The Red Diary

The Red Diary
(a/w) Teddy Kristiansen, translated from the Dutch w/ Steven T. Seagle

In most reviews of this compelling story, it is hard to not marvel at the remarkable “remix” that Steven T. Seagle accomplished in the alternate companion narrative of the collection entitled The Re[a]d Diary. Seagle took Kristiansen’s original artwork that moved him so deeply, which was written in Dutch, that he crafted a remix of the story through what he describes as “transliteration”. This transliteration was something Seagle first attempted as a creative writing student in college. Transliteration is essentially a found poem exercise fitted to work more on composing new poems in a language derived from the language the original text was written in. For example, to try this one would take a poem by a Spanish author, written in Spanish, and then translating it into ones own language based on how it sounds to you. For Seagle’s experiment as an adult, he had the images to work with, and in reading both versions of the story, it is very effective and an argument for the power of universality in visual images and metaphors. But that’s not what I was most interested in….

I am obsessed with a number of things in my life. One, for people familiar with my writing for capelesscrusader, is time travel. Another, for those who know me in my day job as an educator, is in understanding as much about counter-narrative history as I can and imparting the importance of helping students to create a wider net of literacy in regards to materials read and discussed. What that means is I know that the textbooks we use in school are not very good, and often crafted with an extremely narrow viewpoint in regards to personal narrative and historical facts for cultures outside of our own. Haven’t you ever wondered why history and literature classes in school were such a drag? We essentially continue to flip the same authors (in literature for example we go through the prescribed curriculum of authors often three times in our lives at different developmental stages), and the same narratives about conflict and our foundations (how many times in school did you study the civil war? Or, did any of us even get to the late 20th century in history or literature?). Most often the answer is no, and the reasons for this are based on standardized testing and the way textbooks are designed to prepare students for standardized testing. The result is a pedestrian, streamlined foundational knowledge about…well everything. And if it is challenged, those in power throw up hands and say: “well when do we have time for it?”.  Comics crafted by independent creators, from a multitude of cultural backgrounds and ideologies, have led me for many years the chance to examine a number of alternate viewpoints and feeling about some of histories greatest victories and tragedies.  The availability of such comics have led me to my discoveries, for example, of the French and other EU countries viewpoint of the great wars, especially WWI.

Kristiansen’s original Red Diary is a meditation of obsession and loss, all converging around the harrowing reality of trench warfare (and the nature of combat) as seen through the lost words of a young man who is thrust into war by circumstance. Kristiansen’s images are layered, dark, deeply effecting  sublime mini-paintings that walk the line between detail and impression. The Red Diary in tone and viewpoint owes much to the French artist/writer Jacques Tardi, whose It Was The War of the Trenches presents a stunning personal perspective of the feelings of the French during the conflict (which owes much, according to Tardi, to his grandfathers stories which countered all he was taught in his own education).

Kristiansen’s aesthetic offers a much more accessible, but still haunting, image of war where Tardi shows you the trench, the horror of the multitude of faces, the tragedy of combat– the collateral damage of both the physical in image and the mental in narration. These are the stories I have often wondered about, the questions of how did the people of these invaded countries feel about the same conflicts we were embroiled in; and what was the aftermath of these places after the Americans (or any ally or enemy for that matter) left? Who were these people before, during and after the war (if they survived at all)? This is the importance such artifacts can hold for a personal library of the world and of the classroom– offering the counter-narrative, that of the personal taken from ones own account, or the accounts of many familial or not, that strives to present a viewpoint. Comics can open that window a little bit wider, as Seagle’s flip side experiment proves, and while I did enjoy it, I strongly suggest giving this story a read for the original.  Maybe it can help provoke a conversation with someone.