When I first heard about the concept behind Rick Smith’s Baraka and Black Magic in Morocco, I was skeptical. I don’t like looking at friends’ vacation photos, so how interesting am I going to find a comic book version of a stranger’s slideshow of his trip to northern Africa? But, hey, I review comics. Part of the gig is keeping an open mind about concepts that you might not ordinarily be drawn towards. So, with open mind in head, I started reading.
The book’s about a young couple named Rick and Tania as they backpack through Morocco. Along the way they find themselves continually overrun by greedy taxi drivers, merchants, guides, drug pushers, bellboys, children, policemen, et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. They also hook up, travel, drink wine, and take drugs with other backpackers along the way. And that’s pretty much it.
Remember, this isn’t a fictional story. It’s not a thriller. It’s a vacation slide show. There’s no Peter Lorre in Casablanca wanting anyone to hide Nazi letters of transit, just a cab driver who doesn’t speak English and drives too fast. That’s not to say the trip was completely without adventure, but it’s more along the lines of having your tea spiked by a carpet salesman hoping to lower your defenses so that he can make a sale. There’s very little real danger in the story and the conflict is oh so subtle.
But the conflict is there. All of Rick and Tania’s fellow travelers are men. Most of the Moroccans with whom they interact are men. There were a couple of instances in which Rick left Tania alone to run an errand and I was worried about her physical safety, but my anxiety was groundless. Again, it’s not that kind of story. But Tania’s being the only woman around made her discontent with the whole experience. She describes Morocco as “one big fraternity.” Rick doesn’t argue with her. He admits that the guys they’re traveling with are fun and that that’s probably why he’s having such a good time – even when Tania isn’t.
This comes to a head later in the story when the greed of the local Moroccans really gets to Tania and she loses it in a Kasbah. I’d been getting frustrated right along with her up to that point, thinking as I sat reading in my air-conditioning, “I am never going backpacking in Morocco.” So when she blows up and confesses to Rick that she’s “just so sick of never knowing the rules” and that the country “has no structure” and that she’s “tired of having to guess at every turn,” I completely relate to her.
Rick explains to her, “It’s just how they operate. They make the rules up they go along. You just need to go with the flow or it’ll eat you alive.” And when he says that I think about how I’ve always been a pretty easy-going guy and not at all Type-A in personality and I wonder why I’m having the exact same reaction to Morocco as Tania when I’m not even there!
And then I realize that I am there. That in spite of my skepticism about reading a travelogue, Smith has taken me beyond just telling me about his trip and has actually helped me experience it with him. And that’s pretty cool. It’s just that Morocco isn’t a place I want to go back to. At least not backpacking. If they’ve got five-star hotels in Casablanca, we’ll talk.
So not only has Smith transported me to Morocco (his excellent depictions of landscape and scenery and easy page layouts are a big help, by the way), he’s also got me thinking about my reaction to the country and what that says about me as a person. Pretty huge accomplishments for a vacation slideshow.
Creator Q&A: Adrian Tomine – 2e creative
Our own Chris Mautner chats with Adrian Tomine about his latest release, Shortcomings:
I liked the way you subtly sprinkled the pillow case motif on the cover and endpapers and through the book. How did you decide to do that and could you talk about some of the other subtle visual motifs you use in the book (the cup of coffee, the x-rated dvds, etc)?
The pillowcase motif was something that just kind of developed organically as I wrote and drew the comic. And the way it bled over into the design of the book was probably secondary. On one hand, I just liked the way that pattern looked on the cover, and on the other hand, I was probably trying to take something that was basically invisible to the reader at first, and then kind of imbue it with some relevence to the actual story.
I’m not sure what to say about those other things you mentioned, other than that one of the new things that I enjoyed about working in the context of a longer narrative was the way that you could repeat images, and have little things gently echo things from maybe 50 pages prior. I’m not saying I did it with the greatest of skill and subtlety, but I do know that attempting that kind of thing in a shorter story is usually just too sudden and obtrusive.
Byrne: My Fantastic not so fantastic. – 2e creative
John Byrne thinks about his potential career best, back when he was the guy in charge of the Fantastic Four:
I don’t think my run on FF is nearly as good as many say it was. Yes, it was good. And compared to much of what was coming out alongside it, it wa very good. But I have trouble with the notion that it was “second only to Lee and Kirby” mostly because I don’t think anything can approach their run closely enough to be considered “second”. It’s as if we need some kind of imaginary stopgap between the Lee/Kirby FF (and, indeed, the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man) and everything else… What’s “wrong” with the post-Lee/Kirby runs — and this includes Lee/Romita and Lee/Buscema — is that they are none of them nearly as iconic as the original. They are, in many ways, too self-aware, too burdened with the weight of what has gone before.
Think about it. In the span of just 50 issues, Lee and Kirby gave us Doctor Doom, the Sub-Mariner, the Skrulls, the Firghtful Four, the Inhumans, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, the Black Panther, the Watcher — basical a foundation which would be mined (most successfully by themselves) for the next forty years.
What, of equivalent significance, comes out of the post-Lee/Kirby years?
Yes, that’s right; humility and common sense from John Byrne! The world as you know it? All wrong.