To Drink and To Eat, vols. 1-2 

Guillaume Long, writer-illustrator of the comic blog À Boire et à Manger for French newspaper Le Monde, collects some of his comics into two volumes. Each comic has a symbol to indicate its category, with a legend at the beginning of the book. Some are recipes with difficulty levels 1, 2, or 3. Others may be restaurant guides, ingredient and cooking tool inventories, and “egotrip”—stories about Long himself, including travelogues. In addition, Long includes cooking tips from “the late Joël Reblochon”; this is presumably a misspelling of Joël Robuchon, a famous French chef who died in 2018. Interestingly enough, Reblochon is a French cheese, so the misspelling may be an intentional nickname.

One highlight is the comics about Pépé Roni, an armchair chef who explains the difference between similarly-named objects. A fun example is, “Don’t confuse work/life balance and work/knife balance.” “Work/life balance” is depicted as a man getting chewed out by his boss, and “work/knife balance” is the same man asleep and dreaming of his boss with a knife in his back. Another one I enjoyed is, “Don’t confuse a mandolin with a mandoline,” which shows someone attempting to play a mandoline slicer like a stringed instrument and, obviously, cutting up their hands. These comics are credited to Mathis Martin in the books’ cataloging-in-publication pages.

Long has a distinctive and funny voice. In one comic, he suggests you use a flyswatter to hit anyone who asks for sugar in their coffee. In another, he portrays the cloud of flour coming out of a mixing bowl as little ghosts. A guide to cooking spaghetti squash first suggests you make Jabba the Hutt out of the squash, then tells you to use your lightsaber to cut it. At times, jokes are weakened in translation. For example, in one comic he says to melt butter “with a little pot,” then shows someone with a joint and clarifies, “No, with a little saucepot.” In English, the joke doesn’t work perfectly, since the original command would likely have been to melt butter “in a little pot,” rather than “with a little pot.” Additionally, a comic falls flat with multiple references to anagrams that were unsolvable in English. One would think these comics that suffer from translation wouldn’t be included in the English editions.

There are other issues that make these books a little hard to digest—no pun intended. At one point, a Black friend asks Long why he doesn’t draw Black people, and he gets visibly uncomfortable and says “I don’t draw Chinese people either. Or Indian people.” Not true; in an earlier comic he goes to a Chinese restaurant where he draws one Chinese man with slits for eyes, and he draws a Chinese language (it’s unclear which Chinese language they’re speaking) as a bunch of messy scribbles. There is also a comic where a man seems to have murdered a woman with a plastic bag along with a joke about composting. Some of these jokes seem to be in poor enough taste that they shouldn’t have been included in the books.

The art style is cartoonish and would have fit well in Mad Magazine. Most of the comics are in full color, though the travelogues are in black pen on a beige background. Long employs hatched shading to add depth to his illustrations, which elevates the otherwise simplistic drawing style. Still, in a travelogue sequence in which Long goes to Venice with friends, one of his friends grabs his sketchbook and draws a few rowhouses in a more realistic style. He comments that his friend “draws so much better than me it hurts.”

Some of the recipes are useful, particularly the few pages in Volume 1 devoted to impressive appetizers that can be prepared quickly. Some of the inventories are useful as well, notably the list in Volume 2 of gift suggestions for foodies. The books are easy to navigate, with the aforementioned legend to indicate what purpose each comic serves. As in a regular cookbook, the index includes a table of recipes as well as an ingredient index. Still, due to some of the comics’ poor taste, I don’t recommend these books. Consider instead other comic cookbooks like Cook Korean!, Relish, or Let’s Make Ramen! and Let’s Make Dumplings!

To Drink and To Eat, vols. 1-2 
By Guillaume Long
Oni Press Lion Forge, 2020
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781620107201
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781620108550

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)


Palimpsest: Documents from a Korean Adoption

A palimpsest is a document in which writing has been removed or replaced by new writing. This definition is at the forefront of Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom’s debut graphic memoir Palimpsest, and not only in title. Sjöblom explores her own adoption from Korea to Sweden, uncovering documents filled with half-truths and lies coming from individuals and agencies that seek to obfuscate her journey to discover her biological origins. At times maddening and endearing, Sjöblom’s story is a Sisyphean undertaking that navigates bureaucracy and exposes the shady roots of international adoption.

Adopted in 1979 to Swedish parents, Sjöblom recounts growing up in a society where she doesn’t quite fit in and where the narrative of international adoption confronts her at every turn, a narrative which espouses the virtues of Westerners “saving” vulnerable children. Without an origin beyond her adoption date, she takes pride in anything that has to do with Korea, like a shirt made in the country and the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. That pride is squashed by the xenophobia, racial slurs, and just plain meanness she encounters in adolescence, but it prompts her to seek out her origin. Unfortunately, after inquiring with the Korean adoption agency that sent her to Sweden, she is only met with minimal information and dead ends, at many points being told to drop her inquiries and “let the past be past.”

Obviously this is incredibly unfair, and thus began a years long investigation involving Internet message boards, multiple adoption agencies, orphanages, city archives, the police, and visiting Korea. Sjöblom recounts how the officials involved with her adoption are of no use in providing actual information and much of the legwork to seek out details falls to her and her husband. Through verbatim email exchanges and demanding lines of questioning Sjöblom excels creating an incredible sense of empathy. Her search for her biological parents and how her adoption came to be is frustrating, but the trail is rife with hints and just enough breadcrumbs to make this story an intriguing mystery to be unraveled. Sjöblom ultimately receives some closure, but it is filled with doubt and perhaps some misgivings. Upon finding her birth mother, Sjöblom writes “I just feel a big emptiness,” and throughout the book readers will encounter and connect with these same feelings of dissatisfaction: not in the book itself, but in the drama that is life, and through reading, Sjöblom’s life by proxy.

Visually, the book is nothing short of stunning, but in a plain and understated way. Using spare earthtones and a simple drawing style, Sjöblom’s art is muted in comparison to what’s at stake in the text. Tense emotional moments are not portrayed with anguished faces or images of dread. Instead, Sjöblom invokes feeling in quiet ways, like the reddish blush of a cheek with a single cartoonish teardrop. Her work is precise and delivers.

Palimpsest is an important book and given its perceived narrow interest, is one that libraries must consider adding to their collections, particularly for adults. This is a book primed to punch well above its weight. It is not a comic just for adoptees with similar stories. The book takes a broad stroke exposing the underbelly of semi-illegal international adoptions and the poor-by-design recordkeeping that leaves adoptees second guessing their true origins. Even more paramount is how it dismantles adoption myths of Western parents “saving” children from impoverished countries. While in some instances that story can be true, Sjöblom writes how with any adoption a family bond is broken, regardless of the new family connection that comes to be. When viewed through the lens of the current situation on the US-Mexico border, it puts the practice of child separation into an even more harrowing light. Timely and in fitting mode for telling this type of personal story, Palimpsest should be read by any person who considers themselves to be a kind and caring human.

Palimpsest: Documents from a Korean Adoption
By Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom
ISBN: 9781770463301
Drawn and Quarterly, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

Red Winter

Amidst the cold winter landscape of Sweden, an unlikely affair unravels between two people of opposing political ideals. Red Winter, written by Anneli Furmark, is part of a trilogy of graphic novels. This is the final installment and the first to be translated into English. The story begins with Siv, a married mother of three, meeting her lover on a snowy night. Ulrik is her young lover, an idealist, and a Communist party member. He wants her to leave her family, so they can be together. She is hesitant, worried that her children would hate her. Also, would she be accepted by his Communist comrades? He shows his naivety about their love. He believes her political views could change. The panels swirl in a combination of blue, black, and grey. You can feel the sense of desperation as their arms wrap around each other. Ulrik keeps holding onto her, not wanting to let this moment end.

The next chapter is told from the perspective of Marita, Siv’s daughter. While searching for money in her parent’s room she discovers a journal. In it, her mother writes about her love and longing for Ulrik. Marita is shocked and doesn’t know what to do with the information. We see her go about her day, buying candy, and meeting up with her classmate. Marita is distracted, but she continues to say nothing. She uses music to drown out and distract her from the familial problems bubbling just beneath the surface.

I really struggled with my feelings about Siv. Siv leaving her children home alone as she goes out to engage in an affair felt like bad parenting. It made her character out to be selfish, and hard to root for. It is mentioned in the story that Siv feels alone. Not much time is spent on her home life to understand why she thinks this way. Ulrik, on the other hand, has very clear motivations. We learn in his back history that Ulrik’s father is not proud of him. His father is a priest and a pacifist. Ulrik went into the military, he believes that violence is necessary to achieve political objectives. This reveals how important Ulrik holds his political beliefs, and what he is willing to sacrifice for them.

I cannot recommend Red Winter unless you have a niche collection that is into Swedish history. The graphic novel had so many historical and musical references to events in Swedish history, that it was frustrating to understand how things fit together. For example, what did it mean to be a Social Democrat vs being a Communist? While there are footnotes to explain that “unga ornar” means Swedish labor movement, I have no clue what is this movement about, and why is it important to these characters. Without a introduction providing context to historical events in 1970’s Sweden, it left me feeling dissatisfied and led to a less enjoyable reading experience. A confused reader is not an engaged reader.

Red Winter
by Anneli Furmark
ISBN: 9781770463066
Drawn & Quarterly, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Adult