Crime and Punishment
If the Lewinsky/Clinton/Starr love triangle taught us anything--and that's a pretty big if--it's that the transformation from history to fiction can now be accomplished almost instantaneously. Witness the sight of the media driven mad by the scent of desire, then grasping for analytical justifications for such frenzied coverage and finding only hackneyed, too-familiar tales: that the Clinton regime has leached the Democrats of any moral purpose they retained under the rule of Reagan and Bush; that House Republicans would have no qualms about suffocating the President by jamming the original draft of the Constitution down his throat if it were the only thing handy. Just as the historical events of the Trojan War would turn into the epic verse of the Iliad, Clinton's folly has found its fictional form in something closer to a Tijuana Bible. Monica's Story (Alternative Press), a comic book that distills the 400-page Starr report into a 33-page single issue, doesn't address the concerns of celebrity and privacy, but in rendering the episode as intriguing fiction as opposed to prurient journalism, it makes our self-indulgence feel far more palatable.
This work is a product of alternative cartoonists James Kochalka (who penciled the original pages) and Tom Hart (who inked and toned the final product), and it's a surprisingly apt match of artist and subject. Both artists are known for drawing mature stories in childlike styles, fusing surface innocence with adult depth, as seen most recently in Kochalka's Tiny Bubbles and Hart's The Sands. Through the lens of these two artists, Monica and Bill become children pretending in a world of adults--acting lustful and lonely in a way that seems less like a world-weary affair and more like a high school crush.
Rendered as doughy blobs with eyes and mouths, Bill and Monica become sympathetic characters, not images haunting the tabloids and TV newsmagazines. Here, Monica lets herself be seduced by Bill's power, charm, and intermittent offerings of intense attention, while Bill anxiously tries to wall off his impish desire from the demands of political decorum and marital responsibility. (Hillary, of course, is conspicuously absent: This particular fiction doesn't seem to have any use for her.) Still, the comic can't be read as entirely apolitical; it's only a matter of time before some Republican reprints the image of Bill running a cigar between Monica's legs, her, ahem, humidor modestly covered with the Presidential Seal. Or the panel of Bill ejaculating as Monica inhales to the Chief, his tongue lolling out, one eye squinted--below a caption that screams, "Oh my fucking Christ." And in what may be the only political good to come out of the entire affair, a portion of the comic's proceeds will go to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which defends those in the industry who have come under legal fire for selling comics with themes more adult than Donald Duck.
Nonetheless, Monica's Story is a welcome treatment of the biggest political distraction of the decade, transforming it fully from a sad debacle that our grandchildren will one day tease us about to a private, muddled episode of desire constricted by the requirements of politics and position.
Where the media narrative of the Affaire Lewinsky might have seemed hyperreal, The Extended Dream of Mr. D. (Drawn & Quarterly), a three-part comic by Spanish artist Max is more interior and fractured. The book follows Christopher D. through an unending dream filled with lush images of Siberian tigers and catastrophic train wrecks. Christopher can't remember his past, even though he's being pursued by Scallywax, a Cossack-like figure with boundless power and worldly charm, who has vowed revenge for something Christopher did to him 25 years ago. (Even Linda Tripp could learn a lesson about grudges from this guy.)
The dizzying story contains vague hints of guilt and anxiety that Christopher has carried over from the world of the waking. Witness the powerlessness he feels when confronted with Scallywax's machinations, or one mind-boggling episode in which Christopher loses his head (literally) to one woman, is devoured by another woman and then reborn as a woman himself, and then has sex with the male version of himself. At times, Christopher and his occasional companions seem like passive observers in an unmoored universe--though the unease they feel is lightened a bit by Max's vivid imagery, which renders the story a kind of psychodramatic thrill ride. At other times, though, it seems as if the comic is heading toward a climax of fears realized, confronted, and conquered. A note in the beginning makes it obvious that Christopher does eventually awaken: Whether he'll see his waking history more clearly for having been covered by its fantastic and frightful umbra is not yet known.
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