Death Becomes Us All : Pier Dola’s “From Granada To Cordoba”


Sometimes, as a critic, you do your best to skirt around the edges, to beat around the bush, to work your way from the outskirts in as you discuss/analyze a particular piece of work. It’s not a bad sleight-of-hand approach to take given that it generally achieves the desired effect of making you look thoughtful at the very least, maybe even smart if you’re lucky, but it only goes so far : some stuff, you see, simply demands that you cut through the bullshit and get right to the heart of the matter.

Pier Dola’s debut graphic novel From Granada To Cordoba (Fantagraphics Underground, 2021) is just such a work, it’s true, but it’s also something more than “merely” that : it’s a book so visceral, so unforgiving, so unrelenting that even descriptions or synopses of it aren’t for the faint of heart. It’s an absolute fucking gut-punch of a comic, in other words, and even though it’s also hysterically funny, the humor in no way alleviates the psychological pressure that literally bears down on you from first page to last.

All of which makes it sound like a far rougher slog than it really is, I suppose, but it’s probably best to weed out the easily-offended — or even just the easily-shocked — well in advance with a book like this one, even though there’s a solid argument to be made for the idea that the aesthetically unadventurous benefit most from exposure to work of this nature. And what “nature” would that be, you ask? Well, the story focuses on a poor shmuck (who, for the record, isn’t ever even given the dignity of a name) who suffers a rectal prolapse, gets diagnosed with terminal cancer, and can’t catch a break from anybody — Nazi cops, hookers, priests, you name it — as he contemplates the utter pointlessness of his life and the rapid approach of its end. Can’t a guy just tackle multiple insurmountable personal crises in peace?

The publisher’s back cover blurb promises “near-psychotic episodes, including what may be the most horrifyingly surreal Freudian nightmare ever penned by a cartoonist,” and damn if that’s not a case of absolute truth in advertising, but Dola’s incisive wit, inventive page layouts, admirable skills as an artist (in particular as a caricaturist — be on the lookout for a doctor who’s a dead ringer for Eddie Murphy among other celebrity-doppleganger “cameos”), and blithe, almost nonchalant approach to grappling with the existential abyss make taking this journey, well, if not exactly pleasurable, at least perversely enjoyable. Just be aware that the best place to store your gag reflex while reading this is probably in a strong box with an impenetrable lock, because if it even sneaks its way back into you, then you’re screwed.

This isn’t just confrontational material, then, it’s downright combustible — but that doesn’t preclude it from being both scathingly honest and, in its own way, absolutely accurate. As to what it’s it’s right about, well, that depends on your point of view, but if you take “life’s a bitch and then you die” not as an end-all/be-all cliche but as a starting point to understanding the full scope of reality’s unbending arc, then you’re ready for where Dola is out to take you. According to his bio he’s led the sort of life that would lend itself rather well to explorations of the sort he’s engaging in here, too — born in Poland, his father was purportedly a globe-trotting oil tanker worker who’d bring his son comics from South America, comics which indelibly stained/informed his outlook as he grew to adulthood and made his way through the seedy underbelly of Italy, living as a squatter until he got married and had a kid. Currently, he’s 56 years old, is employed as a dishwasher, and this is his first-ever published work — but how much of this is true, how much is pure bullshit, and how much falls somewhere in between I really couldn’t say. I almost find myself hoping it’s an entirely fraudulent piece of self-created legend, but what I want doesn’t really matter. Nor, for that matter, does the veracity of Dola’s backstory itself. What matters is that it makes for a fitting postscript to a book that sure seems like it could be the product of the imagination of someone whose existence has been a decidedly tumultuous one.

I say that because, really, tumult and turmoil is the order of business here, and the sheer amount of nonsense Dola’s protagonist has to contend with flies directly in the face of his “all of this was a bore, all of it was for nothing, so I might as well get my rocks off on my way out” attitude — or does it? Consider, perhaps, that Dola could actually be advancing an argument that life is an obstacle course that dares you to keep your sanity intact — a phantasmagorical whirlwind of misadventure, psychodrama, unknowable terror, and stifled, stilted attempts at achieving something forever out of reach. That it’s not so much a pointless slog, but a prolonged cosmic conspiracy to prevent you, personally, from realizing any sort of genuine satisfaction. If so, then that’s something well beyond garden-variety misanthropy, and probably more akin to the farthest fringes of nihilistic philosophy. I mean, it’s one thing to posit that life is meaningless and other people suck, quite another to posit that both life itself and the other people leading it are out to cut your nuts off at every turn.

Now, taking things a step further, if we accept — even just momentarily, or for the sake of argument — that this worldview is accurate, then the next logical (and decidedly uncomfortable) question is : what is death? Dola’s answer would appear to be that it is not just the end of life, not just “the peace of the grave,” but that it is actually life’s one and only act of mercy. I mean, I don’t want to give away too much about the final few pages here, but they are both absolutely beautiful and a succinct, non-lyrical appraisal of nature’s endless cycle of creation and destruction. It’s an entirely fitting capstone to a journey equal parts harrowing and hilarious in that it’s oddly melancholic while also being entirely unromantic in its realism, but shit — we’re so far beyond quaint concepts like good and evil, right and wrong at this point that the only way to judge it is in terms of its efficacy alone, and in that respect, it’s not only a fitting conclusion, it’s the only one there could possibly be.

There are any number of works of art across all media that are, if you’ll forgive the overused term, “easier to admire than they are to like,” but Dola has created something altogether different here : his comic is damn difficult to admire and even more difficult to like — but it’s also, ultimately, absolutely impossible for any reader who appreciates a challenge not to do both.

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From Granada To Cordoba is available for $40.00 directly from Fantagraphics at https://www.fantagraphics.com/products/from-granada-to-cordoba?_pos=1&_psq=from&_ss=e&_v=1.0

Also, this review is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative indeed if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Music Video of the Day: Waiting for the Weekend by The Vapors (1980, directed by ????)


On August 1st, 1981, MTV premiered. Over the course of 24 hours, 116 unique music videos were played on MTV.  Yes, there was a time when the M actually did stand for music.

The 112th video to premiere on MTV was the video for Waiting For The Weekend by The Vapors.  I actually prefer this song and video to the Vapors’s better-known song, Turning Japanese.  Waiting for The Weekend has a better beat and it’s also not racist so that’s definitely two points in its favor.

Enjoy!

The First Videos Shown on MTV:

  1. Video Killed the Radio Star by the Buggles
  2. You Better Run by Pat Benatar
  3. She Won’t Dance With Me by Rod Stewart
  4. You Better You Bet By The Who
  5. Little Suzi’s On The Up by PH.D
  6. We Don’t Talk Anymore by Cliff Richard
  7. Brass in Pocket by Pretenders
  8. Time Heals by Todd Rundgren
  9. Take It On The Run by REO Speedwagon
  10. Rockin’ in Paradise by Styx
  11. When Things Go Wrong by Robin Lane & The Chartbusters
  12. History Never Repeats by Split Enz
  13. Hold On Loosely by .38 Special
  14. Just Between You And Me by April Wine
  15. Sailing by Rod Stewart
  16. Iron Maiden by Iron Maiden
  17. Keep On Loving You by REO Speedwagon
  18. Better Than Blue by Michael Johnson
  19. Message of Love by The Pretenders
  20. Mr. Briefcase by Lee Ritenour
  21. Double Life by The Cars
  22. In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins
  23. Looking for Clues by Robert Palmer
  24. Too Late by Shoes
  25. Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around by Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
  26. Do Ya Think I’m Sexy by Rod Stewart
  27. Surface Tension by Rupert Hine
  28. One Step Ahead by Split Enz
  29. Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty
  30. I’m Gonna Follow You by Pat Benatar
  31. Savannah Nights by Tom Johnston
  32. Lucille by Rockestra
  33. The Best of Times by Styx
  34. Vengeance by Carly Simon
  35. Wrathchild by Iron Maiden
  36. I Wanna Be a Lifeguard by Blotto
  37. Passion by Rod Stewart
  38. Oliver’s Army by Elvis Costello
  39. Don’t Let Me Go by REO Speedwagon
  40. Remote Control and Illegal by The Silencers
  41. Angel of the Morning by Juice Newton
  42. Little Sister by Rockpile with Robert Plant
  43. Hold On To The Night by Bootcamp
  44. Dreamin’ by Cliff Richard
  45. Is It You? by Lee Ritenour 
  46. Tusk by Fleetwood Mac
  47. He Can’t Love You by Michael Stanley Band
  48. Tough Guys by REO Speedwagon
  49. Rapture by Blondie
  50. Don’t Let Go The Coat by The Who
  51. Ain’t Love A Bitch by Rod Stewart
  52. Talk of the Town by The Pretenders
  53. Can’t Happen Here by Rainbow
  54. Thank You For Being A Friend by Andrew Gold
  55. Bring It All Home by Gerry Rafferty
  56. Sign of the Gypsy Queen by April Wine
  57. The Man With The Child In His Eyes by Kate Bush
  58. All Night Long by Raindow
  59. Boys Keep Swinging by David Bowie
  60. Rat Race by The Specials
  61. Once in a Lifetime by Talking Heads
  62. Victim by Bootcamp
  63. Tonight’s the Night (Gonna be Alright) by Rod Stewart
  64. Cruel to be Kind by Nick Lowe
  65. A Little In Love by Cliff Richard
  66. Wild-Eyed Southern Boys by 38 Special
  67. Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush
  68. Celebrate The Bullet by The Selecter
  69. More Than I Can Say by Leo Sayer
  70. A Message To You, Rudy by The Specials
  71. Heart of Glass by Blondie
  72. Oh God, I Wish I Was Home Tonight by Rod Stewart
  73. Kid by The Pretenders
  74. Come What May by Lani Hall & Herb Alpert
  75. I Got You by Split Enz
  76. Sister Disco by The Who
  77. Fashion by David Bowie
  78. Love Stinks by J. Geils Band
  79. Johnny and Mary by Robert Palmer
  80. Tomorrow by Shoes
  81. Prime Time by The Tubes
  82. Cruel You by Shoes
  83. Calling All Girls by Hilly Michaels
  84. I Was Only Joking by Rod Stewart
  85. Let’s Go by The Cars
  86. Do You Remember Rock’N’Roll Radio by The Ramones
  87. Ridin’ The Storm Out by REO Speedwagon
  88. You’re In My Heart by Rod Stewart
  89. So Long by Fischer Z
  90. I Don’t Want To Know by Robin Lane and the Chartbusters
  91. Go Back Home Again by Andrew Gold
  92. Time For Me To Fly by REO Speedwagon
  93. Rough Boys by Pete Townshend
  94. Dangrous Type by The Cars
  95. Turn It On Again by Genesis
  96. We’re So Close by Carly Simon
  97. Kid Blue by Louise Goffin
  98. Vienna by Ultravox
  99. (What’s Son Funny Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding by Elvis Costello
  100. I Won’t Let You Down by Ph.D
  101. Holiday by Nazareth
  102. In My Arms Again by Shoes
  103. Passing Strangers by Ultravox
  104. Turning Japanese by The Vapors
  105. Roll With The Changes by REO Speedwagon
  106. I Hope I Never by Split Enz
  107. Blondes (Have More Fun) by Rod Stewart
  108. Never Let Her Slip Away by Andrew Gold
  109. Tattooed Love Boys by The Pretenders
  110. Peter Gunn Theme and Remote Control by The Silencers
  111. Only the Strong Survive by REO Speedwagon