Book Review: Rufus Marigold, by Ross Murray

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_rufus_marigoldThe landline telephone rings at home, harshly jarring your cocoon. You immediately panic. What terrible tragedy may have befallen a family member? Or, much worse:  who is trying to make you talk to them?

The graphic novel Rufus Marigold is a print compilation of a multi-part online series by Tauranga artist Ross Murray. Rufus is a man-monkey living alone in a contemporary New Zealand city and struggling with debilitating social anxiety. He works in a faceless office as a Logical Data Analyst – a role that even sex workers find depressing – but quietly dreams of becoming an artist, despite its inherent imbalance between talent and income.

Rufus is overly concerned with how others see him, and always assumes the worst, erroneously. Caught up in self-loathing, Rufus’ anxiety consumes his life and overflows to impact others. Although Rufus fears being ‘alarmingly conspicuous’ in public, he is also dismayed when people don’t acknowledge him or his efforts.

In exploring self-help books, Rufus discovers Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety. It resonates. ‘I’ve finally found someone who completely and utterly understands me. It just so happens he’s been dead for over 150 years’. Eventually, Rufus’s tentative online posting of his artistic work receives some of the validation he’s been craving. But even this objective assessment of value still feeds into the cycle of anxiety, as he feels pressured to appease his fans with new and better material.

When he is offered a book deal for his work, Rufus cannot cope with the possibilities it offers. He is cajoled into agreeing for one Ross Murray, an ‘overwhelmingly mediocre’ local artist, to act as the public face of the role. Finally, Rufus is forced to confront his intrinsic needs. ‘Why don’t I feel happy?  Is acknowledgement what I really want? Does success require recognition?’

Murray has channelled personal experiences in the vignettes about the man-monkey who shares his initials. He deftly captures the ratcheting anxiety and exhaustion caused by over-thinking in social situations. Murray has been mentored by New Zealand comic artist alumni, such as Dylan Horrocks and Sarah Laing, resulting in images that are neatly framed to put the reader in the role of sympathetic (albeit occasionally irritated or nauseated) observer. The muted colour palette, with occasional floral bursts, reflects Rufus’ deliberately bland, careful life.

In this well-packaged graphic novel, Murray and Earth’s End Publishing show that deeply individual stories of anxiety can have wide resonance with many readers.

Reviewed by Jane Turner

Rufus Marigold
by Ross Murray
Published by Earth’s End Publishing
ISBN 9780473448035

Book review: Terry Teo and the Gunrunners, by Stephen Ballantyne and Bob Kerr

Available in bookshops nationwide.cv_terry_teo_and_the_gunrunners

My husband came in and saw this lying on the kitchen table: “Is that your copy of Terry Teo? Sweet!” He remembered it from his childhood; it was first released in 1982 and became something of a cult favourite. At that time it was also a TV series (staring Billy T James, amongst others) and spawned two sequels. Now, it has been remastered and re-released in preparation for the new, much darker, television series.

Terry Teo is a 12-year old boy who loves his skateboard. Entirely by accident, he stumbles upon three gunrunners. He manages to escape – but not before they see him. What follows is a complicated series of occasionally slapstick and chaotic events that would make Tintin* proud, involving Terry; his two siblings, Polly and Ted; a gang of motorcyclists; the evil businessman, Ray Vegas, and his two bumbling sidekicks.

It’s all jolly good nostalgic fun, with a distinctly kiwi flavour to the illustrations – including the charmingly-named small town Kaupati (say it aloud) with its tiny police station and A&P show. This is truly like travelling back into a time before cellphones, before the internet, into a world where kids get to have the adventures – because the adults are too oblivious or silly to solve the problems themselves. With its fast pace and humour, this graphic novel can now be enjoyed by a new generation, and may especially be embraced by the more reluctant reader.

At the end of the book there are three bonus chapters, explaining the Kiwiana/cult following of the original tale and plans for the new TV series. Whilst this book can be enjoyed by fairly young readers – probably 10 plus – the TV show looks to be darker and intended for a more teenage market. It has Terry aged 17, and focuses somewhat on gang culture. Perhaps not for the younger viewer.

*Tintin even gets a cameo!

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Terry Teo and the Gunrunners
by Stephen Ballantyne, illustrated by Bob Kerr
Published by Earths End Publishing
ISBN 9780473330675

Book Review: The Dharma Punks, by Ant Sang

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_dharma_punks

I was on the train today and a guy leaned over to inspect what I was reading. “What’s that like?,” he asked. I took pause and thought about it. “Well,” I started, “Do you know Jamie Hernandez? Love and Rockets?, Tank Girl, Gorillaz?” He nodded slowly, as the idea dawned on him. “Well it’s nothing like that.”

Back in 2001, fledgling cartoonist Ant Sang must have been at least partially inspired by the new comics that had been gaining momentum since the late 80’s. I know that fellow artist, Simon Morse, was hugely inspired by Hernandez’ anarchic reality. It was miles away from the underpants-over-longjohns superheroes that had dominated the industry up until then. Sang, like Morse, and of course, Dylan Horrocks, was interested in the more intellectual dichotomies that could be played out in the relatively new “graphic novel” medium.

New Zealand was slow on the uptake. Anyone who does get a reputation, after slaving long over a photocopier to produce enough zines to get noticed, is snapped up by the American comic empire – Marvel, DC, etc. Like those guys, Sang was a publishing pioneer, co-founding Tuatara Press with a collective of other cartoonists to release his first small work Filth. In Dharma Punks, this title appears again as the band name of a punk band, which is central to the story of Chopstick, a skinny Kiwi Chinese lad whose identity is intertwined with the fate and manipulated fortunes of the characters in the band – Benis, Jugga, Cat, Side Car and Brian The Goth.

It’s Auckland, 1994 and a group of anarchistic punks hatch a plan to explosively sabotage the opening of Bobo’s burger joint (think fictitious multinational McDonald’s). The night before their plan is carried out, Chopstick sets the bomb that will bring the joint down. But he gets separated from his partner in crime, Tracy, and the night takes a serious of unexpected twists and turns where chance encounters the past and the present. The spirit of Karma and the Zen of anarchy clash, they switch roles – the dragon becomes the mouse and the rodent roars and spits flames. Still reeling from the death of a close friend, Chopstick tries to reconcile his spiritual path with his political actions in this energetic, fast-paced story.

This release is the full collection of Sang’s work from 2001 to 2003, beautifully presented on good quality baxter stock (the holy grail for cartoonists because the ink bleed is virtually zero). It’s been touched up here and there, with new or restored introduction and end papers for each chapter – in simple colourings. The stories seem familiar to me, perhaps because I was an aspiring punk once too – although I never blew anything up. The raw emotion that Sang blends with the kind and rational teachings of Buddha is still refreshing and vibrant. His penmanship has an urgency, without abandoning aesthetics.

I have really enjoyed looking back over this period of Sang’s most inspirational work. Here’s hoping that the graphic novel reading community will demand more of him, and he delivers. Now that would be exiting news!

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

The Dharma Punks
by Ant Sang
Published by Earths End Publishing
ISBN 9780473289065