Pulp Fictions: I Live Here and Guy Delisle's Burma Chronicles
I Live Here
Edited by Mia Kirshner
Drawn & Quarterly
Actress Mia Kirshner crams a world of hurt between the magnetically locked covers of I Live Here (Pantheon), a new graphics and comics anthology that also serves as a potent and provocative graphic delivery system for unspeakable real-world horrors. Displaced multitudes, starving refugees, helpless prostitutes, imprisoned orphans, child soldiers, HIV-infected villages, and raped and tortured women are the subjects of this elaborate "paper documentary" consisting of four composition-sized books enclosed in a folder and designed to resemble student stationery.
Kirshner helped fund and facilitate a group of writers and artists who met displaced Chechnyans in the refugee camps of Ingushetia, Karen-Burmese sex workers in Thailand, the familes of some of the 400 murdered women in Mexico's Ciudad Juárez, and children orphaned by Malawi's 20 percent HIV infection rate. The results are collected in I Live Here, a book which may remind you that pre-Comics Code Authority goremongers EC Comics was originally known as Educational Comics. Furthering the resemblance, Kirshner (probably best known as the pretentious brunette writer in "The L Word") reappears throughout the package's four folios as an alternately shocked, dumbfounded, and enraged Crypt Keeper (with didactic tendencies).
Designed by Adbusters' Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simons, I Live Here integrates work donated by several other fine writers and artists. Comics journalist Joe Sacco recounts the centuries-old Russian-Chechnyan confrontation through the words of Chechen women. Phoebe Gloeckner's multimedia graphic novella, "La Tristeza," imagines the scenarios that led to the Ciudad Juárez murders. And writer J. B. MacKinnon and artist Julie Norstad created the ersatz children's book "Shattorboy," which transforms Malawi's AIDS holocaust into a deceptively benign folk tale.
Other stories work less well, and the I Live Here folio has something of a fragmentary over-designed quality to it that may simply reflect the passions of those involved. (Nothing says "nightmare" better, apparently, than graphics somewhere between a Mexican fotonovela and Bill Sienkiewicz at his gaudiest.) Similarly, Kirshner's hand-lettered journal often eschews facts for poetics.
Timed perfectly to fulfill the "new demand for seriousness" noted by Paul Krugman, I Live Here possibly overreaches by embracing at least one too many calamities. As gruesome as they are, the Juárez murders suggest nowhere near as systemic a tragedy as those in Burma, Malawi, and Ingushetia. Each section, however, elegantly manages to balance the personal and political aspects of its respective crisis. Don't expect easy answers, though: Scaring the crap out of you with "stories that can change the world" is the I Live Here Foundation's single, and undeniably virtuous, aim.
Guy Delisle, for better or worse, will frighten absolutely no one with his Burma Chronicles (Drawn & Quarterly). The Canadian cartoonist comes off as a somewhat befuddled and bemused bystander in this handsome book, which documents the relatively benign year he lived under the country's military dictatorship as spouse of a Médecins Sans Frontières worker. As Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi languishes under house arrest a few blocks away, Delisle interacts with the locals, plays tourist, goes on a meditation retreat, and teaches a class in animation to some fellow cartoonists (one of whom risks imprisonment when Delisle speaks too frankly to a reporter).
Delisle's cartoony domestic misadventures tend to blur the sharp edges of the State Peace and Development Council's harsh policies. And his short stories, contrary to the grander ambitions of I Live Here's creators, probably will not change the world, even as they shed light on the everyday lives of those who attempt to do so.