo Manara books that I’d seen in a charity shop yesterday was still there. It was.

“It’s very porny” The woman behind the counter said, disdainfully handing me the set of books to look at. She was in her late forties. Long black, straggly hair. Dark makeup. Dull eyes. I told her I made comics and he was one of my favourite artists. She just looked at me. I flicked through the books and remarked aloud that, as I suspected they might be, they were untranslated. I wish I’d kept my mouth shut. She was clearly unimpressed with my interest in the ‘porny’ books anyway and at this said “So what are you going to do? Look at the pictures?” . She said it with a kind of sad mocking disgust.

I didn’t say anything back because my best response would have been “Yes, but not in the way you mean”. Which I knew by this point, would have been completely ineffectual. So I maintained trying to be as polite and friendly as possible, pretending her comments had gone over my head, paid for the books (a fiver/$10) and left. I was polite because that’s the kind of human being I want to be. I’m glad I’m not a human being like her. But sometimes it does take an effort not to be. Sometimes not being rude to people takes such an effort it can make you feel like a martyr. Anyway. If the Alzheimers Society isn’t too proud to peddle second hand ‘porn’ to help society's less fortunate ageing members, I’m not too proud to buy it.

Amongst the 16 books in the set were the collected episodes of a story called ‘Las Adventuras Africanas De Giuseppe Bergman’ but which I first read back in the eighties as ‘An Author in Search of Six Characters’ as serialised in Heavy Metal magazine.

Heavy Metal magazine was, in the eighties, an amazingly unique window into the world of European comic strip art and storytelling. Unfortunately, though still pubished, it's no longer what it once was and thus this world that is very much alive and quite apart from Western conceptions of what comics are and can do and how, is still a world that those of us in the UK and the US don't get to see all that much of. Most comic books (or 'graphic albums' as they are often called) from France, Spain, Italy etc never get translated into English or even released in their original languages in our countries. It's another example of the comic industry's tyranny and dictatorship of comic reading in the English speaking west.

'An Author in Search of Six Characters' is one of Milo Minara’s less erotic and more esoteric stories and very dreamlike. I remember it making little sense to me when I first read it when I was 15, but marvelling at the way every single person in every single frame has a sense of character. You get a sense of personality from every single rendered human being no matter how ‘background’ or irrelevant to the story they are.

And it’s for this reason that I love looking at the pictures. Honestly!

Paul O'Connell

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