Monday, October 16, 2023

Pow Pow Week: Zviane's For As Long As It Rains

There's a rich tradition of comics from Montreal that takes its shape both in a wild & unruly underground (most notably with the late Henriette Valium) and a smoother, more traditionally Franco-Belgian form. There's a mix of naturalistic storytelling with stripped-down and slightly cartoony & exaggerated linework. Drawn & Quarterly and Conundrum have certainly published their share of locals, and Pow Pow Press is another. Recently trying to re-emerge into the American market, Francois Vigneault gave me a number of their books at SPX. They are all uniformly pleasant to look at, with sharp cartooning and some innovative storytelling ideas. At the same time, there's a strong adherence to that highly cartoony character design, especially in the way faces are drawn. 

Opening up with Sylvia-Anne "Zviane"Ménard and her book For As Long As It Rains. It's in turns playful, erotic, emotionally tense, fractious, and ultimately despairing. It's about two lovers staying for a weekend in a house in Europe. Their banter is playful, sexy, aggressive, and funny. The more we learn about this nameless couple (a deliberate choice), the more we learn that their connection is ephemeral. They are cheating on their partners and have been for quite some time, slipping away every few months to see each other in highly-charged sexual encounters. We get hints of how it started; they are both talented pianists and think in musical terms. For each lover, the creeping concerns of the outside world encroach in different ways. She is worried about being discarded by her lover, who is not always communicative when they don't see each other. He's content to be her secondary lover and notes that she should be as well. She's chosen to have another life, but she still feels jealous. 

The book focuses on two key sequences. The first is when they play "Scaramouche," a musical suite for two pianos, in the luxurious house they're staying in. Like everything else in their relationship, there's a lot of push-pull, a lot of shit talk, but also a certain ease that leads to joyful and playful improvisation as they play together. Later, she jokes about being able to have musical scores for sex that people could recreate. One gets the impression that their chemistry is special, which is why they continue to be drawn to each other, even if neither is willing to commit. Zviane cleverly comes up with "sheet music" for her characters in an extended sex scene, where different body parts and sex acts have different notations. It's all painstakingly drawn, out of a sense of going all the way with a joke as much as anything else.

However, that scene represents something else: it's the end of a moment. He gets a phone call from his partner right after they have sex, and she's left alone in the bed, as the rain outside has stopped. This moment, and all their moments together, are fleeting moments of illusion. She has a hard, aggressive edge to her personality throughout the book, and it seems like it's a defense mechanism over her acknowledged understanding that she's in love with him but this will never amount to anything except a series of stolen moments. For him, that's enough. For her, it's no longer enough, and it's heartbreaking. 

Zviane relies heavily on grayscale shading to add depth and weight to her pages, but I found it actively distracted from her linework. It feels like a botched compromise from relying on her admittedly thin line and trying to introduce mood through shading. A more naturalistic style or a brush technique would have served that kind of attempt at mood much better. A clear line that allowed Zviane's expressive character work a chance to really shine would also have been more effective. Maybe it would have left her figures a bit more naked, but the slow reveal of each character's vulnerabilities was the whole point of the book. 

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