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Temperance Reviews

©Glen Weldon/ National Public Radio
From the article: Otherworldly: The Year's Most Transporting Books
Published December 13, 2010

Amnesia also plays a role in Cathy Malkasian's huge, haunting — and hauntingly beautiful — graphic novel Temperance. In Malkasian's dark fairy tale, an immense wall surrounds the remote society of Blessedbowl. Its citizens believe a state of war exists outside that wall — a lie spun, and desperately maintained, by the city's rulers for decades. When violence rips the ruling family apart, young Miranda becomes Blessedbowl's leader — and as her first act, takes in an amnesiac outsider, telling him he is her beloved husband. Malkasian's plot is loose and elliptical, and she pokes at many of the same salty psychological truths that made the Brothers Grimm so grim; lies, guilt and violence buffet her characters about like gale-force winds. You won't know where the story's going, but Malkasian's pages are gorgeous, sweetly melancholic things, and you'll enjoy the trip.




©Neel Mukherjee
Articles and Reviews--Graphic novels round-up, 2010
Published in the London Times on November 27, 2010

Two Books of the Year, Charles Burns’s X’ed Out (Cape, £12.99) and Bryan Talbot’s Grandville Mon Amour (Cape, £16.99), have been reviewed separately, which leaves us with the remaining three Books of the Year. First among these is Cathy Malkasian’s Temperance (Fantagraphics, £16.99). An expansive allegorical fable, set in the community of Blessedbowl, a people self-imprisoned by fear within a huge ark-urbis built by a wholly malignant, destructive and invincible force called Pa, Temperance speaks to our times with prophetic pointedness. It features a ruined man, Lester, whose memory has been wiped out by extreme violence; a woman, Minerva, who looks after Lester and rules over Blessedbowl, continuing the absent Pa’s regime, but with increasing ambivalence; and a sentient tree trunk, which undergoes several metamorphoses to become the instrument of an apocalyptic redemption. A uniquely imaginative book, Temperance is an example of how a sepia-toned pencil can sing.




© Paul Gravett
Posted: August 15, 2010
This article first appeared in this week’s issue of The Times Literary Supplement.
PG Tips No. 32:
Graphic Novel Reviews

From the start, Cathy Malkasian‘s turbulent fantasy Temperance reels you in with a father’s terrible cruelties, mental as well as physical. One daughter, radiant, ethereal Peggy, insists that their ‘Pa’ is father to no one and has ‘torn us all apart’; the other, plain, drowsy Minerva, is too afraid to disbelieve his tales of a terrible looming enemy. Pa’s axe first chops down a trembling tree and then chops off the lower leg of Lester, a young man who rescues Peggy from the brute’s unwanted attentions. Lester has also lost his memory due to another blow to the head, so Pa allows Minerva to keep him and ‘fix’ him as her husband. Tree and man, grown tall and now felled together, bond further as a piece of trunk is carved into a pegleg fixed below the amnesiac Lester’s knee. This chunk of tree, once rooted, now mobile, is our narrator, its rings still vibrating and attuned to Lester’s lost memories. Can it make him remember? Abandoned by Pa, Minerva and her people seal themselves off from a non-existent enemy outside and stay within the city of Blessedbowl, a vast ship built of stone, its ramparts inaccessible, breached only by a sniping moon or spying birds. As leader, Minerva keeps up Pa’s lies that this ship of state is heading through a sea of fire towards a final battle. Daily she fabricates reports from her vanished ‘father’ on the frontlines, designed to brainwash the citizens into unquestioning loyalty and united purpose, and fills her husband Lester’s head with tales of his glorious past as a war hero. It is not hard to spot allegories in this to today’s war on terror, and to the Cold War, in Temperance‘s portrait of siege mentality and the exaggeration of external threats.

Later, without children from their marriage, Minerva refashions Lester’s wooden leg into a one-eyed doll: ‘It must have been my knot… a swirl in my grain that looked like sympathy’. She will unburden her secrets to it: ‘But no mouth for you, my little confidante, lest you say a word to sink this ship. We all must do without something, child. After all, there is a war on.’ Shaking into life with a hint of Pinocchio, the mute toy escapes the city to find the stump it came from and hunt down Pa, now a fiery force of nature laying waste to the outlands. Malkasian draws in tremulous pencil lines tinted in shades of graphite grey, a second colour sepia arriving to cue the truth invading Lester’s dreams. An acclaimed American animator on Rugrats and The Wild Thornberries Movie, Malkasian will at times repeat characters two, three or more times within a single frame to suggest motion or the passage of time, in a way that recalls the figures replicated across a single scene in medieval art. She uses words with arresting concision and freshness and is especially deft at conveying the dreadful, volatile dominance of Pa, one moment almost sympathetic, the next monstrous. No Shrek or Toy Story, Temperance confounds fairy-tale expectations with a disturbing, resonant parable about propaganda, memories and other lies.




© Midwest Book Review:

Temperance is an award-winning, black-and-white graphic novel portraying one man's awakening within a dystopian society. Lester suffers from trauma-induced amnesia; his wife has struggled to keep him from remembering the truth about Blessedbowl, the society that considers him to be a hero. Blessedbowl keeps its citizens in a state of fear and falsehood, threatening them with the specter of war just outside its walls. But the ground beneath the illusions gradually gives way as Lester remembers more and more. Temperance is a story of awakening and transformation - physical, emotional, and spiritual. A profoundly empathetic reflection upon the systemic societal problems of culturally ingrained violence and brainwashing, Temperance is profound, meaningful, and deserves to be read and reread at length.




© Paul Di Filippo for The Barnes and Noble Review:

Three years after her award-winning debut graphic novel, Percy Gloom, Cathy Malkasian delivers her stunning followup, Temperance. This solidly grounded parable—rich with contemporary resonance for Fortress America— artfully and modestly flaunts all the same whimsicality, brutality, quiet heroics, worldbuilding, melancholy, weirdness and surrealism of its earlier cousin, but with ratios altered. Whereas Percy Gloom—protagonist and book alike—never lost a certain innocent joie-de-vivre, facing villains and challenges more Lewis Carroll than George Orwell, the new volume shifts its focus to a fable of tyranny and cultish behavior in a world where despair and futility are the rule. But the thick mordant substance of the problems and the exemplary excruciations of the characters end up delivering a more resonant payoff than even Percy's climax.

In a nameless world of primitive technologies and blasted landscapes, where fathomless wars run riot, a burly mad dictator—christened simply, yet with cunning genius, "Pa"—bullies, torments and abuses his two "adopted" daughters. One, Minerva, will inherit Pa's insane legacy: the isolated, walled city of Blessedbowl. The other, Peggy, will numinously disappear into the post-apocalyptic wilderness, serving as a remote token of hope to her sister throughout thirty years of necessary yet soul-crushing lies, as Minerva strives to govern Blessedbowl with the aid of her amnesiac husband, Lester, the only man ever to stand up to Pa, damaged though he was in the unequal contest.

Life in Blessedbowl is a Mervyn-Peake-ish affair, with Lester's war against harmless birds and against the voyeuristic Moon; with an obese family of gluttons, political rivals to Minerva; and with Lester's wooden leg which happens to be alive, and which later manages an independent existence. All these extravagant oddities assume palpable reality thanks to Malkasian's empathetic storytelling.

As for her artwork, Malkasian employs a delicate pencil technique full of exquisite shadings that incorporate echoes of earlier masters into a unique personal style. At times, her landscapes and figures approach the spidery essence of Saul Steinberg's work. Her evocative word balloons stem straight from George Cruickshank. Ben Katchor, M. K. Brown, Tony Millionaire and Shaun Tan are all, to some varying degree, kindred creators. But Malkasian moves beyond these antecedants, with clever and innovative gestures, such as her use of multiple iterations of the same character within a single panel, to indicate continuous motion. Additionally, her sparing use of splash pages lends those rare moments immense impact, culminating in the book's final glorious and redemptive shot.

If this book does not show up on all the comics awards ballots in 2011, the injustices perpetrated by Pa will pale by comparison.




© Francisca Goldsmith for Booklist
Issue: June 1, 2010
Temperance.
Starred Review

In this powerful allegory with fairy-tale tropes but no fairy-tale means or ends, an insidious human power is finally met and overcome at his own deadly game by that force of nature that may grow slowly but whose vista is far-reaching: the tree. Expressive and generously detailed pencil sketches serve as an excellent complement to the spare but exacting text to form a narrative that should cut through any reader’s disbelief. We meet the four main characters—the ugly girl Minerva; the abusive father figure–cult leader Pa; the gentle woodsman Lester, who becomes Minerva’s lifetime companion after Pa nearly slaughters him; and the tree who turns from nectar-bearer to wooden leg to a child called Temperance and back to powerful tree—in the opening pages, and the pace of the plot never slows. Malkasian (Percy Gloom, 2007) continues to demonstrate bravura storytelling skills, and here gives prominence to several social and cultural issues without letting any of them sink the whole. Minerva develops from brainwashed girl to insightful leader, while the evil that is Pa cannot be overcome by an army. Excellent work for both fans and serious literary readers ready to try sequential art.




© Win Wiacek for www.comicsreview.co.uk:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a charismatic leader drags an entire nation into a phony war, manipulating facts, twisting good people’s lives, destroying their innocence and fomenting an atmosphere of sustained paranoia and unthinking patriotism – if not jingoistic madness. Then he shuffles out of the picture and lets his successors deal with the mess he’s created: those remnants divided equally into well-meaning but clueless ditherers and now-fanatical disciples who think only they can run the show…

The land is in turmoil. Pa is raising a ruckus trying to get his monstrous ark built before the ruthless invaders begin the final attack. Eldest girl Peggy and little Minerva follow as he carves a wake of destructive energy through the landscape. Pa has galvanised the local villagers and they await his command to enter the fortress-city within the monolithic edifice, dubbed “Blessedbowl.”

When Pa begins once more to assault his oldest lass, only hapless Minerva and the trees are witness to the unleashed savagery. Suddenly, a young man rushes to Peg’s rescue, captivating forever the cowering Min. His name is Lester, but despite a terrific struggle the rescuer is no match for Pa’s maniacal vigour. The young man is left brain-damaged and maimed.

Pa bids Min see to Lester. The Doomsayer is lost in his preparations again. The Crisis has arrived…

Three decades pass. Min has married Lester and a thriving community exists within Blessedbowl, a permanent subsistence/siege economy built on paranoia: isolated and united by a common foe that has never been seen and is therefore utterly terrifying. Moses-like, Pa remained behind when the ark was sealed, to fight a rearguard action. Min is now his regent, efficiently running the closed ecology and economy, bolstered by the devoted attention of Lester, the amnesiac war-hero who lost so much when the invisible enemy launched their final assault…

Min controls the community through reports from the distant front and Lester guards the city within Blessedbowl’s hull. But now his befuddled memory is clearing, and Min, hopelessly in love with him, faces the threat that all that has been so slowly built may come crashing swiftly down…

And this is just the tip of the iceberg in a vast story that might just be the best thing I’ve read this year. Created during America’s longest-running war (9 years and counting…) this multilayered, incisive parable examines how families and countries can be twisted by love, fear and leaders’ lies yet still seemingly prosper. As much mystical generational fantasy as veiled allegory this enchanting story will open your eyes on so many levels. As events spiral beyond all control the astounding outcome, whilst utterly inevitable will also be a complete surprise… and just wait until you discover the identity of the eponymous narrator “Temperance”…

Mythical, mystical, metaphorical, lyrical, even poetic, here is a literal epic which blends Shakespearean passions with soft Orwellian terrors. King Lear and 1984 are grandparents to this subtly striking tale of freedoms and honour – personal and communal – surrendered to a comfortable, expedient slavery. Combining trenchant social commentary with spiritually uplifting observation, illustrated in the softest pencil tones – reminiscent of English World War II cartoons (particularly Pont and Bateman, but also the animations of Halas and Batchelor) this is joy to read, a delight to view and a privilege to own.

We must all do so …




© Eden Miller for Comicsgirl.com:

This is why I read comics.

I think all of us get to a point sometimes with comics where it’s not so much that we’re tired of them but we know what to expect. Things fall into obvious categories or genres. Styles of art, even with they’re distinctive, all begin to resemble each other. And even when these comics are good — or even great — they’re rarely surprising.

Cathy Malkasian‘s Temperance (Fantagraphics, 2010) is just that. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s different and thoughtful. And most of all, surprising.

A mostly allegorical meditation on the allure of conflict and the power of empathy, Temperance follows Pa, the embodiment of war; his deformed daughter, Minerva; her amnesiac husband, Lester; and Lester’s wooden leg, who Minerva crafts into a doll she names Temperance. Minerva rules over the fortress of Blessedbowl and continues to propagate the myths of the righteousness of Pa and the heroics of Lester. Temperance, who remembers being a tree, escapes and meets up with Pa as the society inside Blessedbowl falls apart.

The plot — while still fairly linear — is obviously secondary the ideas that Malkasian is trying to communicate. Pa can be seen as “evil” — and he’s certainly bad — but he’s as damaged as anyone else. Minerva just wants control, but also to keep the love of her husband and to get the respect of Pa, who obviously loved other “daughter” Peggy more. Temperance sees them all for who they are, and the end is nothing short of transcendent.

Malkasian mostly works as an animation director, including on various Nickelodeon projects as well as the Curious George animated series. While Temperance is far from being for children, her animation background shows through in her the designs of her characters, with their exaggerated, distinctive bodies and facial features. Her shaded, pen-and-ink drawings have a fluidity and beauty that gives Temperance a quietness that belies the sometimes horrific subject matter.

Malkasian has crafted a deep world with a fully-realized society. It never feels like it’s just a backdrop, and the glimpses we have of life inside Blessedbowl are fascinating. She did more than she needed to in creating interior and exterior lives for everyone here with sparsely furnished rooms and towering outside walls.

The message here isn’t the most original and the book does have somewhat of a tendency to ramble in trying to make its points, but there’s such hope and lightness of spirit here that these are tiny complaints. This is an amazing example of what comics can be.




Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved:

Lester believes he lost his leg in the great war, fighting with his father-in-law, Pa, against the enemy. He spends his days patrolling the walled city-ship Blessedbowl, and his nights drinking himself into a dreamless sleep. What Lester does not remember is that he actually lost his leg (and his memory) defending his wife, Minerva, against the abusive Pa. He also does not know that Blessedbowl is not a ship but a walled town in the middle of a vast forest, designed to keep its "founder," Pa, out. And he also does not know that his wooden leg is alive and will soon go out looking for Pa. Trying to keep up with the plot of Eisner Award–winning cartoonist Malkasian's (Percy Gloom) twisted allegory can be frustrating, but the real point is to show off Malkasian's atmospheric art, which is more than up to carrying the load. Relying heavily on pencil shadings to establish mood, Malkasian's restraint of line results in vividly drawn but still complex characters: homely Minerva is both desperate and resourceful, Pa appears both menacing and pitiful, and addled Lester retains his fundamental courage. Flashes of sharp dialogue suggest that Malkasian's writing may someday catch up with her considerable artistic talent. Until then, her audience still has plenty to admire.

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