Thursday, March 22, 2012

Supernatural Minis: Lewis, Bongiovanni, Wiedeman

Time to take a look at three minis that take an offbeat approach to horror and the supernatural.

The Lettuce Girl #2, by Sophia Wiedeman. This is the second part of Wiedeman's take on the story of Rapunzel, or at least a variation thereof. In this issue, we learn how the lettuce girl came to live locked away in a tower by a crone. It gets at the heart of the themes Wiedeman tackles here: the ways in which the desires and weaknesses of parents inevitably extracts a price on their children. A mother-to-be wanted nothing more than to eat lettuce, even if her husband had to steal it. The way in which Wiedeman depicts the ravenousness of the pregnant woman is slightly unsettling if amusing; reason and ethics took a back seat to her craving. Of course, he gets caught by the owner of the garden, who may or may not be an actual witch, and in his cowardice he agrees to offer up his potential daughter to spare his own life. Wiedeman implies that this act permanently destroys his marriage, especially when he offers up the cold comfort of "We can have another."

The girl grows up thinking that the witch is her mother, who visits from time to time to bring her vegetables (only vegetables). The girl is tired of living in the keep and longs to leave, but her "mother" forbids it. The issue ends when the girl encounters a sort of magic serpent looking for its mother. Once again, Wiedeman loops the reader around to absent and bad parenting, where the girl is abused by her adopted mother but still loves her, because it's all she's known. She strains against that relationship, but only leaves when presented with someone who is missing their own mother. What makes this book so interesting is that unlike a modern fairy tale, where the girl is kept apart from her noble parents by a witch, the young parents in this book are far from ideal. Their own greed and fear wind up costing them their child, forcing the reader to ask if they even deserved to have a child in the first place. Wiedeman's art combines a simplicity of form with some nice usage of crosshatching. Her figures are admirably loose and slightly scribbly, giving the whole comic a fluid quality. I'm interested in seeing how unconventional she's going to become in the greater narrative of the story.

The Offering, by Anna Bongiovanni. This creepy tale of witches with a ragged, fragile line reminds me a bit of Julia Gfrorer's Flesh and Bone. It starts with two sisters in a forest, with one excited about going to a gathering of witches in a coven and the other creeped out. When their activity escalates into human sacrifice as to create a hideous demon baby, things take a truly horrific turn. With her light and almost delicate line, Bongiovanni nonetheless expertly evokes fear and disgust in equal measure, with an ending that provides an interesting twist. Just as creepy as the actual bloodshed and witchcraft is seeing the witches freak out about "their baby", a play on hysterical parents in real life that's quite clever. Bongiovanni has been a consistent stand-out in the Good Minnesotan anthology, and this comic represents some of her strongest work to date.

Klagen: A Horror, by Jon Lewis. This smudged, scribbled comic done in pencil and printed on yellow paper feels as much like an artifact retrieved from a dark corner of an occult bookstore as it does a comic. That atmosphere allows Lewis to submerge the reader in a death cult conspiracy that's essentially going about its business and using the objects at hand (i.e., people) to create a creature to act as their servant. Lewis wraps all of this in a mystery/conspiracy theory involving a man looking for his best friend, only to discover that he's been transformed into a "black dog", a man turned into a creature thanks to being seduced by pure nihilism. Lewis undercuts reader expectation by making the protagonist nothing more than a witness; there's nothing he can do against an enemy that's everywhere and that's already won. He escapes from the ritualistic rape by the black dog of the woman he was obsessed with, and why not? The cultists (who speak in white-on-black text found in the hoods that cover their faces) know where to find him and he has no understanding or way of stopping them. In just sixteen pages, Lewis creates a world of fear and dares the reader to engage it.

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