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Two Kinds of Heartbreak: A Quick Look at Hip Flask and Yukiko’s Spinach

Jeff Lester

What a relief. I felt really, really shitty yesterday and my main thought of the day was something like, “No! Can’t…get…sick! Must…change….blog’s…reputation…for being…unhealthy!” And today I feel a million times better. I’m still sticking to my new theory, however, which is that blogging on a regular basis makes you ill. It takes up so much time you can’t spend as much time in front of the Renewvo Regeneratron (or “Playstation 2,” as it’s more popularly known) as you need in order to stay healthy.

Anyway, before I get set to go open the store I thought there was a very faint link between the following two books:

HIP FLASK CONCRETE JUNGLE: See, this book breaks my heart. It’s a collection of several issues of Casey and Ladronn’s Hip Flask mini from what I believe was several years ago collected into a Euro style hardcover album for (gasp!) 30 bucks. I read it at the store last week, and thought Casey did a pretty good job giving the characters and world a very consistent tone. But it’s the painting by Ladronn that really got me–I’d bought the first issue or two included here and thought they were lovely, but at this size they are brain-achingly gorgeous and almost feverishly textural: rhinos in smoking jackets, and hippos in trench coats, and zebras in tuxedos, and soft-skinned women recoiling against leather-seated interiors with a pale blue sky settling into a windowpane. Like nearly every science fiction comic from the last twenty-plus years, the city looks like the one in Blade Runner, but Ladronn’s use of color makes that ol’ trope come alive again, and I just spent most of my time looking through this book with my mouth agape. It’s like a magic mud puddle, half an inch deep but able to reflect all the colors of the world so vividly you swear you never truly saw them until then.

And yet–it’s thirty fuckin’ bucks and nothing happens in it. Somebody dies. Somebody else dies. Every single character appears to have a shadowy past. Things are alluded to. Flashbacks are plentiful. Dead ends are pursued. Since I invoked its name once, lemme do so again: it’s like paying thirty dollars to watch twenty minutes from the middle of Blade Runner. And considering I bought two of these issues, like, three years ago, I have the sneaking suspicion the story isn’t even finished. It’s heartbreaking because the art is so good, you have to see it, and yet I can’t recommend you buy it at this price. My only hope is that every library in America buys it so people can go check it out and get lost in it for a while.

YUKIKOS SPINACH NEW EDITION GN: See, and this book is about heartbreak. I guess I read Mariko Parade (or maybe Love Hotel?) about a year or two back, knowing nothing about Frédéric Boilet and the Nouvelle Manga movement other than what the book told me on the flaps, and I was pretty underwhelmed by its love story between a French cartoonist and a Japanese student. The whole thing struck me as big ol’ flapdoodle over nothing, the Franco-Nihon equivalent of Jungle Fever and a new marketing term to peddle the same ol’ second-rate filler.

But over time, I realized that a few of the author’s observations stayed with me. There was a description, as I recall, in Mariko Parade about how one of the essential components to eroticism for the Japanese is a sense of loss, and that the affair, once begun, is already sweetened by the sadnes of its inevitable end, and there was something about that observation that allowed me some insight into stuff I read or watched since.

So when this new edition of Yukiko’s Spinach came out–the original work by Frédéric Boilet that started all of this off–I picked it up, sure that it would be more codswollop, but hopeful there would be something decent in it.

In fact, Yukiko’s Spinach is a much stronger work than the stuff Boilet did later–a poignant little story about seduction and sex and love buttressed by a formalist structure. Although Boilet uses extensive photoreferences to tell his story, he makes extensive use of sketches to counter-balance that. Even better, the way he frames the story of the cartoonist remembering his affair, the action happens in photoreferenced illustrations but the memories of the scenes are replayed through sketches and thumbnails. In doing so, Boilet draws attention not only to the way in which the book is constructed, but underlines the way in which the lover is constructing his memory of the affair and, by the end, potentially using those thumbnails not just for the construction of memory, but as a blueprint for future seductions.

Surprisingly, Yukiko’s Spinach isn’t half as twee as the title suggests, nor half as cynical as I make it sound, but occupies some perfect middle ground between romance and maturity, seduction and idealism, love and lust. And, as promised, the book in fact shows how a love affair, by ending even as it begins, can be suffused with a sadness that is genuinely sexy and sweet. A Good read and if the sort of thing you think you might like, you probably will.

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