Jeremy Estes

Siberia is filled with these images, snapshots of the monumental and the trivial.


Publisher: Soft Skull Press
cat_label_url: htttp://
Contributors: Translator: Blake Ferris
Price: $19.95
Writer: #239; Maslov
Display Artist: Nikolaï Maslov
Length: 98
Formats: Trade Paperback
US publication date: 2006-09

The creative urge is a blessing and a curse. Artists, writers, musicians, etc., all put their souls into their work--even the worst of us--and there's often little reward. Strike that--the work is the reward, of course, but no one can pay the bills or put food on the table with creative satisfaction alone.

Everyone starts small. Of course there are those who seem born into literary or artistic greatness, but for every wunderkind prodigy, there's a small town hick who just happened to have an interest in the world outside their city's limits and develop a passion for life on their own. Nikolai Maslov is the latter. Siberia is the story of Maslov's life in the remote region of the former Soviet Union. Told in soft, gentle pencils, Maslov chronicles his adolescence, a stint in the Red Army, bouncing from job to job, a mental breakdown and redemption in the arms of his art and his family.

Hailing from a tiny Siberian village, Maslov's family struggles to survive but remains close. Young Nikolai is more sensitive than others around him, and tuned to a different frequency. Still, he tries to fit in, drinking with his comrades and working in construction. Art is there for him, like so many others, as a means of escape, a way of seeing the world in a different way.

He soon becomes a dedicated Francophile--this book was originally published in France as Une jeunesse sovietique--and marvels at the works of Monet and Cezanne. The impression left by the Impressionists is unmistakable in his pencils: soft strokes, unadorned by ink or color, give up as much detail as they leave out, creating a gray and white dreamscape one gets lost in as the story progresses. Buildings and fields look blurred at first glance, but reveal unseen details at a second. Each panel in the story deserves a closer look.

Maslov draws buildings and landscapes beautifully, but his depiction of tanks and helicopters during the military portion of the story have a flat, studied quality, like they were lifted from one of those free art tests advertised on television. Strangely, he renders other lifeless objects like telephone wires and radio towers with a ghostly quality that seems to come right off the page. The wisps of pencil lines are so faint, yet so striking, a style that is echoed in the story as a whole.

There is very little writing in the book because Maslov's pencils do the bulk of the storytelling. Still, the narration is measured and exact, quiet declarations of story and feeling that tastefully accompany the artists' style. When an image suffices, Maslov lets it do all the talking.

Maslov's storytelling is brisk but slightly confusing at times. At first the story follows a standard linear path, but as time wears on and the author's life grows more complex, things break up and the story begins slipping around. It's a confusing shift, but the dreamlike nature of the artwork smoothes out the transition.

Memoir and autobiography are subject to these sorts of strange shifts. Memory isn't linear because our brains will drag up any number of thoughts and feelings to a single event whether they're actually relevant or not. Keeping this in mind, it's important to remember that some of the scenes and characters in Siberia are probably condensed. The facts are important, obviously, but so is the writing (a lesson James Frey should have learned a long time ago). There's no way of knowing how much Maslov condensed or altered, but he acknowledges in the story that memory isn't always to be relied upon and that even important facts can't always be recalled. In the most poignant moment in a book full of them, Maslov is drafted into the Red Army and proclaims his adolescence to be over. When he tries to recall his ailing father's face as he read the boy's draft notice, he can't. Maslov steps away from the story he's telling and acknowledges the failure of memory. Instead, there's only a gray pencil shadow of his father, an impression. This is how memory works--it's haze and shadows, with a definite feeling of how things were, even if the details aren't there. Siberia is filled with these images, snapshots of the monumental and the trivial.

In the end, after all struggling as an artist and a person in the Soviet Union, Maslov passes on this wisdom to his children: look for truth and kindness in life, "otherwise, what's life for?"

It's a simple moral, but it hits like a ton of bricks at the story's end. Were there nothing else in the story, this fortune cookie wisdom might have ruined the piece. Instead, it's just a piece of homespun wisdom from someone who's seen what a lack of truth and kindness can do to people.

But this isn't what Siberia's really about. There are many stories and many questions asked here, but there are no real solutions. On the one hand, the books is about the idea of home, and how home is often the most beautiful place in the world, particularly when you've seen the outside world.

But it's in reading the afterword by French author (and Siberia's original publisher) Emmanuel Carrere that one gets the real point of the book. Carrere writes that Maslov presented a few panels of his work to a publisher when he was working as a night watchman. The publisher wanted to see more, but Maslov said he could not continue to work unless the publisher would give him an advance, enough money to allow him to quit his job and work full time on the book. This was not a demand of an artistic diva, but rather a plea to help him finish the story he needed to tell. Ultimately, Siberia is about the creative urge and how it's like an illness that can be relieved but rarely cured. Maslov tries to "make it" as an artist but is continually turned away because he has no connections or people don't understand his work. The book isn't a 100 page rant about how the art world is missing Maslov's genius, it's about how creativity, in all its forms, haunts the individuals it afflicts.

Looking at a tall, beautiful building, Maslov thinks to himself, "Is there any way to reach such heights nowadays?" Maslov is saddled with the weight of history, with trying to make an impression upon a world filled with beautiful, important work. He struggles with his own work as much as he does with the work of others. It's a challenge all creative people must face.

Carerre writes that Maslov has no plans for another book, that Siberia could very well be the definitive statement that Nikolai Maslov needed to make as an artist. If so, Maslov has achieved heights graphic novelists will have to look up to for a long, long time.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.