Friday, February 16, 2007

Berlin, City of Stones by Jason Lutes

(Yes, Alsyon, I did read another comic book. And there's nothing you can do about it!)

It’s hard not to be moved by something written about the holocaust, or simply about war, especially something very well-written. Jason Lutes' Berlin: City of Stones, however, was something surprisingly powerful. Rather than focusing on the plight of Jewish families in war-torn Germany, Lutes writes (and draws) about the tensions between opposing factions in the years leading up to the Second World War. This is one of probably a very small selection of historical graphic novels, and I would wager that it’s easily the best.

If nothing else, Jason Lutes can certainly draw. His grasp of human anatomy and emotion isn’t the best I’ve seen, but all of his figures are stylistically pleasing, and his attention to detail in faces, dress and gestures does a lot in terms of advancing the plot without a narrator. I was impressed by his ability to draw (as far as I can tell) a completely believable 1920’s German cityscape, down to each stone in the road. His bird’s-eye-view opening or closing scenes alternatively give a strong feeling of the city’s European beauty and then of its decrepitude. I found myself lingering over panorama landscapes, picking out individual faces in Lute’s carefully drawn crowds. But it was his impressive ability to pack so much into an image without making it to busy that I found most pleasing about his style.

The story itself follows the dialogue of a few main characters, internal monologues of complete strangers, and first-person narration through journals. The beauty of Lute’s Berlin was that he didn’t have to explicitly guide the reader to conclusions about public discontent, rising discrimination against the Jews, and tensions between National Socialist and Communist worker parties that all come to the point of erupting by the end of the book. But Lutes doesn’t have to show all of this coming to a head; his reader clearly knows how the story ends. I was surprisingly moved by the personal narratives mixed into the story and was made to view the effects of such a grotesque war from a new, very human perspective. I forget which publication rated this as one of the top 10 graphic novels of all time, but I would suggest it to anyone with an interest in a wide range of subjects from the war itself to European architecture. Overall, an unexpectedly strong book, visually and in its plot; Lutes’ drawing and writing style complement each other perfectly to make a powerful end product. I found myself reading it so quickly that I was worried I wouldn’t fully appreciate it, but I couldn’t slow myself down.

No comments: