user_mobilelogo

 

Gerda Jord 02Ten years. This is how long it has taken for the following myths to be debunked: that there are no comics in Lithuania, that nobody knows how to create them, that the market is flooded with poor-quality Japanese publications intended for children and teenagers, or by Spiderman and X-men, which are part of pop-culture and possess no artistic value whatsoever and just keep children away from reading “decent” books. In as early as 2005, Ernestas Parulskis predicted that “the connoisseurs of classic comics are expecting the second Sin City and looking for comics on the internet, and there they will find their place. Teenagers will prevail in Lithuania and, reluctantly, one will have to read and watch Japanese productions,”[1] while “Lithuanian artists have not mastered this technique [the specific realism of comics] and probably will never do so;[2] eventually, the situation in Lithuania will be such: comics will fail to become part of culture and comics-based films will always be seen not as much an artistic phenomenon as a story better or worse retold.”[3]

Ten years later, 10 litų by Miglė Anušauskaitė and Gerda Jord are awarded the Patriots’ Prize, and Gertrūda by Gerda Jord follows it as the first successful Lithuanian Knygstarteris (Bookstarter) crowdfunding campaign. In addition, Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis and Art Spiegelman’s Maus, published in Lithuania in 2011 and 2012 respectively, seemingly prepared the Lithuanian reader for graphic narratives. It seems—and we can hope— that, after all, comic stories are only a part of teenage-oriented culture. On the contrary, in Lithuania this medium undertakes uncomfortable, strange, and initially awkward themes and finds ways to speak about them.

The first two paragraphs of this review might be confusing regarding the definitions used to discuss this topic. Comics, graphic novels, and graphic narrative are just some of the ways to describe what is happening in the comics medium. Apparently Lithuanian comics are looking for best ways to address the reader via the topics they introduce: 10 litų is typically seen as a comic book, and Gertrūda is called a graphic diary of generation Y. It should be added that both books are referred to as graphic novellas by their authors. We cannot say that we are clueless in the specifics of the medium or that we still fail zero in on the essence of the genre. Attempts to relate the genre of comics with literature raise questions and doubts and are often regarded with criticism.

 

Comics combines two words, comic and strip, the latter word retaining only the letter s. At least initially, comics are understood as short linear series of humorous pictures complemented by verbal expressions and typically published in widely accessible publications. Today we increasingly encounter not only short strips, but large volumes of comics on themes that are not at all comical. Let us take the graphic novel as an example: on the one hand, it is a novel narrated in the graphic form. On the other hand, this term is often used to refer to a multiple series of comics or even strips published in one book. Often earlier published comics series are collected into one volume; publishers like this format, which is attractive to buyers (a thick hard-cover publication is always more expensive). Alan Moore, one of the best-known creators of comic books, said in an interview that he had no sympathy for this term and preferred graphic story or graphic narrative instead.  He then remarked that at least some works could be called graphic novels in terms of density, structure, size, and seriousness of theme: some examples are Maus (although Art Spiegelman himself was critical of the term “novel”) and Watchmen[4]. Will Eisner points out that in the middle of the twentieth century, artists undertook to create long, sequential cartoons which in rough terms were called graphic novels, a term that embraces both fictional texts that conform to the requirements of a novel, and non-fictional writings.[5]

10 litai and Gertrūda are made of chapters or episodes which make it possible to tell a story about the same characters without trying to do so too consistently. At times it might even appear that these two books are collections of short stories. This idea is more applicable to 10 litų, which was created by two authors and was published in parts in the cultural press. The structuring of the narrative in Gertrūda fairly closely resembles the method employed in autobiographical comics—the author chooses a specific event. This event happens to be the funeral of Gertrūda’s grandmother, and to attend it the main character returns to her native town where objects, places, and smells transport her back to her childhood, and from where she narrates about almost twenty years of her own life and general existence in the 1990s. This aspect is probably the most disappointing feature of the book as many flashbacks from the past do not appear to be strongly motivated; also, this jumping around in time does not add to the development of the plot. On the contrary, the story line becomes stronger when the present, grown-up Gertrūda yields a place to her younger self by becoming less conspicuous.

 

Without lingering over scenes are not very relevant, let us take a closer look at the successful and exceptional things related to the appearance of this comic book. In the context of Lithuanian books, Gertrūda stands out not only for its genre but, even more importantly, for the manner of its publishing. We should say, for its fortunate publishing. Having repeatedly asked the Council of Culture for funding, Gerda Jord took a risk and came forward with the proposal to carry out a graphic book project as a Knygstarteris campaign, which means that it was not foundations or councils but readers who decided what should be published and read.  Hopefully, her example will encourage the market of a small country so dependent on public funding and cautious about publishing books intended for a narrower circle of readers not to fear ostensibly loss-making projects. For writers, Jord’s experience will be a stimulus to look for alternatives in publishing and introducing their books. What’s more, having convinced readers to pre-order slightly less than half of the required number of copies over the course of only a few days, Gerda Jord heralded a relationship between the author and the reader that was entirely new and of better quality. Pre-ordering the book meant that more or less all the readers were interested in reading the book they had bought and commenting on it. On Goodreads.com, the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations, the book attracted as many comments in a matter of several months as did the book Vilko valanda (Hour of the Wolf) by Andrius Tapinas, the most self-promotional and followed author, over the course of several years.

In the Lithuanian context, particularly in literature, the 1990s are a period we find it difficult to talk about, and it seems nobody is willing to talk about it. Several attempts have been made to describe the experiences of generation Y or the generation born just before the re-establishment of independence. These experiences are associated with freedom and the option to emigrate, to become established  and build an identity elsewhere in a multicultural environment, to articulate personal sexuality. However, such narratives usually cover the first decades of the twenty-first century and the 1990s are seemingly erased; attempts are made to reconstruct that period and it begins to evoke nostalgia. We hardly have any films that document those years; some fragments can be traced back in surviving music clips and in photographs that are eventually taken out of drawers (for example, Andrew Miksys’s project “Disco,” showing the backstage of discos in Lithuanian towns, has attracted attention worldwide), and in internet memes that are not always adaptable to the Lithuanian context. Our memories of the last decade of the twentieth century are mostly filled with criminal documentaries. It is worth looking into the percentage that reports on and investigation of detectives, murders, crime, gang wars, and robberies occupied in mass media and on TV program lineups.

 

It seems that having gone through a period of expectation during the rise of the Sąjūdis, Lithuania was overcome by deep disappointment: the order was not changing as fast as was desirable, the establishment of economic, social, and cultural relations was laden with difficulties, and uncertainty prevailed. And maybe only the new millennium propelled us to a new stage of which we are no longer ashamed, which we recognize and integrate into our history. Meanwhile, we still shun the 1990s: they are unpleasant and painful, better left forgotten. This negative period has not become part of us.

On the contrary, Gertrūda discusses fairly consistently almost two decades, from the re-establishment of independence to economic emigration to the West. Having read the introduction to the book or seen its cover illustrated with attributes of that time (trolley-buses, plastic bottles with lopped-off tops hung on children’s necks for summer berry picking, floppy discs, portraits of Vytautas Landsbergis) you expect it to take you back to that time and to dig up the past, to help you identify with Gertrūda and her ways so familiar to generation Y, and to give you a good laugh at those times. And it succeeds: you are taken back to evenings with television sets that do not have remote controls and telenovelas, to school dance floors, to when children used to buy alcohol for their parents and imported sweets were a hard-to-get commodity. Despite nostalgia or some kind-hearted jibes about documented events and facts, the strongest places in the narrative of Gertrūda are those pertaining to “shameful” topics that we are inclined to suppress, ignore, or forget: parents’ drinking, violence in families, religious sects, divorce, migration abroad, humiliating working and living conditions in England, and various confidence tricks.  Since the story is being told from the point of view of a child (Gertrūda) or a teenager, or a young woman, various things or events trigger not irony or evaluation, but surprise or anger when they are not understood. For example, she sees her grandfather, whom she cannot recognize, and it is assumed he has disappeared when actually he is drunk and is throwing up in the bathroom; or she asks the strawberry pickers she is working with, “Aren’t things taking a strange turn here? It seems we have turned ourselves into some sort of slaves...,” and finally she is appalled by her shoplifting compatriots (“Disgusting! You’ve turned into thieves! I am ashamed of you!”).

I would like to finish by repeating something that has already been mentioned in this text: comics are appearing in Lithuania and the interesting thing is that although they are searching for their format and their reader, the authors of these narratives address unexpectedly awkward and necessary topics. And we are curious and intrigued when thinking about what we can expect in the nearest future because we have not used even the smallest part of the arsenal offered by them.

 

1. Parulskis, Ernestas, ‘Kinas ir komiksai’, Kinas, 2005, No. 4. Available from: http://www.tv3.lt/ (accessed 9 September 2016).

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid

4. Kavanagh, Barry, The Alan Moore Interview. Available from: http://blather.net/ (Accessed 9 September 2016).

5. Eisner, Will, Comics and sequential art: principles and practises from the legendary cartoonist. New York: London: W.W. Norton, 2008, p. 149.

e-max.it: your social media marketing partner

Sponsors

Friends

logo lrsThe Lithuanian Culture Institutelogo lim

Write us