Tuesday, September 07, 2010

"Prospettive" vs "Gatti neri Cani bianchi"

Comics are a great tool when learning a new language!

For Italian, as I've said earlier, I like Diabolik, but... it could be better. The main problem is that the setting is so generic. Even though Diabolik is an Italian comic series, I think it's actually supposed to take place in England. But it could just as well be taking place anywhere. It's a standard international crime/action story -- like a reverse James Bond story (reverse because the criminals are the protagonists). But when I read a foreign comic book, I'd rather taste a bit of the culture as well as the language.

So, on my recent trip to Italy, I picked up two new Italian graphic novels: Prospettive and Gatti neri Cani bianchi. Both stories are about twentysomething Italian women, moving from one boyfriend to the next, contemplating life and (especially) death. Despite these similarities, they're surprisingly different from one another.

Prospettive has more a sense of place. This story is grounded in Catania, a city in Sicily, in the shadow of Mt. Etna, the most active volcano in Europe:

I can read ordinary Italian (in comic book form), but when they start slipping into Sicilian dialect, it gets challenging...

One thing that surprised me about Prospettive is that the main character, Agata, seems very open and curious about people, and yet she can't bear the thought of leaving her home town. She's rather leave her beloved fiance than leave Catania.

Gilla, the heroine of Gatti neri Cani bianchi is just the opposite:

"I was born here, but this city seems foreign to me. So I said to myself... If I'm going to feel foreign, I might as well be foreign for real."

It's not even clear which city in Italy she's from.

So she packs up and moves to Paris:

Gatti neri Cani bianchi has kind of the same problem as people discussed in Eat, Pray, Love. Gilla has no responsibilities of any kind, she arrives in Paris and gets a free, furnished apartment, complete with an amazing vintage fashion wardrobe, and luckily she happens to have the Barbie-doll bod for it. So she mostly wanders around Paris talking to ghosts. I'd be tempted to call it "self-indulgence as self-discovery" except that it's not clear she discovered anything. Not to be mean to the book or anything -- it's an entertaining story with beautifully researched and executed artwork.

The thing I found most interesting about it, though, is that part of the reason she has these particular adventures is because of her beauty and her level of privilege -- yet she doesn't seem to be aware of it. The closest point was when a French student who was working his way through school called her leisure a luxury -- and she sarcastically responded, "What do you expect? We Italians are so superficial..." Which kinda left me going, "Um... being Italian's got nothing to do with it..."

Interestingly, while Gilla's beauty was ever-present yet unmentioned, it's the opposite for Agata. Other characters say she's beautiful, but she's not really:

It's one of the things I like about graphic novels as a medium -- there are things you can show in images that you can't express in a natural way with words.

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