Books | Culture

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Old Farts. Short Stories about Aging from Romania’ (Centrala, 2017) by Sorina Vazelina – ‘real and imagined stories, funny and heart-breaking at the same time’

Rating:

14/01/2019

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An unassuming little book from the outside, Old Farts opens up a fantastic world at the inside. Author Sorina Vazelina (Sorina Vasilescu), a graphic storyteller from Romania, has filled the pages with short stories in comic form that talk about aging – candidly self-aware that these thoughts come from someone in their early 30s. The bookconsists of both real and imagined stories, which are funny and heart-breaking at the same time, and is part of a comics project Vazelina presented at the Ligatura Festival in Poznán in 2015.

mine

Sorina Vazelina ‘Mine the Gap’

The stories range from the futuristic-fantastical ‘Mine the Gap’ to the musical ‘Flea Market Blues’ and a stunning visual history of the Banat and Transylvania, tracing how Vazelina’s great-great-great grandmother arrived there as a German settler. The range of topics that the stories cover is also reflected in their visual style: for each of them, Vazelina has used a different source of inspiration, ranging from Pixar Animation, Matisse and Cubism to paper cut-outs by Hans Christian Andersen and the Romanian cartoonist Ion Popescu Gopo. The visual diversity of the stories is fantastic – and all the more impressive for coming from the hand of a single artist.

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Sorina Vazelina ‘Peculiar Moments of Silence’

While the focus is on the visual storytelling, language isn’t left out either: it’s refined, poetic, carefully employed. Though it would be easy to forgive a laboriously drawn graphic storybook like Old Farts if it paid less attention to its use of text, the fact that words have been tended to with the same eye for detail as the images is all the more refreshing. Details like type font, choice of language and the visual expression of different tones of voice bring the stories together and emphasises the value of graphic storybooks as literature and artworks at the same time.

It’s difficult to pick a favourite from the stories – diverse as they are, each of them holds some fascination. Story-wise, ‘Mine the Gap’ is the most experimental, taking place in a fast-moving, busy and colourful brain with detailed drawings, each of which is a world on its own. Contrasting this busy, fast-working story, there are hardly any words in ‘Old Man’, inspired by Andersen’s paper cut-outs. The blue and white ornamental images, which seamlessly flow into each other, tell a heart-wrenching story about life and loss – one of the consequences of reaching old age. The story about how Vazelina’s great-great-great grandmother came to Romania, meanwhile, is both a lesson in history and the rough sketch of a family tree, shown with neat little drawings that work with folklore images. It’s no surprise that, with such a variety of stories, some match the theme of ‘aging’ more directly than others, though in a way they all relate.

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Sorina Vazelina ‘Old Man’

While it’s tempting to read the book in one sitting – it’s quite short after all – Old Farts is probably read best bit by bit. Because the stories are so diverse, it’s easy to lose track, and since their style consistently changes, it takes a while to adapt. Reading one story at a time, the weight of their thoughts about aging reveals some profound truths that are all too easily bypassed by a quick flicking from one image-loaded page to the next. (This advice is by someone who gorged on one page after the next and then went back, story for story, to fully grasp the wealth of image and text Old Farts includes.)

On the final pages of the book, Vazelina takes charge and provides a kind of glossary, explaining her sources of inspiration, what the project is related to (her ‘The Box’ booklet), and how important her grandparents were throughout the creative process. Though each story’s valuable on its own, this ‘frame’ at the end’s an especially nice feature, because it ties everything together through graphic storytelling, and lets the author’s intentions shine through. Not least, it may also make the book more accessible to people who, perhaps, wouldn’t usually pick up graphic novels or comics.

‘Aging’ is a topic that’s as universal as it goes. Shown through the eyes of a young artist, it becomes something fun to look at, without losing sight of the difficulties and pains getting older will, inevitably, bring with it. That’s ok though, Old Farts reminds us. We might as well make the best of it.

 

Sorina Vazelina: http://vazelina.ro

Old Farts has been published by Centrala, a publishing house based in Poznan, Berlin, and London specialising in comics since 2007: http://centrala.org.uk

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