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Matthew Forsythe's "Jinchalo" Playlist on Largehearted Boy

Updated July 30, 2012


Book Notes - Matthew Forsythe - "Jinchalo"
March 27, 2012
Largehearted Boy

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Matthew Forsythe's graphic novel Jinchalo features only a handful of words on its 120 pages, but its pen-and-ink drawings evoke the spirit of their Korean folk tale roots with a vibrance that leaps off the page. Simple for a toddler to read, engaging for an adult, this is as much delightful storytelling as whimsical exercise for the imagination.

The National Post wrote of the book:

"Silence from characters requires illustration with verve, and Forsythe hardly has a stroke that doesn’t feel vivid like a child’s imagination, each panel crawling with potential, and realized with a twee glee, too."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.


In his own words, here is Matthew Forsythe's Book Notes music playlist for his graphic novel, Jinchalo:


Like a lot of writers and comic book makers, I can't listen to music while I'm writing or penciling a book. But I do put the music on while I'm inking, scanning and shading, which makes it a joyful part of the process.


"These Lonely Nights" - Willie Nelson

Making comics is a great job. But it's fucking lonely. Teatro is probably my favourite album of all time and I've probably listened to it a thousand hundred times since it came out.


"Linda Linda Linda" - Paranmaum

This is a Japanese film, but the singer, Bae doo Na, is a great Korean actress and plays an expat student in the film. And the song is exuberant and melancholy and captures a sort of expat, alien quality that I love.


"Fangela" - Here We Go Magic

A sketch that works the first time.


"Brahms Ballade Op.10, No.1" - Glenn Gould

This just needs to be here.


"Super Mario Brothers 2 Theme Music", Koji Kondo

Jinchalo is about imagination and the sky - which at first I thought I was a subconscious nod to Jack & the Beanstalk but then I realized I was just channeling Super Mario Brothers 2. It's kind of indelible - the influence of Nintendo on our generation, isn't it?


"Animals of Prey" - The Hidden Cameras

A Smell of Our Own was pretty much on repeat for the last week of working on the book. For me, this whole album is a sort of a whiskey-fuelled victory dance.

 
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Featured artist

Matt Forsythe

           Featured product

Jinchalo




  "Goliath" and "Jinchalo" in Uptown Magazine

Updated July 25, 2012


One giant’s terrible day at work
British cartoonist Tom Gauld reimagines the Biblical story of David and Goliath

BY: QUENTIN MILLS-FENN
5/07/2012
A famous figure is actually a reluctant villain in Goliath (Drawn & Quarterly), a sharp, sensitive and dryly funny graphic retelling of the Bible story by British cartoonist Tom Gauld.

The book opens with the Israelites and the Philistines at war, their armies marshalled on either side of a valley. No one seems to know what the fighting’s about, including Goliath, an enlisted man with the Philistines who’s not much of a fighter, though he’s big; instead, he’s happy doing administrative work.

Meanwhile, an ambitious captain concocts a plan to escalate the war between the two armies and needs a fierce-looking giant to carry it out. Before he knows what’s happening, Goliath is equipped with armour, spear and sword, as well as a nine-year-old shield-bearer. He’s not given much in the way of instruction, just to head to the valley and call out to the Israelites: "Choose a man. Let him come to me that we may fight. If he be able to kill me, then we shall be your servants. But if I kill him, then you shall be our servants."

The drawings have lots of wry touches, like Goliath’s stubbly face or the contrast between the giant and his wee shield-bearer. The artwork seems simple but conveys a lot, from Goliath’s permanent stoop to the empty valley over which the two armies are fighting.

It’s a sad story, too, of course. (Spoiler: The story doesn’t end well for Goliath.) Our hero is trapped by the perceptions of others. The guiltless are sometimes condemned by the powerful. And the powerful, whether an unscrupulous captain, an apathetic king or a vengeful god, can write the story to their wishes and history might be none the wiser.

• • •

Jinchalo (Drawn & Quarterly) is a witty, charming, enchanting fable by Montreal’s Matthew Forsythe.

Based on Korean comics and folk tales, it tells the story of a greedy little girl, Voguchi, who gleefully and thoughtlessly gobbles all the food in her family’s house. Sent to the village market to restock the pantry, she encounters Jinchalo, a shapeshifter who decides to have some fun.

Wonders occur as Voguchi starts a fabulous journey thanks to Jinchalo’s mischief. It’s a story full of surprising twists and transformations, and mysterious creatures: monsters, robots — and one cartoonist.

The book is largely wordless as Forsythe tells his story almost entirely through imagery. Voguchi’s facial expressions perfectly suggest her crankiness. The drawings are beautifully detailed and there’s one page — of Voguchi sitting on a flower surrounded by hummingbirds — that’s truly gorgeous.
This is a story about the unexpected places that being naughty can take you.
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Matt Forsythe
Tom Gauld

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Jinchalo
Goliath




Matthew Forsythe, animal lover: an interview with The Province

Updated July 25, 2012


The comic book adventures of nature nerd Matthew Forsythe
By Tracey Lindeman
FEBRUARY 14, 2012
The Province

MONTREAL - Illustrator Matthew Forsythe has always been a nature nerd. As a kid, he drew a comic aptly named Comical Wildlife in which he’d make “really bad jokes” about animals’ features and characteristics.

“It was kind of like Animal Crackers, but more obscure,” the Montrealer says. He recalls drawing muskoxen – known to herd into outward-facing circles when threatened – literally turning into circles.

Now an adult, sipping tea in a Mile End café, he recounts the joke with a shy smile, shaking his head. He had forgotten about those comics; he’s embarrassed by them. Though he may have learned something about subtlety since childhood, it’s clear Forsythe’s love for animals still informs much of his illustration work.

Jinchalo, his second comic for local publisher Drawn and Quarterly, begins with a mysterious bird. Decked out in a hat, backpack and collared robe, the bird fends off a pack of vicious wolves with a walking stick-turned-snake and returns to its equally mysterious egg, nestled safely in a tree – only to accidentally lose it to Voguchi, the comic’s flawed protagonist, when they get tangled up at the market.

Voguchi is a gluttonous and short-tempered little Korean girl whose Jack and the Beanstalk-inspired adventure begins when the egg hatches and a shape-shifting bird named Jinchalo emerges.

With an imagination so clearly in overdrive, it’s hard to believe Forsythe ever suffered from a lack of inspiration, but before embarking on a journey to South Korea to teach English in 2003, he said he had lost interest in conventional cartooning. “I stopped illustrating before I went to Korea,” he says.

The creative drought was quenched shortly after landing in Seoul. He began drawing Ojingogo, a web comic featuring Voguchi and a squid, in response to both the culture shock and the long hours spent in the classroom.

“The teaching work was really hard work, so I had to do something I loved,” he says.

Ojingogo’s nominations for Eisner and Expozine awards in 2005 and 2006 grabbed Drawn and Quarterly’s attention; they published it as a graphic novel in 2008.

“I loved Matt’s first book, Ojingogo, so it was a real pleasure to publish his follow-up, Jinchalo,” says D+Q publisher Chris Oliveros. “One of the things that struck me about Jinchalo is just how far Matt has come as an artist and, overall, as a cartoonist.”

Both books pay homage to Korean comics – the pages are without panels, the stories are steeped in Korean folk tales and, save for a few bursts of Korean onomatopoeia, the books are basically wordless.

But as good as it’s been drawing Voguchi comics, Forsythe is moving on to children’s books.

Last year, he illustrated My Name Is Elizabeth!, which earned the distinction of being named a New York Times notable children’s book. Based on its warm reception, American publisher Simon & Schuster sought Forsythe out and signed him to a two-book deal. The first will involve illustrations for a book about monkeys written by someone else, but the second will be all his own.

It was perhaps serendipitous, then, that on the first day of a recent trip to India, after signing the book deal, he found himself in the middle of a monkey migration along the Ganges. Later, at Kukkarahalli Lake in South India, a chance encounter with two ornithologists and their children led to an afternoon spent birdwatching. An admitted “big fan of birds,” Forsythe couldn’t believe his luck. He came home with an entire book filled with sketches and notes.

He may have refined his illustration skills since his Comical Wildlife days, but he’s still an animal-loving nerd at heart.
 
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Matt Forsythe

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Ojingogo
Jinchalo




  Unshelved interview with Matt Forsythe

Updated July 19, 2012


Interview with Matt Forsythe


July 10, 2012

by Gene




I’m a huge fan of Matt Forsythe’s Korean-flavored comics Ojingogo and Jinchalo, and his first kids book, My Name Is Elizabeth, was one of my favorite picture books last year. His next picture book should be out in 2013.

I interviewed Matt during TCAF. It was a little hard to find a quiet place in a library filled with thousands of comics fans, but we evaded security and hunkered down between a wall and a quiet study area to talk about picture books vs comics, design, and living in Korea.

Matt: This year I wanted to focus on work. But you get here [to TCAF] and everyone you love is here, everyone you respect, you know.

Gene: Was My Name Is Elizabeth your first kids book?

M: Yeah. And because that book did really well, I’ve got a two book deal with Simon & Schuster. The first one I’m illustrating, and the second one I’m slotted to write, too. The first one should be out in spring 2013.

G: I’ve seen your comics work. The first thing I saw by you was Ojingogo, and I wonder how your approach to a kids picture book differs from your approach to doing a comic.

M: Well, I think I’ve been on a steep learning curve. I was working full-time until last year basically, doing something completely different. And so this is something that takes 150% of your time, being an illustrator.

Ojingogo took me a long time to do, and it was long enough that it allowed me to make a bunch of mistakes and have some fun successes and just wend my way into eventually having a book.

But when you have a kids book you have a very tight deadline, there are a lot of constraints with the editor. The editor is conductor of the orchestra, and you have to deliver quality stuff really quickly. I wasn’t disciplined enough or skillful enough to do that. I wanted to take more time and use my old process, but I didn’t have that freedom. When I delivered my roughs I think they were really sloppy and loose because I wasn’t thinking about what would be best for them. I’d only ever worked for myself.

G: Does a picture book editor want tight, tight roughs?

M: The tighter they are the better it is for everyone. It’s easier for me to go to the final stage, and it’s also better for them to show the salespeople. I was naive. I didn’t understand the ecosystem in which the editor is working. She has to get the salespeople enthusiastic about her book ‘cause she’s competing with other editors and their books, even internally. Maybe “competing” is the wrong word.

G: They’re vying for attention.

M: Yeah, sales and internal budgets and stuff. And when I was doing it I thought everyone’s getting equal attention, the quality of the work will stand. But they’re on schedules. They have to deliver. They’re a business and they have to have a certain number of books per year and they can’t wait for artists. These are all things that I’m just learning.

G: I live in the library book market. And it’s heartbreaking to see how many great books don’t even get a spot on the table at a library conference. My Name Is Elizabeth did, but I never thought about what’s involved in getting that spot. Each company is probably different. But even small publishers don’t have room to show all of their books. It’s a strange ecosystem because there’s so much content coming out and it seems to be largely about what’s new this week. High quality can win out, too, but it’s both an internal fight at the publisher’s plus an external fight for attention among all the other books that all the other publishers are putting out.

M: I’m also learning about this, you get to a level of sophistication with illustration, there’s a certain level of illustration that I’m excited by that’s artful and sophisticated -- and then I’m coming to terms with the fact that that’s not always what’s best for the kids market. And I know editors know that immediately and librarians know that immediately and parents know that, too. Some of my friends who are parents tell me, “Yeah, that’s a beautiful book, but you can’t read it to your kid. It’s going to bore them” Right? Some of the top illustrators are doing really boring books. And I’m just learning about all of this stuff. I find it really fascinating.

One tries to keep in touch with what one loved as a kid, but I want to grow as an artist and get better.

G: You did an amazing job of making My Name Is Elizabeth much more than I thought it was going to be. Based on the title I wasn’t sure what it was going to be. But as I went through it, it’s a great book to read to my daughter. (We like picture books as much as we like comics, even though she’s nine now.)

M: What made you enjoy it?

G: Your art felt kinetic even when there wasn’t a lot of action, in a way that only someone who does comics can pull off. A lot of picture books feel very stayed, like a series of still pictures. When Elizabeth shouts, “My name is Elizabeth!” and she’s a giant and she has a big word balloon, that little bit of comics worked. But the fact that she had just popped up and was larger than life, larger than the city, screaming -- that was a great sequential moment without all of the step-by-step moments a comic would have. It’s one of my favorite moments in picture books for me.

M: That’s great to hear.

G: I feel like your comics have a sketchbook quality. They feel like you’re dreaming and figuring out which way the story is going to go.

M: That’s exactly what they are. They aren’t written in any conventional sense. It’s very vague if there is [a plan], and I pay for that. I suffer for that, and the work suffers. But it is what it is.

G: Don’t you think that looseness is what attracts people to the work, too? For me it has a dreamy quality, but there’s also clearly something going on that I’m trying to figure out. I feel like the great thing about Ojingogo and Jincharo is that I have to try to figure out that puzzle, but I feel like there’s enough there that I can walk along that path with you.

M: I didn’t know, when I was doing Ojingogo, I knew that it worked on some levels and I didn’t know why. And now I think I have a better idea. What I was attracted to is the idea that the reader is the main participant. I think that’s what great comics and picture books are. The excitement of what’s happening is happening in the mind of the reader and not solely on the page. So when people are like, “I don’t know what’s happening,” sometimes it means you have to engage more.

I just saw this great documentary on Milton Glaser, the great designer who’s most famous for I (heart) NY. They ask him why did that take off of all of his work. And he said that it’s because people love to solve a puzzle. Great design lets the reader solve a puzzle.

To a different degree, I think that’s what it all does. It’s all about the reader and the viewer and letting them put things together. When they talk about text not matching the image in books, and the image really has to bring something different, there’s some energy between the text and the image, you know? That’s something I’m just getting my head around.

I did a little book with Koyama press called Comics Class and its about me teaching this class about comics. All I’d done was Ojingogo and I had to think through all this stuff. They were grade eights. And this comic is an exaggeration of what happened. People received it really well, if you’ve ever worked with kids.

G: I see what you do so well in your comics done so badly in other places. I’m thinking about those dream sequences or sequences of the mind in mainstream superhero comics. I feel like those lack the relaxed pace that you bring to it and the sense of wandering around in your imagination. I don’t think it’s a good comparison in some ways, but it’s in the same wheelhouse.

Why Korea?

M: I was living in Korea when I started Ojingogo. Also when I started my real illustration career. It rebooted my interest in comics and cartooning. You lived there too, right? You know the cartooning culture is everywhere.

G: It’s amazing. The level of talent in the kids picture books is insane.

M: Oh my god! I’d be looking at these books and going, “This is what I want to do. I want to make books like this that are beautiful.”

G: It’s such a rigid culture. The standard picture book techniques are different from the techniques here. But you could see it executed flawlessly. And you could pick out the one that had great heart even though you couldn’t understand it. I have a collection of books from there and I just love the textures and the way things move on the page.

M: The graphic nature of Hangul [the Korean alphabet] is beautiful. It’s beautiful design. It’s sequential art in itself. I would just buy comics, manhwa, and I didn’t care that I didn’t understand it, I could get what was happening intuitively. And I just started including it in my webcomic. That was about the time that there was a manga explosion here, and people felt more open to the idea of that kind of stuff. I think some people think I’m exploiting [the connection] or something, but I just love the graphic nature of [Korean].

G: It hit over here right about the time my daughter was starting to read. My daughter is half Korean, so it was fantastic to read Ojingogo with her, to look at it and talk about what was happening in the book. There are bits of Korean culture that come through. I feel in a weird way that Korean culture is invading North America but very slowly. Like Lady Rainicorn in Adventure Time speaks Korean, and suddenly my kid is the only one who understands it. I feel like it’s a great time to be her.

It’s funny to me that your characters speak in little bits of Korean and there’s even some Hangul. Do you get a reaction to that?

M: I think it puts a lot of people off. Some people say that this isn’t English, you’ve given me the wrong language. But I think a few people get what I get out of it, that it’s a beautiful graphic language and there’s something intuitive about it. And that if you don’t understand it it’s not important. And also there’s that whole thing, that idea of alienation. When you live in Korea you don’t understand anything at first. It’s wild. You feel like a child again. It’s a beautiful experience. And I wanted to put a little of that in there.

G: I compare it to Lewis Trondheim’s A.L.I.E.E.E.N., because no one understands the alien’s language in that. But I understand enough Korean that I get the sense of being in on a secret when I read your book. It’s nice for my family because they get it, too.
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Matthew Forsythe's "Jinchalo" is "a shape-shifting treat for the imagination."

Updated June 18, 2012


Jinchalo by Matthew Forsythe
JUNE 7, 2012
Book Dragon

By no means is Jinchalo your conventional manga/manwha/graphic work. Not to be going around in circles, but its title – which, in Korean, means something akin to ‘really?’ ‘is that for real?’ – works rather appropriately as a response to experiencing this adventure … you just can’t be totally sure what happened! According to the book’s front flap, creator Matthew Forsythe was “partly inspired by Korean comics and folk tales,” to which he was probably exposed when living in Seoul, where he was a kindergarten teacher (his bio also reveals he was a database programmer in Dublin and a motorcycle courier in London – no xenophobe, he!).

Virtually (English-)wordless with a smattering of Korean characters (signs on buildings, onomatopoeic additions, occasional nonsense compounds), Jinchalo is something akin to a Rorschach test, but surely more engagingly inventive. Ultimately, only you get to decide what you think you just ‘read’…

Here’s what I thought: A little girl protagonist – whose name, Voguchi, you would only know if you read that informative front flap – lives in a seemingly traditional Korean house in a remote village. She’s got quite the hefty appetite, in dreams as well as in real life. She’s willing to share, though, and gives a begging stranger who looms in the front door a bowl of rice. Having eaten everything, she’s sent by her father (grandfather?) to the nearest town to buy more supplies.

She encounters any number of unique beings, and during a run-in with a giant bird, inadvertently picks up the wrong egg … which soon enough hatches, and suddenly she’s eye to eye with the eponymous shape-shifter Jinchalo (again, another name you wouldn’t know without that very useful front flap!). Her journey home is filled with all sorts of surprises, not to mention some shape-shifting of her own [her transformation from adorable little girl to older woman, complete with the signature Korean old-lady perm and oversized-brim visor cap (you Koreans know what I'm talking about!!) is just too funny for words, all irony intended!]

Somewhat reminiscent of graphic artist/author Shaun Tan’s spectacular titles, Jinchalo is a shape-shifting treat for the imagination. Every time you read it, you’re bound to discover something new, something different. And you’ll soon enough be asking yourself, “jinchalo?”

Tidbit: Jinchalo has a companion text, Ojingogo, which I haven’t yet read, which for some reason is only available from used booksellers in the U.S., although readily available new in Canada. Yes, the publisher – fabulous graphic specialist Drawn & Quarterly – is Canadian, but most of their titles have not been stopped at the shared border. Hmmm … good thing for back door options!
 
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  Matthew Forsythe on "Onjigogo," "Jinchalo" and middle school

Updated June 13, 2012


Anxiety and Monkeys: The World of Montreal Illustrator Matthew Forsythe
Broken Pencil
Hardly a weekend goes by in Toronto without some amazing comics event (I should know: I run and work at two comic stores that puts on loads of ‘em). A couple of weeks ago one such event happened when Montreal cartoonist and illustrator Matt Forsythe came to town for the launch of his two newest books, Jinchalo (Drawn & Quarterly) and Comics Class (Koyama Press).

As a prelude to the evening’s festivities, Matt dropped by Little Island Comics in Mirvish Village one afternoon to run an art activity for kids, in support of his new children’s book, My Name Is Elizabeth! (Kidscan Press). I seized the opportunity to ask Matt a few questions about his work.

AWB: Jinchalo is set in the same world as your earlier book, Ojingogo. What brought you back to this setting and this character? Are the two books tackling the same themes, or do they each have their own emphasis?

MF: When I finished Ojingogo, I was still working a full-time job; so I didn’t have time to write. So whenever I could steal some time I would draw some strips or pages from the Ojingogo universe. Before I knew it I had 60 pages and decided to follow through and finish the book. There are similarities but the first book is probably more fantastical and the second one is more rooted in Korean folk tales and Korean culture.AWB: Each of your three books this year (Elizabeth, Jinchalo, Comics Class) seem like very different aesthetic projects and they’re also published by three very different publishers. How do you match publisher to project? And how is that important to your creative practice?

MF: In each of these cases, the decision to make a book was made by the publisher and I think that’s normal and healthy. I think it’s my job to make the best things I can make and maybe that will resonate with a publisher and an audience.

AWB: You’ve said that part of the impetus for creating Comics Class was to recapture some of the fun or spontaneity of making quick comics. Meanwhile the world of Jinchalo is something you have gone back to and kept working through over several years. Are these opposite poles for you? Are there ways in which the projects are similar?

MF: Yeah, for me Ojingogo has always been fun and spontaneous but it’s also a wordless and panel-less comic. I drew it traditionally (i.e. thumbs, roughs, pencils, inks) which is a very laborious process. But Comics Class was an opportunity to do something really quickly directly on the computer (just a wacom tablet and photoshop) use a few different tools but with the same approach. Most Comics Class strips were done in less than an hour and that was really freeing and I got to practice some of these concepts I was supposedly teaching.

AWB: Comics Class is a somewhat autobiographical account of you teaching comics to a bunch of suburban middle-schoolers. Was this experience as awkward in real life as it’s reported to have been in your comics?

MF: No. It was actually a ton of fun and very inspiring. A few of the strips are based on real things but most of them are more based on the potential for awkwardness of the situations. I’m sure people who’ve read the comic think I’m a horrible person now.

AWB: What are you working on next? Can we expect another installment along the lines of Ojingogo and Jinchalo?

MF: No. Those characters are done with me for now. I’m working on a couple picture books for Simon & Schuster and then I’d like to do that comic that I was supposed to be working on before Jinchalo apprehended me.
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"Jinchalo" 'bewildering,' 'absurd,' 'comedic and beautiful'

Updated June 13, 2012


Jinchalo: A visual journey
Published in The Manitoban

Jinchalo, title of Matthew Forsythe’s newest graphic novel, is a Korean expression, meaning “really?” A question of reality: what and where is the line between what is real and what is imagined?

A companion piece to Forsythe’s critically acclaimed book Ojingogo, Jinchalo follows the story of Voguchi, a young girl set upon an adventure away from her home. The book plays with many stories and themes from Korean mythology but for many North American readers the story will somewhat resemble an Alice in Wonderland narrative.

Another distinction of Jinchalo, a similarity with Ojingogo, is that it is essentially a wordless comic. Aside from a single instance of obligatory dialogue there are no words spoken in this book, only expressions, actions, reactions. It’s an element that requires the reader to approach the book differently — the images, not the text, are the primary tool by which the narrative is communicated.

The pages of Jinchalo read more as an emotional experience than a cognitive one. Without any words, readers must interpret much more than usual — it’s something the book encourages with a certain level of playfulness and wit. Many pages will evoke a laugh, at least a chuckle, even though contextually the image is somewhat bewildering. At times, Jinchalo revels in the absurd.

The imagery in Forsythe’s book manages to be at the same time comedic and beautiful. The colouring especially seem pay homage to a certain look often associated with Asian mythology and storytelling. There are no panels in Jinchalo, the pictures blend into the blank page in a way that allows for a minimalist aesthetic, very much in line with the soft, mute nature of the book.

Although Jinchalo is without doubt a quality product by a talented artist, one area where it falters is the intended audience. It is not immediately apparent whom this book is for (this is a similar issue for Ojingogo). It could be read to children, but the onus is always on the reader to interpret exactly what the pictures mean, the significance and ultimately the meaning of the journey.

The most logical audience for Jinchalo is the graphic novel enthusiast, which is a shame because, although it will be appreciated, there are elements of this book that pit it against the odds in terms of reaching a wider audience. The destination is worth the journey but Jinchalo has a demanding point of entry, one that is sure to turn some away.

Released on Feb. 29, Jinchalo is distributed through the Montreal-based Drawn and Quarterly. It is Forsythe’s fourth graphic novel.
 
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Matt Forsythe

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  Experience Forsythe's "frantic but calculated imagination" in "Jinchalo"

Updated June 13, 2012


Jinchalo
Matthew Forsythe
03/05/2012
Publisher's Weekly

Midway through Forsythe’s mostly text-free graphic fable—the follow-up to the Eisner-winning Ojingogo—some readers may suspect that they are being fed some kind of moral, or worse yet, an allegory. What else can they be expected to make of a story so overstuffed with brazenly mythological overtones, journeys, mysterious creatures, and dreamlike encounters? A young girl of formidable appetite (she demolishes log-size sushi rolls like they were canapés) is sent off to market by her father to replenish their food supplies. It’s a simple enough task, but one immediately complicated by her running into a tricky shape-shifter. After that, she’s launched into one dream-logic encounter after another (robots, a headless giant meeting bodyless heads, a great tree that grows out of her pack). Forsythe’s manga-inspired style, with its mellow blue-tones and wide-open white margins is deceptively coolheaded. There’s a frantic but calculated imagination rumbling underneath the surface that recalls the films of Hayao Miyazaki in its fantastical beauty and the wordless glee of Andy Runton’s Owly. There likely are allegories upon allegories threaded through this book, but it can be enjoyed just as well without unraveling them. (Feb.)
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"Goliath" and "Jinchalo" highlighted among March comics

Updated June 13, 2012


Graphic Novels & Art-Comics - March
By Noel Murray March 5, 2012
The AV Club

Is this, at long last, the time of Tom Gauld? The Scottish cartoonist has been slowly building his reputation over the last decade, via strips, short stories, anthology contributions, magazine illustrations, and art books that have been graced with his deadpan humor and precise, minimalist designs. Goliath (D&Q) may be the book that garners Gauld the wider recognition he deserves. For one thing, it’s a fuller piece than anything he’s produced before: a recounting of the Biblical tale of David and Goliath from the point of view of the giant, who’s a reluctant draftee into a war he’d rather not fight. (Picture Karl Pilkington as an 8-foot-tall soldier in thin brass armor.) For another, while Gauld still keeps the dialogue to a minimum and the page/panel designs open, there’s an actual story here, not just one beautifully drawn joke.
And the story has points to make, too: about how perception creates reality, as Goliath’s mere presence intimidates the Israelites, and also about how even an army’s biggest weapon is just another cog in an unstoppable, insensitive war machine. A lot of great Gauld comics remain uncollected or hard to access Stateside, but Goliath makes a fine introduction for the uninitiated, both for the alternately funny and poignant scenes of its hero waiting forlornly on the plain for something to happen, and for Gauld’s art, which is typically on-point. Working with cartoony figures, silhouettes, and finely cross-hatched close-ups, Gauld captures the bleakness of the landscape, and how what looks like an insignificant pebble from far away can become hugely important when it’s landing right between the hero’s eyes.
...Matthew Forsythe’s near-wordless Jinchalo (D&Q) tells the story of a little girl who eats all the food in her house, then has a wild adventure in the market when she heads into the village to restock. The Jinchalo jacket says Forsythe was “inspired by Korean comics and folk tales,” but it’s not necessary to know that going in, since this book isn’t strictly an exercise in homage. It’s more a piece of pure cartooning, with each adorable little image leading organically to the next adorable little image, until before the reader realizes it, the heroine has encountered shape-shifters, robots, and even her own creator. Jinchalo flows easily between the dream world and the real world, finding a strange kind of order in both…
 
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Featured artists

Matt Forsythe
Tom Gauld

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Jinchalo
Goliath




  Matthew Forsythe's JINCHALO

Updated June 13, 2012


Ready to take a trip?
Let Matthew Forsyth's Jinchalo take you on a wordless nonsensical adventure

By Amanda L. Shore, Assistant arts editor
The Concordian
February 28th, 2012

How do we illustrate? Let me count the ways: with our bodies, with our hands, with a brush or with a pen. Before language and the written word, there was illustration. We told stories with our bodies and with images drawn on cave walls. Today, we continue to use the technique of illustration when words fail us, but would you read a story without any words?
Before you make a decision, you may want to consider picking up Matthew Forsythe's Jinchalo. Based on Korean folktales about parental loyalty, this 120-page paperback is made entirely of wordless drawings that tell the story of a little Korean girl, the gluttonous Voguchi, and her adventure with a shape-shifter.
After eating all the food in her father's house, she's sent to the market to buy more. In the market, Voguchi buys a large egg, and as she's leaving she collides with Jinchalo, who is holding the shape-shifter egg. In the resulting chaos, the eggs get switched and Voguchi walks off with the shape-shifter egg. On her way home, the egg hatches and adventure ensues as she chases the shape-shifter through a tumult of nonsensical and fantastical worlds.
It may seem daunting to read a story completely in pictures, without any words to guide you. However, Forsythe draws crisp, animated images that perfectly illustrate the characters' emotions and actions. The sequence of events and the exact nature of the plot are less concrete and hinge on the reader's ability to interpret and formulate the narrative based on the illustrations. As a result, it's possible that every reader will be reading a different story, one that is perhaps entirely different from Forsythe's conception.
Forsythe, however, doesn't see this as a disadvantage, but the opposite. The great thing about nonsense and surreal works is that they leave you space to interpret things however you want and it isn't patronizing to the reader or the audience,” he said. “The audience participates in it.”
Forsythe has worn many career hats in his day and interestingly enough, being an artist wasn’t originally one of them. He studied political science with a minor in religious studies at McMaster University. He’s been a part-time professor at Concordia’s department of journalism and he’s taught English as a second language. However, unlike many children who draw as a pastime and then stop, Forsythe has been drawing since he was a child and has continued to do so despite the different paths he’s explored.
While teaching English in Korea, he was inspired by the graphics, cartoon culture and comics of the country to draw his own comics based on the nonsense logic and aesthetic style of Korean comics.
“It was really fresh to me. There’s a sort of nonsense logic in a certain strain of manga, just sort of surreal comics for kids. I was teaching kids and I noticed that they weren’t afraid of nonsense, because it’s so much fun and it’s a different way of looking at the world, so that really inspired me. I was drawing with my kids in class and we would tell each other stories and make up stories, so it came out of this experience,” said Forsythe.
The title Jinchalo means “really” in Korean. Forsythe explained that oftentimes he would be in a conversation, speaking in Korean, but he wouldn’t quite understand what was going on, so to appear as if he did know, he would ask, “Jinchalo?” and his conversation partner would reply, “Yeah, Jinchalo.”
This can be paralleled to how some readers might react to this book, not quite understanding everything, but sort of nodding along as if they did. Jinchalo is also a character in the book. He is the mysterious fate figure that sets the plot in motion, but by the end of the story we are still left with the question of who he is.
Voguchi is funny and lovable; her personality jumps off the page. Other characters, such as the furry rectangular monster that comes begging for food, are harder to interpret, but this oddity simply adds to the nonsensical fun. Jinchalo is a delight both artistically and narrative-wise. Spend an hour with this book and you’ll feel like a little kid again—free, playful and joyous.

Jinchalo is available from Drawn and Quarterly and other fine book retailers. For more information, visit comingupforair.net.
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Featured artists

Forsythe
Matt Forsythe

           Featured product

Jinchalo




Tom Gauld & Matt Forsythe on tour in the US and Canada!

Updated April 3, 2012


Tom Gauld (GOLIATH) and Matt Forsythe (JINCHALO) will be hitting cities across the US and Canada in the coming weeks!

Friday April 27th, 8 pm
Desert Island, Brooklyn

Sat April 28th and Sun April 29th
MOCCA Festival, NYC

Monday April 30th, 7pm
Ada Books, Providence

**Wednesday May 2nd**
Librairie D+Q, Montreal
**solo event for Tom Gauld**

Sat May 5th & Sun May 6th
TCAF, Toronto
 

Featured artists

Matt Forsythe
Tom Gauld

           Featured products

Jinchalo
Goliath




  Cool! Video interview of Matthew Forsythe at JINCHALO launch

Updated February 28, 2012


As Seen on InnerSPACE: Matthew Forsythe

[Video at SpaceCast.com, link below]

Matthew Forsythe is a Canadian cartoonist living in Montreal. His first graphic novel Ojingogo was nominated for two Eisner awards, and it won the prestigeous Doug Wright award. His latest graphic novel was hugely influenced by the years Matt spent in Korea teaching kindergarten. It's called Jinchalo, it's wordless, and it has a very surreal plot.
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Matt Forsythe

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Jinchalo




Macleans: JINCHALO "poignant"; a world "as strange, intricate and... profound" as a Miyazaki film

Updated February 28, 2012


REVIEW: Jinchalo

Book by Matthew Forsythe
by Nicholas Köhler on Thursday, February 23, 2012 10:15am - 0 Comments

REVIEW: Jinchalo

Forsythe is 35, lives in the Mile End section of Montreal and has a dog. Somehow from that workaday world he’s generated a fairy-tale land that draws together all his preoccupations as an illustrator, cartoonist and children’s author: Jinchalo, a wordless comic strip printed almost entirely in monochrome and set in a magic version of ancient Korea, begins with a magpie dressed in hat and tunic and armed with a walking stick, and ends with a terrifying metamorphosis that brings the story full circle. At bottom it is a poignant look at innocence versus the mayhem of experience.

The hero is Voguchi, a little girl who commits transgressions, disappoints her bent-backed granddad and tries, desperately, to make amends. Her adventures introduce her to a furry monster with a funny hat much too small for him, odd landlocked sea creatures with one eye, robots, lush market scenes where the produce stares back at you, and a mysterious shape-shifter who, once hatched from a strange, large egg, rules her life.

An award-winning cartoonist whose first children’s book, My Name is Elizabeth, was last year a New York Times Notable Book, Forsythe here creates a world as strange, intricate and as ineffably profound as those in animator Hayao Miyazaki’s films. But where Miyazaki borrows from the folklore of Japan and works in Japanese anime, Forsythe’s Jinchalo is a mutt of influences—from underground comics (Jinchalo is published by alternative comics powerhouse Drawn & Quarterly) to manga, Korean mythology and menacing demons out of Hieronymus Bosch.

Indeed, the book is every bit the shape-shifting trickster that little Voguchi’s nemesis turns out to be. Forsythe once taught English to kindergarten students in South Korea, and Jinchalo feels like nostalgia for a lost country, reimagined from a Montreal walk-up; he also toyed with becoming an ornithologist, and the characters of his bird world—the commanding magpies and seagulls in robes and tall hats—are like emissaries from a place one can never see again.
 
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Featured artists

Forsythe
Matt Forsythe

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Jinchalo




  Miami Herald hails top reads HARK! A VAGRANT, PURE PAJAMAS AND JINCHALO

Updated February 28, 2012


Artists at the top of their game, or not

By Richard Pachter
The Miami Herald
Feb. 2012

Hark A Vagrant. Kate Beaton. Drawn & Quarterly. 168 pages. $19.95.

Reminding readers that apparently stuffy literary figures were also supposed to be quite human, New Yorker cartoonist Beaton’s sly and often rude humor propels this anarchic collection of her hysterical historical ruminations. Aiming at culture high and low, she deftly skewers everyone from the Brontes to Ben Franklin to Nancy Drew. Rarely subtle, often over the top, Beaton’s simple but expressive art helps make its mark without ever obscuring the target.

Pure Pajamas. Marc Bell. Drawn & Quarterly. 96 pages. $22.95.

Canadian Bell’s strips have an early Crumb-like joie de vivre (with a dash of Julie Doucet) but he veers off the path of sexual angst and frustration and charges full speed ahead toward a strange land of hallucinations and absurdity. This collection gathers most of his regular jaunts into silliness and unruly lunacy. Other than a few naughty words and situations, Bell’s love of language and imagery would make him ideal for children, but grownups, too, will howl at his relentlessly ingenious words and images.


Jinchalo. Matthew Forsythe. Drawn & Quarterly. 120 pages. $17.95.

A collection of mostly mute fables of shape-shifters and hungry beasts, this sweet little volume, based on Korean folk tales, is wistful and whimsical. Forsythe’s lithe line work nicely complements the dreamy mis en scene. He’s a terrifically skilled artist, and this smartly understated performance adds to the charm and potency of his presentation.


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Featured artists

Matt Forsythe
Marc Bell
Kate Beaton

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Hark! A Vagrant
Pure Pajamas
Jinchalo




"Rising artist" Matthew Forsythe interviewed by Comic Book Resources

Updated February 28, 2012



Matthew Forsythe Asks "Jinchalo?"

By Alex Dueben
Comic Book Resources
Feb. 16th, 2012

Matthew Forsythe had a great autumn. In 2009, Drawn and Quarterly published Forsythe's debut graphic novel "Ojingogo," but last fall saw the release of two very different projects from the Montreal-based artist. The first was "My Name is Elizabeth," a picture book illustrated by Forsythe which was named a notable book by the New York Times Book Review and led to Forsythe being signed to a two book deal by Simon and Schuster. The second was "Comics Class," published in the fall by Koyama Press, a not entirely autobiographical tale of Forsythe's personal experiences as a teacher.

Forsythe's latest book, his second full-length graphic novel, is "Jinchalo." Inspired by Korean folk tales, the wordless volume is strange and playful, a truly dream-like book that moves from the monstrous to the confusing to the hilarious. The book has just been released and Forsythe will be appearing in Montreal tonight (February 16,) and in Toronto on Sunday (February 19) to promote the book. CBR News spoke with the rising cartoonist to talk about his books and the transition to being a full-time artist.

Story continues below

CBR News: Let's start with a simple question: What does the word "Jinchalo" mean?

Matthew Forsythe: Jinchalo is Korean for "really?" As in "seriously?" When I lived in Korea, I used to say it all the time to pretend I understood the conversation I was in. The book features a trickster magpie, and that's his name.

Matthew Forsythe's "Jinchalo," a loose follow-up to "Ojingogo," is in stores now

How do you come up with the story for something like "Jinchalo?" On the one hand, there's a simple way to describe the plot, but that doesn't really get at what the story is.

It's true. I don't really know what it is either, and I don't think that's a bad thing. The story -- which has elements of Korean folk tales, "Super Mario Brothers 2" and Jack and the Beanstalk -- really followed the drawings and not the other way around, which makes it difficult for people (including me) to get their head around. I think the book suffers a little for this -- and I hope it might also be considered interesting for the same reason.

"Jinchalo" features the same lead character as your previous book, "Ojingogo." Why did you bring her back?

When I finished "Ojingogo," I just kept drawing this character in various situations. Eventually, a narrative seemed to develop. The process was a lot like I imagine sculpting to be. At the end I just stood back and was probably as bemused as anyone else.

Why did you tell the story without words and what are the challenges specific to telling wordless stories in comics?

In wordless comics, it's difficult to convey situations that are more than physical comedy or slapstick on the surface -- which is fun and fine on its own, but some of my favorite artists, like Blutch or Sempé or Moebius, can take physical situations and make them strike at something more profound. The height of this sort of thing comes across in Chaplin's films. A film like "The Kid" is full of physical comedy on the surface, but is so moving and has a lot of heart. It's what I'm trying to do, sometimes, but I'm not sure it ever works.

I was wondering if you could talk a little about "Comics Class" and how you got involved with Koyama Press.

"Comics Class" was a kind of fun little catharsis from the anxiety of actually teaching a comics class -- which I really had no business doing. It was very much inspired by Jillian Tamaki's amazing online strip, "Mutant Magic Academy," and Kate Beaton's looser Twitter comics. I wanted to do strips in one sitting that were fun and super-quick on my Wacom tablet. The strip was so much fun to do. I posted the strips online and Annie generously asked if I was interested in putting it out as a mini-comic.

Last year, you illustrated the picture book "My Name is Elizabeth," which is something a lot of comics readers may not be aware of. What did you find interesting about the book and what was it like collaborating with a writer.

Forsythe is holding several launch parties to promote his new book

I posted a strip called "Dogwalk" about my girlfriend and our dog and an editor called me and asked if I was interested in using the character for a script she had. I've always wanted to do picture books -- at the time I was working full time as a manager at the National Film Board of Canada -- and didn't have time to write one, so I thought illustrating one would be a fun compromise.

The script was fun but I was naive about how much time a kids' book would really take and the number of restrictions there are in working in that medium. There was no collaboration with the writer -- I just received the script and got to work. There was a lot of back and forth-ing with the editor, who I am learning are really the conductors in the kids' book orchestra.

To what degree do you think that there's a shared, for lack of a better word, grammar, between picture books and comics?

I'm really still learning this sort of thing, but I think it's important that the illustrations don't directly repeat what the text is saying, but instead build on it or oppose it in a way that creates a sort of friction or juxtaposition. That space in-between is an exciting place for the reader to hang out -- and I think it's what makes my favorite kids' books or comics re-readable.

You recently quit your job in order to become a full-time artist, which is a big decision. I wondered if you could just talk about what that's meant personally and professionally.

Where do I start?

It's great. I was worried money was going to be the main challenge with going freelance. It was for the first year, but I'm pleased to report that it's not anymore. It's always a concern, but time is still my greatest concern.

The other thing is that now I have no excuses for when my work doesn't meet my standards. There's no day job I can blame, so it's a character-building exercise. But it's always fun because I'm always learning and trying to get a little better. No more watching the sun set on a parking lot. No more sitting in four-hour meetings while my life passes me by. My morning commute is now a walk through a park to a really great studio filled with artists I admire.
 
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Featured artists

Forsythe
Matt Forsythe

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Ojingogo
Jinchalo




  "Nature nerd" Matthew Forsythe's imagination "clearly in overdrive": Interview by the Gazette

Updated February 28, 2012


The comic book adventures of nature nerd Matthew Forsythe

By Tracey Lindeman
Special to The Gazette
Feb. 14, 2012


MONTREAL - Illustrator Matthew Forsythe has always been a nature nerd. As a kid, he drew a comic aptly named Comical Wildlife in which he’d make “really bad jokes” about animals’ features and characteristics.

“It was kind of like Animal Crackers, but more obscure,” the Montrealer says. He recalls drawing muskoxen – known to herd into outward-facing circles when threatened – literally turning into circles.

Now an adult, sipping tea in a Mile End café, he recounts the joke with a shy smile, shaking his head. He had forgotten about those comics; he’s embarrassed by them. Though he may have learned something about subtlety since childhood, it’s clear Forsythe’s love for animals still informs much of his illustration work.

Jinchalo, his second comic for local publisher Drawn and Quarterly, begins with a mysterious bird. Decked out in a hat, backpack and collared robe, the bird fends off a pack of vicious wolves with a walking stick-turned-snake and returns to its equally mysterious egg, nestled safely in a tree – only to accidentally lose it to Voguchi, the comic’s flawed protagonist, when they get tangled up at the market.

Voguchi is a gluttonous and short-tempered little Korean girl whose Jack and the Beanstalk-inspired adventure begins when the egg hatches and a shape-shifting bird named Jinchalo emerges.

With an imagination so clearly in overdrive, it’s hard to believe Forsythe ever suffered from a lack of inspiration, but before embarking on a journey to South Korea to teach English in 2003, he said he had lost interest in conventional cartooning. “I stopped illustrating before I went to Korea,” he says.

The creative drought was quenched shortly after landing in Seoul. He began drawing Ojingogo, a web comic featuring Voguchi and a squid, in response to both the culture shock and the long hours spent in the classroom.

“The teaching work was really hard work, so I had to do something I loved,” he says.

Ojingogo’s nominations for Eisner and Expozine awards in 2005 and 2006 grabbed Drawn and Quarterly’s attention; they published it as a graphic novel in 2008.

“I loved Matt’s first book, Ojingogo, so it was a real pleasure to publish his follow-up, Jinchalo,” says D+Q publisher Chris Oliveros. “One of the things that struck me about Jinchalo is just how far Matt has come as an artist and, overall, as a cartoonist.”

Both books pay homage to Korean comics – the pages are without panels, the stories are steeped in Korean folk tales and, save for a few bursts of Korean onomatopoeia, the books are basically wordless.

But as good as it’s been drawing Voguchi comics, Forsythe is moving on to children’s books.

Last year, he illustrated My Name Is Elizabeth!, which earned the distinction of being named a New York Times notable children’s book. Based on its warm reception, American publisher Simon & Schuster sought Forsythe out and signed him to a two-book deal. The first will involve illustrations for a book about monkeys written by someone else, but the second will be all his own.

It was perhaps serendipitous, then, that on the first day of a recent trip to India, after signing the book deal, he found himself in the middle of a monkey migration along the Ganges. Later, at Kukkarahalli Lake in South India, a chance encounter with two ornithologists and their children led to an afternoon spent birdwatching. An admitted “big fan of birds,” Forsythe couldn’t believe his luck. He came home with an entire book filled with sketches and notes.

He may have refined his illustration skills since his Comical Wildlife days, but he’s still an animal-loving nerd at heart.

Matthew Forsythe launches Jinchalo Thursday at 7 p.m. at Drawn & Quarterly, 211 Bernard St. W. For more details, see drawnandquarterly.com and Forsythe’s site, comingupforair.net.

Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/entertainment/comic+book+adventures+nature+nerd+Matthew+Forsythe/6150800/story.html#ixzz1nhreHTlB

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Forsythe
Matt Forsythe

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Ojingogo
Jinchalo




Korean food, Super Mario Brothers 2, and paintings found in Siberia: JINCHALO artist on inspiration

Updated February 28, 2012


ARTSWEEK: Korean chronicles

By Rupert Bottenberg
The Montreal Mirror
Feb. 16, 2012

Back in 2008, the Mirror front-paged the D&Q “petit livre” Ojingogo, gathering the fantastical funny business of the webcomic Montrealer Matt Forsythe had begun while teaching English in Korea. The fragmentary nature of Ojingogo’s online iteration didn’t favour a conventional story, but suited the capricious capers of its petite protagonist Voguchi and her goblin associates.

Forsythe says his new follow-up D&Q book, Jinchalo, “was developed the same way, only offline. There was only the loosest of outlines even towards the end.” Inspiration for the book, he says, came from “Korean food and folk tales, Super Mario Brothers 2 and a painting I found in Siberia of a walking bird wearing a very small hat.”

As oblique as the book’s arc may be, Voguchi has been sculpted into a clear, strong personality—and not always the most honourable or gracious. “There’s a sequence in the book where she rolls out of the comic, drags me into the strip and yells at me, berating me for showing her in a bad light. That pretty much sums up our relationship.”

Forsythe launches Jinchalo at Drawn & Quarterly (211 Bernard W.) tonight, Thursday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. Free.
 
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Forsythe
Matt Forsythe

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Ojingogo
Jinchalo




  The Montreal Gazette declares comics are for grown-ups!

Updated December 14, 2009


These comics are for grown-ups

R. Crumb on Genesis, literary icons get pulp treatment, and more

Ian McGillis

From the Garden of Eden, to today’s Montreal, to unmapped worlds of fantasy, graphic literature’s storytelling range knows no bounds. Here are some of 2009’s best.

The Book of Genesis, Illustrated by R. Crumb (W.W. Norton, 224 pages, $31). When the granddaddy of underground comics – a man who has been gleefully causing fits among censors and guardians of political correctness for decades – takes on the job of illustrating the first book of the Old Testament, controversy would appear guaranteed, would it not?

But while the single biggest surprise about this book is that Crumb has done it at all, the second biggest might be just how respectful he has been with the source material. (He uses mostly the modern Robert Adler translation.) Yes, some of the imagery might be bit, ahem, Crumb-like for the comfort of some – the voluptuous Eve on the cover can probably serve as a fair litmus test in this regard.

But in representing the text so faithfully, Crumb reminds us that Genesis is, after all, full of stories of people behaving in all kinds of less than perfectly noble ways. Potential detractors are thus left without a leg to stand on, and everyone else is free to celebrate a great artist rising spectacularly to a great challenge.

The Complete Essex County, by Jeff Lemire (Top Shelf Productions, 512 pages, $31.95). In this family saga set in an imagined version of the author’s native southwestern Ontario, Lemire taps into some of the deepest wellsprings of Canadian mythology: hardscrabble farm life, long winters, stoicism, solitude and, as well as anyone has ever depicted, the central role of hockey. The result is a book that achieves an epic sweep even though it’s relatively light on text.

Lemire’s fluid, expressionistic black-and-white style – he’s especially effective with faces and how they echo across generations – speaks volumes by itself. As a storyteller, he’s bold enough to walk the thin line between melancholy and sentimentality, never quite succumbing to the latter. Essex County packs an enormous emotional punch.

Aya: The Secrets Come Out, by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie (Drawn & Quarterly, 135 pages, $24.95). This, the third volume in writer Abouet and artist Oubrerie’s ongoing series about life in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, in the 1970s, maintains the standard that placed the first two on multiple international best lists.

Abouet’s touch as a writer is deceptively light; she sneaks in political points on class, gender and post-colonial identity among a dispassionate cross-section observation of everyday goings-on in a bustling city at a time of relative prosperity.

Oubrerie employs vivid colour and an almost Modigliani-esque sense of line to create an effect both stylized and realistic. A glossary of Ivorian terms is provided, but many may well find themselves immersed in Aya’s world to the point where they’re happy to let the context do the explaining.

Stitches: A Memoir, by David Small (McClelland & Stewart, 329 pages, $29.99). When he was 14, David Small underwent a throat operation that left him unable to speak above a whisper for years. His parents, never paragons of loving openness, had told him the procedure was to remove a cyst; in fact, as his father revealed later, it was for cancer caused by the radiologist father’s over-enthusiastic use of X-rays.

Small, a prominent children’s book illustrator, has a harrowing tale to tell of family dysfunction and deceit in baby-boom America, and his treatment shows that when a form associated with childhood (comics) is used to depict childhood trauma, the effect is doubly powerful.

The conceit at the heart of Stitches – that a boy whose voice has already been ignored, then has his voice literally removed – might appear heavy-handed if Small didn’t make it so real for the reader. Seldom in a memoir has redemption been so honestly earned.

Masterpiece Comics, by R. Sikoryak (Drawn & Quarterly, 65 pages, $24.95). On first glance, this may look like a version of the cheap illustrated pulp titles that gave countless young people their entrée into the classics. Look closer, though, and what you’ll find is a subversive mash-up that makes short shrift of any attempted distinction between high and low literature.

Characters from the canon (Shakespeare, Brontë, Homer, Kafka, Camus and more) are placed in takeoffs on popular comic strips (Blondie, Mary Worth, Garfield, Ziggy et al), where they deliver their lines straight.

Visually, Sikoryak mimics the original strips so uncannily that you can almost be lulled into thinking you’re reading them, which only adds to the sparks raised by this enforced cohabitation of two very different iconographies. Laughs are scored at the expense of both sides, but counter-intuitively, Sikoryak sends you back to the originals with a fresh perspective.

Far Arden, by Kevin Cannon (Top Shelf Productions, 382 pages, $19.95). If you only buy one madcap future-dystopian adventure comic set in the Canadian High Arctic this year, make it Far Arden. Cannon’s oddly heavily populated northern milieu – global warming a few disturbing steps down the line, maybe – teems with multiple overlapping storylines. It’s all an odd but effective cross of contemporary nerd-hero comix with Tintin-style exotica.

Cannon’s drawing style has the spontaneous feel of a lightning sketch, but there’s nothing underdeveloped about his plotting, which zips along with the manic logic of a bedroom farce.

The Hipless Boy, by Sully (conundrum press, 224 pages, $19.95). This collection of 43 loosely connected urban miniatures occupies a spot on the comix continuum somewhere between Archie (an influence the author acknowledges) and Adrian Tomine, except with far more sex than either. Sully (the pen name of poet/painter/illustrator Sherwin Tjia) sets his stories of what Douglas Coupland has dubbed Generation A (“hipless” is the opposite of hip) in a specific and meticulously observed environment. Montrealers will have fun identifying local backdrops, but anyone can enjoy Tjia’s keen-eyed, emotionally generous worldview.

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, by Josh Neufeld (Pantheon, 193 pages, $28.95). Spike Lee has told the story on film (When The Levees Broke), Dave Eggers as literary non-fiction (Zeitoun), and now Josh Neufeld’s Hurricane Katrina chronicle states the case for graphic literature as on-the-spot journalism, social history and protest.

Seven people, representing the gamut of classes and backgrounds in New Orleans, are followed through the storm’s prelude, strike and aftermath; four were refugees, three stayed in the city through the worst. Telling domestic details – a man’s anguish over the fate of his cherished comic books collection, a Spider-Man doll floating face down in a bathtub, prefiguring horrors ahead – establish the human dimension that drives home the storm’s ultimate cost; deployment of saturated colour gives each strand of the story a unique emotional flavour.

Ojingogo, by Matthew Forsythe (Drawn & Quarterly, 152 pages, $14.95). Dispensing with words, Montrealer Forsythe narrates the fantastical journey through perilous dreamscapes of a little girl and her pet squid entirely in images that are at once exquisitely simple and laden with suggestion. The world-gone-strange feel recalls Lewis Carroll and the child’s assertion of identity through adventure Maurice Sendak, with perhaps a touch of Calvin and Hobbes’s mischief thrown in, all filtered through a Korean folk lens as viewed by a contemporary Westerner. That may sound like an awful lot of referencing, but rest assured the ultimate effect is as light as a feather in the best sense.

Red: A Haida Manga, by Michael Yahgulanaas (Douglas & McIntyre, 112 pages, $28.95). There can be few better examples of graphic lit’s malleability than this. Yahgulanaas, a Haida living on Bowen Island, B.C., has adapted the visual iconography of his heritage and applied the storytelling approach of Japanese Manga comics to tell a tragic story of war and revenge – one whose themes transcend their native setting to take on a classical dimension.

The overall effect is uncanny, as if a totem pole has come to life to act out a legend. Yahgulanaas’s circular approach to narrative, in both images and words, may demand a couple of go-throughs to absorb, but the effort is worth it.

The Beats: A Graphic History, by Harvey Pekar, Ed Piskor, et al. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 199 pages, $27.50). Every new generation of aspiring hipsters, it seems, passes through a period of venerating Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs et al before defining its own oppositional identity. Anyone feeling ripe for the influence couldn’t ask for a better primer than this one. No snobs themselves, the original beats would surely approve of their message being introduced through the populist medium of comics; another big mark in this book’s favour is that it digs beyond the obvious names to spotlight less celebrated figures like Diane di Prima and Slim Brundage.

Hot Potatoe, by Marc Bell (Drawn & Quarterly, 273 pages, $44.95). Here is a book occupying the sparsely populated zone where alternative comix culture mingles with the gallery-driven world of fine art. Presented slightly tongue-in-cheek (the artist’s bio continues up to his death in 2075 at the hands of “former Prime Minister George Stroumboulopoulos”) as a monograph on the work of the 38-year-old, London, Ont.-raised Bell, Hot Potatoe gives a sui generis artist the large-scale showcase his fanatically detailed, ever-morphing surrealist multi-media collages demand. A cubist construction by Picasso or Braque as reimagined by a high school stoner with the technical command of Crumb is as good a stab as any at describing a typical Bell composition. Price tag notwithstanding, Hot Potatoe offers real value for money. Almost any given page of this hefty volume can be stared at and studied for hours.
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Featured artists

Abouet & Oubrerie
Matt Forsythe
Marc Bell

           Featured products

Ojingogo
Aya: The Secrets Come Out
Hot Potatoe




Doug Wright Award nominees reviewed by The Walrus

Updated March 30, 2009


The Walrus
Monday, March 30, 2009

A Wright Awards Run-Down

Last week the nominations were announced for the 2009 Doug Wright Awards, which celebrate excellence in Canadian cartooning. By no means are the DWAs the only Canadian comics awards, but they are certainly the awards whose nominees are easiest to review. Finalists for the more mainstream/genre-friendly Joe Shuster Awards are named next week, but these awards go to individuals rather than books, making capsule reviews a smidge difficult. Nominations for the Prix Bédéis Causa came out this week, but I have been a bad Canadian and an unlettered anglo and haven’t tracked down any of the nominated works. Enough with excusing my laziness, though—let’s start off by delving into the titles nominated for the Doug Wright Awards’ Best Book.

Burma Chronicles, by Guy Delisle. This latest in Delisle’s series of travelogues from politically restrictive countries, following Shenzhen and Pyongyang, finds him in Rangoon. While his career in animation led him to China and North Korea in his previous books, this time it’s his wife’s position with Médecins sans frontičres that has the cartoonist and their infant son wandering the Burmese capital. Along the way they interact with locals and other expats, wrestle with arbitrary bureaucracy, and learn of the nation’s customs and recent history, all while remaining definite outsiders. Of course, they’ve been encouraged to remain outsiders—as with the other nations Delisle’s cartooned about, Burma comes off as friendly enough, but aloof, if not forbidding. Drawing from everyday life, the artist’s detailed anecdotes—about the different kinds of monks one encounters, or about bus trips to outlying regions, or about the enclave-ish existence of the expat communities—reveal nuances and implications about the culture that complement the bigger-picture information he conveys in quick, diagrammatic ways elsewhere. But his insights feel strictly surface-level, and the persona Delisle has created for himself never seems self-conscious or -reflective enough to move much beyond the ins and outs of baby-walking and air-conditioning, nor is he able to make those concerns seem any less trivial. His style, too, veers dangerously close to clip-art, especially now he’s abandoned his previous books’ hand-textured greys in favour of lifeless flat tones. Some silent sequences (Delisle’s real strength), and some architectural and landscape drawing, do lend the occasional bit of vitality to the page, but otherwise the look is hurried, static, utilitarian. Lucky for Delisle that a book dealing with daily existence in Burma can’t help but be of interest, just on its own.

Paul Goes Fishing, by Michel Rabagliati. The title’s a bit misleading—Paul, Rabagliati’s stand-in, does indeed go fishing in this volume, but only for a couple of pages. More important is the trip he takes to get to his fishing hole, an outfitter’s with furnished log cabins in the country north of Montreal. Along the way, the cartoonist’s eye for detail unfussily captures what it felt like to live in decades not long past, as well as the distinctive look of both urban and rural Quebec. The pace of life on vacation, too, gives Rabagliati multiple opportunities to drift off into effortless digressions from the leisurely main narrative. So, reading in his bunk, Paul will begin to meditate on why Catcher in the Rye resonates with him, or the sight of his brother-in-law fishing will lead Paul to think for several pages about corporate downsizing, or when leaving for the country he’ll launch into a jovial tirade about how he’s been complicit in helping computers ruin everyone’s lives. More cute than funny, it’s a pleasant stroll of a book, but it doesn’t shy away from any of the messy stuff of life. Rabagliati leads Paul through reminiscences of hit-and-run accidents and child neglect and miscarriages, too, but it’s all drawn in the same jaunty, imperturbable Franco-Belgian style, full of clear lines and mild caricature. The style so influences how we read the book—we don’t gloss over ugly events so much as we take them in stride, carried along by the smooth cartooning—that it rarely feels like anything of consequence goes on. But I’m not sure that same easygoing hardiness isn’t the whole point of the book.

Next up is the Pigskin Peters Award, which continues to puzzle me a bit. The award verbiage claims this category “recognizes avant-garde comics and other non-traditional works” but I don’t really see how, say, pantomime strips (Ojingogo) or gag panels (All We Ever Do…), both formats commonly used since the early 20th century, fall under the banner of experimental work. In any case, I haven’t snagged a copy of nominee Small Victories by Jesse Jacobs yet, and I’m a little surprised not to see Marc Bell’s Illusztraijuns for Brain Police among these titles, but for the moment I’m pretty comfortable with singling out the next book as the best of this lot.

Ojingogo, by Matthew Forsythe. The monster-battle/video-game narrative has almost become its own comics genre in recent years. Forsythe’s wordless book, which follows a tough but eensy girl as she searches for her camera among mummies and squids and other beasties, is another entry in that canon of work guided by dream logic and structured according to inscrutable goals. It’s a zippy run through the type of stuff we usually see in these comics—creatures ingest strange objects and shrink or grow or transform or multiply, then chase or fight or eat each other until it all happens again. Forsythe’s creature designs can be fun—I like his lanky furry men, or the box-thing with the gaping mouth—and his rugged inkwork lends them a strong physical presence. Still, nothing seems at stake here, and the world of Ojingogo doesn’t feel especially concrete or self-contained—qualities which the best dumb monster comics are able to achieve with intensity.

All We Ever Do Is Talk About Wood, by Tom Horacek. The cartoonist fills this slim collection of neatly drawn and shaded gag panels with hydrocephalic adults and animals cracking wise. The gags are clever enough, turning convention on its head—the driver in a car tells his passenger, “Sure I enjoy being in traffic, but what I really want to do is direct it,” or a man at a dinner party says, “All my puns are intended”—but their execution feels overdetermined, the amount of thought and effort that goes into the cartooning incommensurate with the quick rimshot we get from reading it. Horacek’s style may have something to do with this, in that his rounded, fully-realised, big-headed drawings impose funniness in big bold letters on the events he depicts, rather than letting it evolve naturally out of the situation. In the right hands this imbalance could prove wry or unsettling—Chris Ware and Mark Newgarden have done just that, with panels where copious text or big noses overwhelm every other consideration—but Horacek doesn’t quite pull it off.

A couple final thoughts: First, in the Best Emerging Talent category, I’m only glancingly familiar at best with the others’ works, but man, isn’t Kate Beaton something else? Her dashed-off, devil-may-care lines seem put to paper by the ghost of a harried Al Hirschfeld, while her banter is currently snappier than anyone’s in comics. That so much of it is a loving piss-take on Canadian history only makes it the more endearing. Second, two of the best Canadian comics from 2008 that I read were Seth’s slow-motion lament “Thoreau MacDonald” and Shary Boyle’s serpentine, unnerving “Grow Old”—both mere two-page strips, in the new Kramers Ergot volume, and neither of which the DWAs would be able to call attention to. Not that those artists are in desperate need of more plaudits, but as with my favourite Canadian comic of 2007, I’d love to see the few strips that are getting ghettoized thanks to our current mania for book-length works share way, way more of the spotlight. Maybe when Kate Beaton’s webcomics win that award it will help me sleep easier with it all….
 
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Featured artists

Michel Rabagliati
Guy Delisle
Matt Forsythe

           Featured products

Paul Goes Fishing
Burma Chronicles
Ojingogo




  OJINGOGO, POHADKY and BIG QUESTIONS 11 reviewed by Newsarama

Updated February 27, 2009


Comics
Best Shots
Troy Brownfield
15 December 2008
NEWSARAMA

Ojingogo (Drawn & Quarterly; by Mike): Matthew Forsythe’s dream-like tale of a young girl, her squid and a menagerie of strange creatures, simultaneously cute and terrifying, is a totally unique and engaging book. Drawing on Eastern myths (Forsythe apparently spent time living Seoul), Ojingogo is nearly silent and full of imaginative leaps of logic that keep the reader engaged. Forsythe’s gorgeous pen and ink artwork captures the nuances of his characters’ curiosity, fear, determination and creativity. The designs of the creatures and landscapes are tremendous. It’s just a really beautiful, well-paced, fun comic. You can even read some of it here.

Pohádky (Drawn & Quarterly; by Mike): One hundred twenty pages of beautiful, full-color illustrations from Marek Čolek and Pat Shewchuk, Pohádky combines Shewchuck’s graphic designs with Čolek’s fantasy illustrations. Mixing anthropomorphic animals, gypsy humans and the natural world into a swirling blend of fairy-tale reality, the artwork is simply wonderful. There’s no story; this is a pure artbook, done in D&Q’s small Petits Livres style, which might be my only complaint. The detailed full paintings deserve a more overwhelming size, dimensions that would allow readers to get lost in the complex, interwoven fantasy of Shewchuk and Čolek’s worlds.

Big Questions 11: Sweetness and Light (Drawn & Quarterly; by Mike): I wish I kept up with Anders Nilsen’s spare and subtle series. Nilsen’s such a strong cartoonist, with excellent panel-to-panel storytelling and strong illustrations. The blend of characters – humans, dogs and birds – surviving in a damaged and dangerous world all come across as distinct beings, particularly the animals whose natural behavior isn’t compromised by their occasional forays into human speech. The overall story is slow unfolding, but Nilsen’s great artwork makes every panel of the journey enjoyable.
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Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Marek Colek and Pat Shewchuk
Matt Forsythe

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Pohadky
Big Questions #11: Sweetness and Light
Ojingogo




Kelly Link recommends OJINGOGO and WHAT IT IS on Salon.com

Updated December 10, 2008


Books we love
Some of our favorite authors weigh in on the best reads of 2008.

Compiled by Abby Margulies
Dec. 9, 2008 | Yesterday we revealed our favorite books of 2008. Today we've asked a selection of our favorite writers to chime in and tell us what books got them excited this year.


Kelly Link, author of "Pretty Monsters"

"
...And because I can never just recommend one book, I'll also note that this was a terrific year for graphic novels. I loved the new "Scott Pilgrim" by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Matt Forsythe's beautifully produced, weird and wordless "Ojingogo," and Lynda Barry's "What It Is."
 
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Featured artists

Lynda Barry
Matt Forsythe

           Featured products

What It Is
Ojingogo




  GENTLEMAN JIM and OJINGOGO reviewed by Monday Magazine

Updated November 27, 2008


The Gentleman is a Scholar
Graphic novels, then and now
11/19/2008
Jason Schreurs
MONDAY MAGAZINE

Gentleman Jim
by Raymond Briggs

Ojingogo
by Matthew Forsythe

While graphic novels have morphed and adapted over the years to fit into mainstream culture (quick, how many big-screen offerings based on graphic novels can you name?), one thing about the format has remained constant: hunkering down into a favourite reading chair and cracking open one of these arty chapbooks is still a comforting and enriching experience, whether it’s one of the timeless classics of the genre or a new-school blend of anime and dreamscape diary.

Raymond Brigg’s Gentleman Jim, originally published in 1980, is widely regarded as one of the first English-language graphic novels. Briggs never got the credit he deserved in the graphic-novel world though, since a lot of his works (Father Christmas and The Snowman being his most popular) were delegated to the children’s section in bookstores.

But Gentleman Jim (and When the Wind Blows, published two years later) was aimed at a strictly adult audience and features a protagonist every dead-end-jobber can identify with. Jim Bloggs tries desperately to separate fantasy from reality as his waking hours are spent obsessing over where he is in life and where he would like to be. When he stumbles upon a story about the Highwayman in a dusty used bookstore, he begins to develop a thoroughly flawed but totally endearing plan of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. It starts with the purchase of a tired but affordable old donkey and spirals downward from there.

Gentleman Jim’s story is authentic and, truth be told, a bit of a tear-jerker, with subtle yet beautiful illustrations. We’ve all read The Snowman; now imagine the Office Space version.

While Brigg’s work is a perfect example of how the graphic novel began, works by artists like eastern Canadian Matthew Forsythe show the limitless boundaries of the genre. Ojingogo is a simple, open-ended collection of drawings that thrive on white space and quirky characters from the deep recesses of a child-genius’ mind. Except the child genius grew up, honed his skills and now has a razor-sharp arsenal of cute/disturbing characters.

The story of a young girl and her pet squid has hardly any dialogue, but the bizarro allies and villains she encounters amongst all the white space make up for her mostly muted tendencies. The drawings in Ojingogo take a while to decipher, but I’m pretty sure one of the characters is a big bar of soap with teeth. Another one is some amalgamated type of four-legged beast with a perpetual rain cloud over its head. Yep, some weird stuff.

Unlike Gentleman Jim, which is rich in dialogue and social message, Ojingogo is a simple journey full of whimsy and dark humor. It’s like an anime acid trip, but not a bad one.

Two very different looks at graphic novels, Gentelman Jim and Ojingogo prove the phenomenon isn’t going away anytime soon.

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Featured artists

Raymond Briggs
Matt Forsythe

           Featured products

Gentleman Jim
Ojingogo




MATT FORSYTHE event spotlighted by The Torontoist

Updated October 10, 2008


TORONTOIST
Sept 27th, 2008

WORDS: To celebrate Drawn & Quarterly’s two new releases, there will be a launch party held this evening at The Central. Drawn's co-founder Matthew Forsythe is releasing Ojingogo, a new graphic novella that follows a girl and her pet squid through various presumably moral-developing journeys. Also being released is Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek's Pohadky, an illustrated series of folk tales heavily influenced by the cultural backgrounds of Shewchuk and Colek (pre-Christian Ukraine and Czech Republic, respectively). All three authors will be giving short presentations on their works followed by a Q & A and autograph signing. The Central (603 Markham Street), 5 p.
 
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Featured artist

Matt Forsythe

           Featured product

Ojingogo




  Upcoming events!!!

Updated September 30, 2008






09/18SF BooksmithSan Francisco, CALynda Barry
09/20Strange AdventuresHalifax, NSMatthew Forsythe
09/27The CentralToronto, ONForsythe, Colek & Shewchuck
09/28Edmonton LibraryEdmonton, ABPascal Blanchet
09/28Word on the StreetToronto, ONmultiple
10/02BooksmithBrookline, MALynda Barry
10/03Politics & ProseWashington, DCLynda Barry
10/04-5NYer FestNew York, NYLynda Barry
10/04-5SPXBethesda, MAJason Lutes
10/04-5Puces PopMontreal, QC


Featured artists

Lynda Barry
Matt Forsythe
Colek & Shewchuk

           Featured products

What It Is
Pohadky
Ojingogo




MATT FORSYTHE interviewed by The Coast

Updated September 19, 2008


Ojingogo ink
Matthew Forsythe's debut graphic novel Ojingogo is inspired by Korean cartoon culture.
by Alison Lang
THE COAST
September 18, 2008


Cartoonist Matt Forsythe's comic is the story of a girl, her squid and a whole lotta monsters.
Last weekend, most of us probably slept in, drank some beer, hit the market or watched a little TV. Last weekend, Montreal artist Matthew Forsythe toured the Pixar studios in San Francisco and contributed artwork to a high-profile tribute show for Japanese artist Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away). Oh yeah---and on the way home, his plane got struck by lightning.

"It was scary, man," says Forsythe, on the phone from his home in Montreal. "It felt like we were hit by a rocket or something. There were about 30 seconds where you could tell everyone was fearing the worst. This flight attendant told me she hadn't seen anything like it in 27 years."

The plane quickly righted itself and Forsythe was returned in one piece. Still, it's another crazy moment in the career of an artist who's known for rendering everyday life with a combination of childish awe and exaggerated intensity. This undercurrent runs through his debut graphic novel Ojingogo, published by Drawn & Quarterly, and getting the Halifax launch treatment this weekend at Strange Adventures. The book is a collection of strips taken from Forsythe's online webcomic of the same name. Its main characters are a little girl, a squid (the book's title is a variation on ojingo, the Korean word for squid), and a host of colourful beasts ranging from cutesy mini-mummies to giant box-shaped creatures with black, gaping maws. It's a strange and startlingly original little book that at the same time recalls cultural references that may or may not be deliberate---at one point, the squid leaps onto the girl's face and hugs her in a way that's reminiscent of those creepy face-suckers from the Alienmovies, but cuddlier.

Forsythe says the biggest inspiration was Korean cartoon culture, which he soaked up in mass quantities while teaching English to kids in Seoul a few years ago.

"There's a lot of stylistic things in Korea that we just don't do in the west," he says. "Once you're there, you have to re-learn how they do comics. They jump from hyper-realism to super-cute stuff, sometimes in the same panel. I've tried to emulate that. Some of the characters are literally from dreams I've had."

In addition to a growing obsession with Korean comics and manga, Forsythe also experienced the jumble of sensations that accompany the ex-pat experience: Confusion, alienation and awe. That, along with bits and pieces of the storytelling sessions he shared with his students, form the bulk of Ojingogo's spine.

"As someone living in a country where I didn't speak the language and didn't know anyone---it really took me back to a second childhood," he says. "And the kids really effected my sense of logic. They made me deconstruct the way I approach things---just total stream of consciousness. I tried to capture that feeling in the comic. A lot of the things in there are just nonsense."

Ojingogo has already made a splash in the comic world---the web version garnered two Eisener Comic Industry Award nominations and won Best English Comic during Montreal's Expozine Awards this summer. His Montreal book launch in August packed a downtown bookstore to the gills. Forsythe says he's a little bamboozled by it all.

"It's such a light comic. I couldn't believe it resonated with people so profoundly," he says. "I mean, I think it's accessible. It doesn't demand anything of you---it's non-threatening. It's just saying 'I'm here. Have fun if you want.'"

Matthew Forsythe's book signing and presentation on Korean art, Saturday, September 20 at Strange Adventures, 5262 Sackville, 7pm, free.
 
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Featured artist

Matt Forsythe

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Ojingogo




  OJINGOGO reviewed by The Montreal Mirror

Updated September 2, 2008


The ego and the squid

Korean cartoons and creatures of the
subconscious wiggle their way through
Ojingogo, MontrealerMatt Forsythe’s new
graphic novel from Drawn & Quarterly

HERO’S JOURNEY:
From L-R: PhotoBot, Bangu-Jenghi, Voguchi, Ojingogo

by RUPERT BOTTENBERG
MONTREAL MIRROR
08/21/08

“I feel like I’m just escorting this thing along, not driving it,” says illustrator and comic artist Matt Forsythe of Ojingogo, his new graphic novel from Drawn & Quarterly. “It’s kinda weird seeing my name on the cover—that’s how dissociated I feel from it.”

That may be, but over coffee at a Mont-Royal bistro, Forsythe, a Montrealer for three years, has plenty of thoughtful things to say about Ojingogo. It began as a blog strip and then mini-comics, and has now graduated to a full book, an extended fugue full of surreal creatures of shifting size and disposition, with a strong-willed girl and her squid sidekick at the heart of it all.

It’s been a long time coming. Though Forsythe studied politics and religion at Hamilton, ON’s McMaster University—“I got a lot of heavy philosophical thinking out of the way early in life”—he also handled editorial cartoonist duties at the student paper there, and notions of a career in comics and illustration had long gnawed at him.

“I went through my crazy superhero phase like everyone does, and became alienated from that by high school, which is probably very healthy. Then a friend handed me an Adrian Tomine comic a few years later, and I was interested again—oh, this can be relevant, there’s interesting stuff out there.

“But what was really the touchstone was, when I went to Korea, the cartoon and comics culture there. There’s this sense of fun. In the West, there’s so much weight that we put on these poor characters. Jack Kirby and Stan Lee came up with 15 characters 40 years ago, and we’ve put 40 years of emotional baggage on them, they’re just buckling under that weight. In Korea, there are comics about golf! Just let go! They’re having fun with these things. I felt like I could breathe again.”


JUST THE ESCORT: Forsythe
Solo in Seoul

Footloose Forsythe’s Korean jaunt followed gigs as a camp counsellor in Montreal, computer programmer in Ireland and waiter in London. With debts piling up, teaching English in the Seoul suburb on Ilsan looked sweet.

“You meet ex-pats like yourself, who are in debt or in some cases running away from something—there are people there who are running from the law, I’m not kidding!

“There were maybe 40 other ex-pats in town, and the odds of us liking each other weren’t great, so I had a pretty solitary experience. I had a nice roommate, but besides that, I was pretty isolated. So I started a blog there called coming-upforair.net, and started feverishly drawing every night.”

In addition to the comics he read—Japanese manga and manhwa, the Korean equivalent—Forsythe’s morning kindergarten classes had an impact on his blossoming craft.

“They were such super intelligent kids, so funny and energetic, and the way they looked at things—I try not to condescend to kids, I think I can learn from everyone, so immediately I tried seeing things through their eyes, and I felt like it opened up a whole new world.

“I remember being at a street safety day with the kids, and seeing a don’t-get-hit-by-a-car cartoon—they have cartoons demonstrating everything. I was looking at the style and thinking, that’s gorgeous. I’d love to do a comic that looks like that.”

A handle on Hangul

Forsythe’s Ojingogo strips indeed owed much to Korea, in their aesthetic, their very title (a play on ojingo, Korean for “squid”) and even in what little dialogue existed in the nearly wordless comics. He used Korean Hangul script, or rather his own distorted version, for his character’s occasional exclamations.

“The thing about Hangul is you can learn it in three hours. It’s easier than the English alphabet. The images in Hangul are based on the shapes our mouths make when we say those sounds, so essentially, Hangul is sequential art—like a comic. So when I started to make a comic in Korea, obviously I had to use the little bits of Hangul I knew.”

Comic artist Jordan Crane’s use of abstract shapes to represent sounds was also an inspiration. “It’s more fluid. I’d rather be shown the sound than read it. Comics have such a strong visual language that I find it disappointing when a beautiful comic is burdened by so many words.”

His protagonist Voguchi was based squarely on his friend Vanessa, a Japanese-Canadian he’d met in Ireland. “She came to visit me in Korea for a week. She’s a photographer, and we were always roughing each other up about our real careers. I told her I really wanted to do a comic, and she said, c’mon, do one and stop whining.

“Literally, the Monday she left, while my kids were working, I started drawing her, in exactly the same skirt and vest and socks she’d worn to Korea. She said she loved squid, and squid is everywhere in Korea, so of course I drew one in there.

“That’s how it started—that, and letting myself be open to anything that was happening subconsciously at the time. It was like a big pot and I was just chucking all sorts of stuff in to see what happened.”

Animals of the anima

What happened is that Forsythe’s charming little vignettes eventually converged into a larger, increasingly cryptic fable, one that surprised Forsythe as much as anyone. “I was feeding on a lot of subconscious ideas. I’m sure an analyst could have a field day with all that,” he says.

“I always wanted the short strips to be part of a larger arc, and subconsciously, I felt like I was starting on a hero journey with her. Things were happening without me scripting them that afterwards, when I learned about proper story writing, I realized were actually part of a larger arc. Now, I didn’t want to impose that arc on the strip format, but I did want it to feel like it was going somewhere.”

Voguchi’s journey goes somewhere and everywhere—under the sea, high in the sky, deep into strange wooded realms—and odd entities populate each patch of her path. “I was definitely letting little archetypes play through. A lot of that has its basis in Japanese and Korean comics. If you look at the work of [Princess Mononoke creator] Hayao Miyazaki, all sorts of iconic little characters are everywhere.”

It’s worth noting that Forsythe’s contributing a piece to the Totoro Forest Project, a charity art show/Miyazaki tribute at Pixar’s San Francisco headquarters. “Miyazaki’s a master at creating spirits and creatures that have always existed in our subconscious, but we’ve never seen them before. When you’re working with [such iconic creatures], it’s weird, you can feel when they actually exist—when they’re natural as opposed to being forced to do something. That’s the goal with a lot of these creatures, to create things that resonate with us.

“I feel very comfortable with that world, and I want to keep it going. I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface.” To continue with Ojingogo, Forsythe plans to return to Korea this fall. “It’s called the Hermit Kingdom for a reason. There’s really not that much reference material, so for research purposes, I want to go back and get some inspiration.”

And some reactions to Ojingogo, perhaps? “I sent my minis to my former students in Korea. One of them wrote me back and said, man, your Korean is horrible, but your drawings are very good.”
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Featured artist

Matt Forsythe

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Ojingogo





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