in sequence

oldbridge (橋)
J sun bathing

The sun is back on our island.

I almost forgot about the sun. But still, there is something reassuring in its return. Not for its monotonous heat, but for the semblance of a pattern or season that it brings. Another season, of which this island has three: hot & humid; rainy & sleepy; indoor and aircon.

J is watching online the live CNN coverage of Barack Obama's inauguration as US President, the rehearsed process of ceremony. I guess everything happens in a sequence of patterns, order, influence - whether or not we recognise it at its occurrence. And maybe this makes historians a kind of sequential artists.

Artwork by Jose Munoz

When I first heard the term "sequential art", it seemed an odd way of describing what was explained to me as comics. My first "graphic novel", a second-hand 1987 English copy of Joe's Bar by J. Munoz and C. Sanpayo, but I didn't recognise it as "sequential art".

Though composed of distinct frames, in reading, the eye and mind does not stumble across the borders. The narrative in fact proceeds seamlessly - the relationships between idea, characters and events told not only in text, speech, but image and imagined motion. In this way, the graphic novel form lends itself well to the telling of history, personal or public.

Jason Lutes' Berlin (a series that has been compiled so far into Book I "City of Stones" and Book 2 "City of Smoke") is an engrossing network of stories set in the German capital between the world wars. You begin with a community of artists and students, unsure of where their stories will take you. Somewhere in between, you may even get a little lost as the stories multiply to include the city's journalists, workers, vagrants, hedonists, musicians, police, politicians... all this while building a picture of the political and artistic ideas and ideals that were born from the formation of a new German republic and led to its later fascist, Nazi regime.

Like any good piece of historical fiction, Berlin immerses you in the details of the fictional world and lives created, but allows you to eventually identify the larger historical narrative, an inevitable historical sequence.

Ah, Obama's speech has ended. To my right, J's screen shows Bush's helicopter exit from Washington. And despite the daytime heat, the night is surprisingly cool and breezy still - perfect for sleep.

p/s - Also check out Art Speigelman's famous Maus, completed in 1991, a story about Holocaust survivors; Chester Brown's biography of Canadian rebel Louis Riel; or Singapore's own To Tame a Tiger by Joe Yeoh.


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