Limited Edition by Aude Picault

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Limited Edition, by Aude Picault

Europe Comics, 2018

152 pages

Limited Edition is a graphic novel by French artist and writer Aude Picault. Although Picault’s work is well-known in France, she has yet to achieve the recognition in English speaking countries that she deserves (something that this translation of one of her most recent works will hopefully begin to redress).

Picault’s graphic style is simple, closest to that commonly seen in newspaper comic strips. Limited Edition also employs a very limited colour palette – primarily yellow, of various shades, with the occasional judicious use of blue or pink (see samples below). This stripped-back approach leaves nowhere for an artist to hide, but Picault is such a master of her craft that the minimalism simply serves to showcase her wonderful skills for characterisation, humour and composition. There are no generic faces in Limited Edition; even characters whose appearance is limited to a single page or panel are distinct individuals, whilst those with recurring appearances are clearly differentiated and consistently depicted. Expression and posture are beautifully observed and often humorously conveyed. Visually, the work is a deceptively simple joy.

In terms of story, Limited Edition covers a few years in the life of Claire, a neonatal nurse in her thirties living in France, disappointed in love and feeling increasing social pressure to find the right man and settle down. As such, it is not a tale of high drama – there are no murders, family scandals or political intrigues – but a keenly observed account of typical, everyday concerns: relationships, friendships, family, work. These are all presented in realistic frankness (sex and nudity feature relatively frequently (both visually and in conversation), but are depicted honestly and in context, often humorously, not salaciously or gratuitously). However, these common life experiences are not taken at face value, but scrutinised through a distinctly feminist lens. Unless there should be any doubt as to this, the book also contains a ‘short bibliography’ where readers are directed on to the works of Virginia Woolf, Germaine Greer and a host of other feminist authors. In fact, the book is quite systematic in its coverage of feminist topics: the beauty myth, the stereotypes of mother and wife, the traditional expectations of monogamy, differing attitudes to raising male and female children, among others. As interesting and important as these issues are, this didacticism might be annoying in a less talented author, but Picault skilfully and subtly weaves these concerns through Claire’s story in a way that adds and not detracts from it. The characters and situations are not simply a vehicle for the issues, but are fully realised things that the issues raised cast in a new light.

Regarding the edition itself (originally published by Dargaud), I found no issues with the translation, which has been skilfully rendered into colloquial English. I do, however, wonder about the title: Limited Edition translates Idéal Standard, which – although I’m not a French speaker – would seem to lose something (that Claire is faced with a socially imposed ‘ideal standard’ that she must live up to). But perhaps the publishers have their reasons. Picault’s original hand-written text is neatly replaced with a similar, handwriting font, and in all other respects the book is beautifully put together (that said, I can only comment on the digital (PDF) copy that I was given for review). The translated edition doesn’t yet seem to be available through Amazon, but only as a digital edition through Comixology.

In summary, Limited Edition is a beautiful, visually delightful, funny – yet serious – take on the sort of pressures faced by the average contemporary Western woman. As such, while its subject matter might traditionally attract more female readers than male, I would hope that it can be enjoyed and appreciated by both sexes, and help Picault to gain the wider English-speaking readership she so richly deserves.

[This review was based on a complimentary PDF edition supplied by the publisher via Net Galley]

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Unbound by Christopher Osborn

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Unbound, by Christopher Osborn

Arcadia Books, 2017

189 pages

The dream of immortality is an ancient one, but it is only in comparatively recent times that the means of its realisation has shifted from a religious and spiritual concern to a secular and technological ambition. Its current incarnation is transhumanism, a broad term covering the various ongoing attempts to free humanity from its mortal limitations through scientific innovation. These range from the relatively plausible (altering DNA through genetic engineering), to the more conjectural (cryogenic ‘freezing’ of brain/body for future scientists to resurrect), to the frankly outlandish (‘mind-uploading’ of your digitally scanned brain states to a computer).

That Christopher Osborn’s Unbound focuses on the more conservative of these possibilities, however, makes it no less a work of science fiction, for we are arguably no closer to ‘fixing’ the tendency of our cells to degenerate overtime than we are to curing cancer. In fact, as pointed out by molecular biologist Dr Victor Zimmerman (Osborn’s narrator), the two quests may be closely interrelated. The obstacles to biological immortality relate to telomeres, the structures that cap off the end of our chromosomes rather as those little plastic tips stop our shoelaces from unravelling (to borrow Osborn’s neat simile). As our cells die and are replaced, these telomeres shorten, until eventually they start to break down, and, like old shoelaces, the composite threads of our DNA start to fray, giving rise to errors in cell replication that cause genetic malfunction, disease, and ultimately death. The key to reversing this is telomerase, an enzyme that regulates the length of telomeres. If this could be ‘switched on’ in normal cells, then the little plastic tips would forever be maintained in pristine condition, and our shoelaces need never fray; we would be biologically immortal. The problem, however, is that telomerase is also a key enzyme in cancer cells, where it is by default switched on (which is what makes cancer cells such efficient self-replicators). The problem, therefore, is to switch on immortality in healthy cells, but not to encourage cancer. Tricky.

Although still currently unfeasible, the relative plausibility of this solution to the problem of mortality makes for a strong premise, allowing Osborn to bring a subtle, literary focus to what is most interesting to him about this scenario without the distractions of the more far-fetched trappings common to other sci-fi. In doing this, Osborn engages with that which transhumanists and sci-fi writers alike often struggle with, and some even completely ignore: namely, how such fundamental changes would impact on our psychological and emotional life, our day to day relationships, and our sense of identity.

In many respects, Osborn’s doctor is the stereotypical ‘mad scientist’, driven by his own egotism, professional ambition and zeal beyond the boundaries of morality and social convention. In this, its exploration of life and death, and the confessional memoir format of its narrative, there is no little debt owed to what many would cite as the first sci-fi novel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a link perhaps explicitly acknowledged by the shared forename of the two novels’ protagonists, as well as suggested by the title itself, referencing the myth of the Greek titan Prometheus, whom Shelley’s husband, the poet Percy Bysshe, famously liberated in his verse drama Prometheus Unbound. Sentenced by Zeus to be punished for all eternity for stealing fire from Olympus as a gift to humanity, Prometheus was the great human benefactor, and may therefore stand for science, technology and human knowledge in general. As the poet Shelley envisaged him set free from the yoke of divine punishment (for which, read ‘science and humanism turning its back on orthodox religion’), rejuvenated by his drug telo, Osborn’s Victor finds himself similarly ‘unbound’ from traditional religious and moral restrictions. However, in addition to this liberation, Victor notices that he is ‘unbound’ in a more subtle and disquieting sense, from the very ties that bind us together as human beings.

It is this, I think, that represents the most intriguing aspect of Unbound. In losing his fear of ageing and death, Victor also suffers the decay of empathy, compassion and moral conscience. What is it that makes us treat others as ends in themselves, and not means to our own satisfaction? As Hume argued (and Kant later disagreed), the basis of morality is not respect for another’s reason or autonomy, or any other rational standard, but the mere fact that we feel. It is our recognition of our fellow human beings’ capacity for suffering or happiness, a mirroring of our own, that ultimately underpins all moral judgements. As such, what we feel in recognising our common mortality is the most fundamental bond we can have with another human being; but remove this, and what are we left with?

Victor’s new self is therefore curiously adrift, as the promise of eternal youth begins to cast a fresh light on his relationships and values: his marriage begins to break down, old friendships sour, even his professional integrity is jettisoned. And so, a battle ensues between the old, compassionate, sentimental Victor, and the new, unbound Victor, a Nietzschean Übermensch that wants only to delight in strength, vigour and mastery. Love becomes weakness, as like frightened children holding hands we seek companionship only to assuage our terror of our inevitable advance towards decrepitude and death. Illness, old age and disease no longer invite his pity or empathy but rather repulsion and contempt, for Victor is now of another order of being entirely. And yet it is this very difference (as he sees it) that now creates distrust in others and fosters his isolation. Ironically, as his youthful libido returns, and he is driven to seek out casual sex at a swinger’s club, the ageing attendees shun him, preferring their comfortable habitual couplings from the advances of the haughty stranger who seems more concerned with admiring his rejuvenated reflection in the mirror. His new detachment also leads him to seemingly arbitrary acts of cruelty: sharing a train journey with a travelling student, they enjoy a convivial conversation, but while the young man sleeps, Victor hides his shoes, then pretends to aid the student’s panicked search before leaving him to disembark in his socks.

Yet the superior coldness and cruelty depicted here is a caricature of Nietzsche’s ideal—whether the author’s or the narrator’s is difficult to tell, for it is a distortion that remains prevalent in popular culture. It is true that Nietzsche emphasises ‘cruelty’ as a necessary ingredient of spiritual and cultural growth, but it is a quality that he turns as much against himself as others: it is by hardening ourselves against the buffetings of life, by accepting and not seeking to ameliorate their effects, even celebrating them, that we ultimately become ‘more’ than human. The sort of transhumanism that Nietzsche advocates is therefore not one that tries to escape mortality, nor even to make life more comfortable, but one that celebrates life in spite of death and suffering—it is the conquest of self, not of death, that makes us stronger. In fact, it is this temptation to escape suffering that he sees as the root of delusion. In this sense, Victor’s desire to live forever—for ‘Victory’ over death (the nickname a scientific colleague gives him)—is no less a consolation than the belief in reincarnation that he mocks in his colleague.

And here, I think, is another important point (one repeatedly made by the philosopher John Gray): in the hands of transhumanists, science unwittingly fulfils the same function that used to be served by religion. The notions of progress, salvation and liberation that seem to drive the transhumanist agenda are not inherent in the scientific worldview—in fact, a number of philosophers and scientists question whether progress is an objective value, whether we can have a coherent notion of personal identity, or a definition of free will that is compatible with scientific knowledge. Whether or not religion provides false consolation is a separate question, but either way transhumanists seem largely unaware that their agenda is fuelled by the same spiritual urges and inherits many of the same problems.

Though relatively short, there are many other points of interest in the book. As the effects of telo progress, Victor begins to lose his love for music, and consequently, for his wife (who, like Osborn himself, is a concert pianist), recalling perhaps Nietzsche’s own view of music as an emotional, irrational release from the isolated life of conscious suffering that fosters a sense of belonging. There is also of course the problem of altruism, an ongoing controversy in evolutionary theory concerning the question of whether (as Richard Dawkins argues) all apparent acts of kindness must ultimately be interpreted in the light of the dictates of our ‘selfish genes’; or, on the other hand, whether examples of natural cooperation, or the existence of mirror neurons in the brains of both humans and animals, suggest that we are in fact hard-wired for empathy. This is a battle that Victor’s transformation itself embodies—which wins, I’ll leave you to find out.

In summary, Unbound is a subtle, skilful engagement with issues raised by the transhumanist agenda from a personal perspective, and a meditation on what this means for both our inner and social lives. Ultimately, it suggests, in losing our mortality, we also risk losing our humanity; that, in effect, because we are the only creatures that are conscious of this mortality, it is this consciousness, and the emotional and psychological bonds that it facilitates, that provide the basis of identity, community, meaning and moral conscience. Take away that limit—even if that were possible—and we perhaps risk unmooring ourselves in more radical ways than transhumanism recognises.

[The above review was based on a complimentary review copy from Arcadia Books]

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What Would Marx Do?

book covers, illustration, news, original art, philosophy, publishing, sales, writing

My new book, What Would Marx Do?, is now finished, and is due to be published by Octopus Books in March of next year. You can read more about it here. If you’re eager, you can preorder it on Amazon. As well as writing this book, I also illustrated some of it. Some of these pieces are for sale in the gallery, but – understandably – the publishers would like me to keep the other illustrations from public view. However, if you were interested in buying any of the originals, you can contact me so that I can arrange a private digital viewing.

For periodic, brief news updates about my art and writing activities (and discounts and art giveaways), please sign up to my newsletter.

Commissions, Free Art Raffle, and Discounts

caricatures, commissions, news, original art, sales

Hi Everyone,

Some news.

Raffle: everyone who signs up to my newsletter will be entered into a monthly raffle to receive a free A7 sized commission (approx. 3 by 4 inches – see samples below). The first draw will take place November 10th. You can sign up here.

Discount: All newsletter subscribers get 5% on art sales and commissions.

Commissions: At the moment, I am currently OPEN for personal commissions. From now until Christmas, I am offering the following (sorry to mention the C word… Nice pressie idea maybe?):

  • A7 size = £20
  • A6 size = £40
  • A5 size = £80
  • A4 size and up = depends on time and business – please enquire

Please get in touch with any questions, etc.

Thank you!

G.

New: Newsletter Updates

news

Internet marketing genius that I am, 17 years after setting up a website, I now have a newsletter – well, three actually. It’ll be very occasional, very unspammy, and subscribers will get 5% off (off what, exactly, is yet to be decided…). It’ll also be very functional, less “here’s a thinly veiled piece of marketing clickbait masquerading as something interesting” and more along the lines of “Here art here” (to quote ‘Withnail and I’) or “Me book good – you go here”. Stuff like that. It’ll also keep those interested up to date on The Illustrated Book Club. But you can choose what to hear about, and edit your preferences any time.

Anywayroad, go here, and get 5% off … things …

Marx and Keynes: Sneak Peek

book covers, caricatures, commercial work, illustration, publishing

I’m currently working on illustrations for two books for Octopus PublishingWhat Would Marx Do? (which I’m also writing), and What Would Keynes Do? (by Tejvan Pettinger). They’re both due out next year, but Octopus have allowed me to share some of the images –

Farewell Lappy! Limited Commissions and Art Sales

Uncategorized

Yesterday – due, no doubt, to despair at the current state of the world – my laptop suddenly decided to hurl itself at the floor (translation: I dropped it). This has left it with a big, arcing crack in the screen which, added to the fact that the keyboard no longer works properly, the power cord looks like something out of a health and safety warning video, and the whole thing takes 10 minutes to load Photoshop, means that Lappy has probably seen it’s final days. 

SO….

The Illustrated Book Club on Facebook

book covers, crowdfunding, news, Patreon, social media, The Illustrated Book Club

 

A quick announcement to let everyone know that TIBC now has its own Facebook page (see here). Join me there to chat, suggest titles, and moan about Facebook (well, I’ll be moaning about Facebook – you’re welcome to join me…). Also, just a reminder that TIBC is also on Goodreads (for book discussion) and Patreon (for sketches, giveaways, postcards… etc).

The Illustrated Book Club – Now on Goodreads

crowdfunding, Patreon, social media, The Illustrated Book Club, Uncategorized

Hi Everyone,

The Illustrated Book Club now has an associated Goodreads reading group – to discuss books, suggest titles, etc. It’s already got a few members – check it out here.

You don’t need to support me on Patreon to join the discussion on Goodreads, and you can suggest titles, see links to the finish book covers. However, you won’t be able to vote on titles, get discounts, see work in progress, be eligible for giveaways and other rewards, and so on.

Just a reminder that all books covered will be public domain, so there’ll be a free etext somewhere, which means you can take part free.

See you there!

Gareth.

Copyright and Fan Art: An Illustrator’s View

Copyright, fan art, illustration, Patreon, The Illustrated Book Club, Uncategorized

First of all, for anyone who needs to know, here is a statement to make clear my position on copyright and fan art: