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Home > Bart Beaty's Conversational Euro-Comics

Canicola, Various
posted March 6, 2007
 

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By Bart Beaty

Moving on through this year's Angouleme prizes, we get to the first of the three special awards: The Fanzine Prize. As I discuss in my new book, the Fanzine Prize really has no logical definition to it. It has been won in years past by mini-comics anthologies, by small press magazines featuring articles about comics, and by professionally produced magazines like Stripburger, Panel, Sturgeon White Moss and Drozophile. Generally, my sense is that the prize is reserved for whatever the jury deems to be the best work that can be found in the area set aside for fanzine publishers.

This year's fanzine winner is another that would be difficult to term a 'zine in any way that that term is meaningfully used in comics culture. Canicola is an annual comics anthology from Italy, now in its fourth year. Edited by Edo Chieregato, Canicola envisions itself, as the editorial in the third issue attests, as a contribution to the avant-garde, or, in their terms, poetic, side of comics. Each issue is beautifully designed and professionally printed. The first issues were album sized, 80 pages, and printed on high quality paper, but the most recent (fourth) issue is a squarebound album totaling 192 pages.

While Canicola has included the work of a small handful of non-Italian artists to date (Anders Nilsen -- who provided the cover for the most recent issue -- Anke Feuchtenberger, the insanely wonderful Finnish cartoonist Marko Turunen, and the Hong Kong-based cartoonist Chihoi), it is primarily a site for young Italian cartoonists to strut their stuff. The core group appears in every issue, and over the course of the past several years there has been a noticeable improvement in some of the work. I was enthusiastic but not overwhelmed when I saw the first issue a couple of years ago. Since that time I have made a habit of picking up the subsequent releases at Angouleme. This was the first year that I put the new book at the top of my "to read" pile.

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The award-winning issue opens with a short story by Marko Turunen and Annemari Hietanen. Turunen, whose work I've mostly read in French from Fremok, has an incredibly distinctive and direct visual style. His comics are dystopic, and filled with sexualized violence and aliens from another planet. I love his work, but it is fair to say that I am often not entirely sure I know what it's about. "Sea," a short work by Chihoi, is the very definition of the poetic comic work, a lovely little work about mothers, sons, and dreams. "Paolo Uccello: Imaginary Life," by regular contributor Giacomo Nanni, is a work that did little for me. Here he moves between very simplistically drawn cartoons and a vastly more interesting and visually striking series of landscapes. I greatly preferred the use of the latter style that can be found in "Doors," his story in the third issue, and would be interested in seeing him elaborate this style more fully.

Gregor Wiggert is another cartoonist making his debut in this issue, and his anthropomorphic short story, "Subscription" wanders from topic to topic -- a phone solicitation from Locus magazine, a haircut, fishing -- without really settling into a proper narrative. It seemed like the type of work that might find a home in Mome. Anders Nilsen's first of two pieces, "The Rain," followed. Hopefully I don't have to sell anyone on the fact that Nilsen is one of the most talented new voices in comics anywhere in the world.

"Diavolo," a short work by Davide Catania, is a piece that I loved, but that many people would likely dismiss. Catania works a very loose style, and has since the first issue. His comics appear as little more than quickly drawn sketches, with huge strokes (I presume that they are printed much larger than they are drawn). I adore the directness of it all, but some would consider the work unfinished. Their loss. Another regular, Alessandro Tota, contributes a longer work here. Tota is one of the rare Canicola contributors to be working in a classical cartoony fashion (some of his figures remind me of Marc Bell), and while his work is developing in interesting ways, it is always something of a change of gears.

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"I am cried" is the strange title of the story provided by Edo Chieregato and Michelangelo Setola. I think that Setola, who also has a solo story in this issue, is one of the three most promising artists affiliated with Canicola. His stories are filled with youthful enthusiasm and a touch of menace, and feature creepy high school students that wouldn't be out of place in a Debbie Drechsler comic. His art, which is done in pencil but without inking, is rapidly developing into its own unique and compelling look. This is an artist to watch in the future.

I will admit that the comics of Giacomo Monti did little for me in the early issues of Canicola. Working in a stark, cartoony minimalist style, and featuring stories about semi-squalid sexual encounters, I felt that the material had nowhere interesting to take me. The creepy two-pager "Instants," however, represents something of a breakthrough, a stripped-down sequence of non-sequiturs that sets a nice tone. I liked this better than his other contributions to this issue. Philadelphia's Jesse Moynihan also contributed two stories featuring gnomes and elephants and nightmarish creatures, but neither grabbed me in terms of either the story or the art.

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Amanda Vahamaki (put umlauts on all those As before trying to pronounce her last name!) offered her most offbeat and atypical story to date, "The Lie Detector." Vahamaki is the second artist that I expect to be a breakout star here, although this story is not as strong as her work from earlier issues. Her previous stories dealt with childhood in an interesting manner. If one were to have a criticism of that work, it might be suggested that it was too highly derivative of Anke Feuchtenberger. The new issue finds her reigning in that tendency, but the shift to smaller panels and a more gridlike structure does not seem to entirely suit her talents. This one was a bit of a disappointment.

The artist whom I find most promising of the Canicola crew is the one I've chosen to deal with last: Andrea Bruno. Years ago I reviewed Bruno's book Black India Ink in The Comics Journal, when it was published by Amok. I loved his work then, and now I simply adore it. He is one of a small handful of young cartoonists that I am currently obsessed with. When I was walking around on the Saturday of Angouleme, thinking "Gee, this festival has kind of sucked, I wish I was in Paris today," I happened to meet Andrea Bruno for the first time. That was literally one of the highlights of my festival, and it made me glad that I didn't take an early train back. Everyone should be fighting over the opportunity to translate this man's work.

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The fourth issue of Canicola features a 22-page story by Bruno entitled "Rifles," a break from his longer serialized story, "Nothing Broth," which can be found in the first three issues. Like all of his work, "Rifles" is bleakly post-apocalyptic and nihilistic. Horrible things happen in Bruno's work, and his vision of the future of Italy is not a rosy one. His visual style is perfectly attuned to this outlook. His pages explode like dark, inky bombs. He is one of the most visually innovative of contemporary cartoonists. Last year at Fumetto, where his work was exhibited at the Picasso Museum, I was completely lost in his pages. A fantastically innovative stylist, Bruno is one of the most important cartoonists producing work today.

In short, a well-deserved prize. Canicola is publishing a number of cartoonists who, I predict, will make big names for themselves in years to come. While not every story in the fourth issue was to my taste, the hits are of a very high quality. In an era in which many of the best European comics anthologies have stopped publishing, it is fantastic to see this one starting to really make its mark.

One final note: Something I really like about Canicola is the fact that it is sub-titled in English. That is, every page contains a translation of the dialog printed at the bottom of the page, something I first saw in Finnish comics anthologies (although others may have done it first). It is not the ideal way to read comics, but it is better than giving up because your Italian sucks (mine is pretty bad, I will admit). English-only readers looking for innovative European comics should check these out.

Next time: The Heritage Prize winner, Sergent Laterreur

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art, from the top: Anders Nilsen cover, Divide Catania, Michelangelo Setola, Andrea Bruno, Amanda Vahamaki

*****

Canicola #4, various cartoonists, squarebound, 192 pages, 2006

*****

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