Töpffer & Cie at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura (496 Huron) to February 27. 416-921-3802. Rating: NNN
Töpffer & Cie at the Alliance Française (24 Spadina Road) to February 14. 416-922-2014. Rating: NNN
You might be surprised to learn that in addition to adding holes to cheese, the Swiss are credited with inventing the graphic novel. The Töpffer in the title of these two shows refers to Rodolphe Töpffer , a Swiss illustrator (1766-1847) who's considered the first comic book author. The "Cie" in the title means "company" in French and refers to the nearly 30 artists on display in two locale, all of whom work in the Töpffer tradition.
These are not the comics of your weekend Sun or Star. There's a diversity and sophistication in the collected comics and illustrations that even the Silver Snail would have difficulty matching. If you think Dilbert is awesome, then this show will probably soar over your head.
If you're into zines and more alternative comics, or simply appreciate intelligent artistry, this is your kind of show. It won't change your life, and there's a real deficit of accompanying information, but it's fun cerebral entertainment.
Half the show is housed at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura on Huron; the other half is at the Alliance Française around the corner. Defying expectations, most of the comics at the Istituto Italiano are in French (with some Italian names thrown in), while most of the artists at the Alliance have German names (with some French language thrown in). How Swiss.
Although all the illustrators take their cue from Töpffer, the work is varied, ranging from straight-up comics to straight-up illustrations; from bloody, dark and gloomy to bright, light and cheery; from chaotic cityscapes to peaceful woodlands with grazing, mellow deer.
Ben 's dark pen work depicts urban life, and such "phrases de hip-hop" as "C'est de la bombe" occupy his word bubbles. Another one-named artist, Frederick , uses his pen much more aggressively, his sharp lines working together to depict a Wild West-style train-based action adventure.
Tom Tirabosco tells stories through eerie portraits. A girl with oblong eyes stands in the woods holding a bird in her twig-like arms. M. S. Bastian also forgoes words, creating frightening colour-exploded scenes in which giant creatures, some of them resembling Mickey Mouse, rampage through the streets.
A fantastic six-panel piece by Helge Reumann depicts the pitfalls of modern commerce as pigs and toxins are shoved into trucks by evil-looking people and transported across a roller coaster of a transport system.
There's lots of humour. Andreas Kundig 's lovely little comic follows a harried train traveller, juxtaposing images of him rushing down an escalator with a skier going down a jump, while his weaving through crowds resembles slalom skiing.
One of Ibn al Rabin 's delightful works incorporates real currency into the comic grid to illustrate a negotiation between a customer and a flower seller. The transaction turns ugly - each time the seller counters, the buyer lowers his bid rather than upping it, until the frustrated seller kicks the buyer to the curb, where an ambulance offers to pick him up, for a price, and the negotiations begin anew.
The works engage you, whether you understand the languages or not, through the simplicity of their stories and the elegance of their images. It's like opera in 2-D, but not as long.
Some of the stuff is great, some mediocre, but while there are holes, at least there's no cheese.