Pablo (Art Masters Series) / Nutcracker – E.T.A. Hoffmann

Pablo by Julie Birmant and Clément Oubrerie

pablo graphic novel (art masters series)Pablo is the latest in the Art Masters Series published by Self Made Hero (a British graphic novel publisher). The earlier two were Vincent and Rembrandt, the former telling the life of Vincent Van Gogh I have written about here before.

The review copy has come at the perfect time, as I just came back from my New York trip, in which I saw tons of Picasso’s works in the Met and MoMA. Prior to that I’ve seen a couple of his paintings and many sketches in London. I haven’t got a chance to go to Picasso museums in Barcelona and Paris. But really looking at his works in New York and knowing there are lots more around the US, I could sense how prolific Picasso was as an artist. The amount of works he produced are staggering.

So for such a prolific artist, who lived a long life (Picasso died at the age of 91 and he’s said to die painting at his death bed), it must be a challenge in itself to pick a period of the great painter’s life to tell. Interestingly, the graphic novel Pablo chooses to tell the story with the framing of a somewhat obscure woman: Fernande Olivier, a bohemian artist who became Pablo’s mistress for 7 years.

Picasso later on would have many other women in his life. Not uncommon among great artists, he would call them his muse, be attracted to a new muse when the current one has run out her course. The timings of the relationships were often overlapped, but they had to accept it nonetheless. Two of former mistresses would kill themselves not long after Picasso died. (These I learned more later after reading the book, from 2015 BBC documentary: Picasso: Love, Sex, and Art —  also coincidentally came out at the right time for me. Seems you can watch the full version on youtube.)

However the important point of his relationship with Fernande was that she was the only mistress who was with him before he reached fame and fortune. Knowing that, the framing of this tome of a graphic novel is perfect, because the story told from Fernande’s point of view starts when Pablo Picasso is a newbie painter arriving in Paris from Spain, and revolves around his struggles as a poor artist living in Le Bateau-Lavoir.

Poor Pablo and Fernande

This book is 342 pages, and quite heavy. It seems that it was originally published (in its original language French) as 4 smaller books, and they are subtitled: Max Jacob, Apollinaire, Matisse, Picasso. But it’s been published in English by Self Made Hero as one big book with no sections or chapters. The drawings are beautiful throughout and full color. Some of you might remember the style of illustration from Aya de Yopougon — the same artist: Clément Oubrerie.

The problem I had reading the book was finding who is who in this early 1900s Paris setting. In that period there were a mix pot of (now well-known) artists, poets, authors, and Fernande and Picasso met tons and tons people. Some of them I’ve mentioned above: Max Jacob, Apollinaire, Matisse. Gertrude Stein is also one who makes constant appearances. In most cases the book assumes that we should know these side characters / famous people, which is understandable because there can’t be enough time to explain everybody’s back story (there are dozens of them), but I found myself having to Wiki quite often. It’s quite a good crash course though if like me you want to know more about people you feel you have to know more about. Ha!

I do feel sad for Fernande at the end. She sticks with a man when he’s poor and nobody, but is dumped when he reaches success. A story that seems to keep repeating itself throughout history. And for Fernande this is not even her story, but that of the Great Pablo Picasso, she just happens to be there at the beginning. She draws a short straw.

Mee’s rating: 4/5 – a packed graphic novel of an interesting period of Pablo Picasso’s life, beautifully illustrated, but the appearances of many side characters means readers may need to do their own research on the side to know who is who, which can slow down the reading experience

Nutcracker – E.T.A. Hoffmann

I’m going to slip in a short review of Nutcracker by E. T. A. Hoffmann. It’s out of season I know, but this book came to me from its New York publisher by mail a few years ago, and I never managed to read it in December, as it is such a short month with the holidays at the end! So this time I just decided to finish it even after Christmas has passed.


Most of us know about Nutcracker from the famous ballet the story is adapted to (which I knew little about anyway, but after reading I went to see bits of it on youtube). The book was originally written in German in 1816. The version of the book I’m holding (pictured above) was illutrated by Maurice Sendak and first published in 1984, right after the 1983 production of Nutcracker by Pacific Northwest Ballet. Sendak has apparently designed the sets and costumes of the ballet production, which was new information to me, since I only knew Maurice Sendak as a children books illustrator!

The story itself is almost like 19th century version of Toy Story, in which toys come alive when nobody is looking. Except that in this tale the toys come from faraway kingdom, and there are kings and queens, princes and princesses, knights and monsters, and lots of rats.

In the preface, Maurice Sendak talks about how different he found the original story is with the ballet production (which itself had gone through many versions in Europe before it was brought to United States, in which again the ballet went through various versions). Since I have not yet seen the ballet production in person, I don’t know how it is in relation to the original story. It’d be interesting to go back to the book sometime when that happens.

Mee’s rating: 3.5/5 – a classic tale, illustrated by one of the most well loved illustrator, though I found the story to be rather simplistic compared to other children classics that I loved (e.g. Alice, Peter Pan)


Sunday Salon: Mixed Bookish Things Feat. Two Children Books and Fight Club

TSSbadge3Not a good week. Caught cold. Home sick one day but had to work for the rest of the week. Didn’t manage to compile a proper review. But don’t despair, I can still talk about books!

I’m halfway through The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. The Classics Circuit is going to enter the third week of Wilkie Collins tour. I’ve been enjoying the first and second week of the tour. Go check them out if you haven’t! My stop of the tour would be on the 9th of December. I have spared pretty much all November for this tome of a book, so I’m strolling along just nicely without any unnecessary added pressure.

The next tour in January/February would be Edith Wharton. I love the compilation of author information and their works by Rebecca and friends. They’re so thorough and informative! I voted for John Steinbeck at the poll (there were 4 authors, including Mark Twain and Willa Cather) and Wharton won. I’m interested to read The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck and The Age of Innocence by Wharton, but I think I’ll pass this time around just so I have more room to read for my other challenges and projects.

I haven’t read Children books since… forever, but I read TWO this week! I prepared them for Dewey’s read-a-thon but didn’t get around to read them then. Well I should’ve because they only took about 5-10 minutes each (mostly looking at pictures too).

Where the Wild Things AreThe Great Escape from City Zoo

They are Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and The Great Escape from City Zoo by Tohby Riddle.

Where the Wild Things Are was made into a movie and though it’s not out here in Australia yet, I’d like to be prepared since it looks great! Some people in my company worked on some of its special effects too, so the more reason for me to watch it. The book is super simple. Boy goes to some strange land with strange creatures (love the fuzzy creatures, they’re so cute!) then goes back home. That would give the movie so much freedom to write their own script!

The Great Escape from City Zoo is about 4 animals who escaped from the zoo. Sounds familiar? (I haven’t watched Madagascar but some birds said that Tohby talked to people from Hollywood about his book, the deal didn’t go, but Madagascar the movie soon came after that.) Looks like the four animals there are giraffe, zebra, lion, and hippo. In The Great Escape the animals are elephant, flamingo, turtle, and anteater. I met Tohby Riddle at Sydney Writers’ Festival earlier this year and have wanted to read one of his books since then. I love his illustration. In this book the illustration is all in sepia shade watercolour, which looks quite subtle for normally vibrant colored children books.

Fight Club

A sudden turn from children books, I watched Fight Club this week. I never read Chuck Palahniuk‘s books before and I don’t know if I want to after watching Fight Club. Do you have any to recommend?

For some weird reason, I mixed Palahniuk and Orhan Pamuk on Fight Club so I quietly wondered during the movie: why does a Turkish novelist write about a depressed white collar American who started underground fighting club? To my enlightenment, Palahniuk is indeed an American, and he’s no way related to Pamuk who is indeed a Turkish.

While we’re on the topic of Orhan Pamuk, would you highly recommend any of his books? He intimidates me a bit, but that’s probably because I thought he wrote Fight Club, or of the fact that he’s a Turkish professor and from what I read his books are quite difficult to read.

Fight Club (1999)

Going back to the movie. To summarize, it’s dark psychological thriller. I love the beginning: Edward Norton as a desperate everyday American who suffers insomnia and finds solace in visiting various support groups. (I have loved Edward Norton since the Illusionist and the Painted Veil. Hubby knew him from the Incredible Hulk. *roll eyes*) But then he meets Brad Pitt. While I love some Brad Pitt’s movies, I always see him acting his character, not becoming his character. So I always see Brad Pitt, not whichever character he’s supposed to be. If that makes any sense.

There’s definitely some graphic violence in the movie, sort of expected with a title like that. I was dissatisfied and confused with the ending so that didn’t make it a very good movie for me. But it’s not bad overall.

Rating: 7/10

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