Gabriel Winslow-Yost is Assistant Editor at The New York Review. (October 2015)

Video Games: The Secret Life

A screenshot from Might and Magic II: Gates to Another World (1988), one of the computer games Michael Clune writes about in Gamelife: A Memoir
Video games are consumed actively in a way that is very different from encounters with books, movies, or other art forms: by definition, one’s time with a game is time spent taking actions, making decisions; and video games generally require a long time to play—dozens, even hundreds of hours, spread out over weeks or months. All this means that an account of playing a video game inevitably involves a recollection of a portion of one’s own life, including a few of one’s own successes and failures, decisions and regrets.

The Dark Master of Russian Film

Alexei German's Hard to Be a God, 2013

In the reimagined Middle Ages of Alexei German’s Hard to Be a God, spears threaten bare buttocks, corpses are looted, mocked, kicked aside, faces are smeared with unidentifiable muck, the rain pours down. I don’t think any film has ever depicted a world so awful with such conviction.

Grim Fragments of the Great War

A failed infantry charge in Jacques Tardi's It Was the War of the Trenches

It Was the War of the Trenches is one of the most passionately bleak works in the history of comics. French cartoonist Jacques Tardi is unremitting in his focus on the small, human details of the catastrophe of WWI—not just the look of uniforms and weaponry, but the way one soldier advances in an awkward, stiff-armed posture, “protecting my belly with the butt of the rifle,” and the way another makes sculptures and rings from discarded shells, to sell to his comrades.

Parasites in Eden

A detail from Jesse Jacobs’s Safari Honeymoon

“I draw a lot of weird doodles on scraps of paper,” says the Canadian cartoonist Jesse Jacobs—true of most cartoonists, no doubt. But few cartoonists’ work is as suffused with the spirit of the doodle as Jacobs’s. The familiar forms are there on almost every page: a profusion of cubes and spheres, wiggly organic textures, vast fields of invented vegetation. They are more elegantly drawn than your average doodles, of course, cleaned-up and colored and carefully arranged, but the doodler’s mix of repetition and improvisation is unmistakable in each of his books.

The Joys of ‘Mere’

C.F.: a panel from

One of the joys of Mere, the new book by the cartoonist C.F., is how thoroughly it resists categorization, or even basic explanation. C.F is best known for Powr Mastrs, an ongoing, fascinatingly strange fantasy series with heavy doses of abstraction, barely comprehensible mysticism, and weird eroticism (one plot culminated in an extended sex scene with a squid). Mere, a collection of mini-comics C.F. produced over the course of 2012, is if anything even more odd: a tour through a wide variety of familiar comic book genres, from horror and science fiction to a cheery, kid-oriented “suicide prevention comic,” that manages to make each seem more alien and nonsensical than the last.

A Mind Among Pigs

 Andrew Sensenig as the Sampler in Shane Carruth's Upstream Color

Upstream Color, Shane Carruth’s long-awaited second film, begins with an extended sequence of victimization, extraordinary in its deadpan brutality. A young woman (Kris, one of only two characters given real names, played by Amy Seimetz) is stun-gunned outside a bar by a deceptively pleasant-looking man, referred to in the credits as the Thief. He forces a strange grub-like creature down her throat, and she wakes up as a sort of zombie—blank, passive, absolutely credulous and obedient. Over the course of several days, the Thief issues her a series of slightly surreal instructions, takes all her valuables, empties her bank account, even makes her take out a loan on her home to give him more money. Meanwhile, the creature squirms visibly under her skin.

A Triumph of the Comic-Book Novel

Detail from a page of Chris Ware’s Building Stories, showing the ‘girl’ in red at bottom left and the ‘married couple’ on the steps of the building. The top and right of the image show the ‘old lady’ who owns the building, both in the present and in her memories of her younger days.
Chris Ware’s drawings are meticulous, even chilly, with flat, muted colors and the straight lines and perfect curves of an architectural rendering. The panels follow an orderly horizontal grid, but have a discomfiting tendency to occasionally shrink to near illegibility; or they might suddenly demand to be read from right to left, or even disappear entirely, to be replaced by pretty but unhelpful typography, complicated diagrams, or plans for a paper model of one of the stories’ locations. Dreams and fantasies invade the story without warning.

The ‘Stalker’ Game

Nikolai Grinko as ‘Professor,’ Alexander Kaidanovsky as ‘Stalker,’ and Anatoli Solonitsyn as ‘Writer’ in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, 1979
Zona, Geoff Dyer’s recent book about the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, has been much discussed for its almost comically thorough dissection of the stately 1979 film in which three men venture into a mysterious, dangerous “Zone,” which supposedly contains a “Room” in which wishes can be granted. In an …

In the Zone of Alienation: Tarkovsky as Video Game

Pripyat, the abandoned city in the

Zona, Geoff Dyer’s recent book about Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece Stalker, has been much discussed for its almost comically thorough dissection of the celebrated 1979 art film. And yet, after reading it, I was left feeling that something was missing. In both the book and the deluge of Stalker coverage its release has occasioned, perhaps the most crucial, and most popular, part of the film’s afterlife has gone entirely unremarked: the video game version. Between 2007 and 2010, a Ukrainian video game developer named GSC Game World to create a series of first-person shooter game adaptations of the film. And while they all have the elements of a standard action game—guns, monsters, missions, traps, loot—much of the player’s activity is oddly in keeping with Stalker’s spirit, sometimes even managing to expand upon it.