Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Emma Rendel - Pentti & Deathgirl (Jonathan Cape 2009)

Jonathan Cape once again presents some of the best underground/non-costume graphic fiction for our viewing pleasure, and this time it’s disturbing. More disturbing than the awkward sleaze of Daniel Clowes’ work. Finnish graphic artist Rendel presents two short stories, both about death and awkwardness; about the inability to translate your inner-thoughts to the outside world.

‘Pentti’ is about two brothers, both grotesque, rural farmers in a seemingly small town. One brother is calm and friendly; the other is angry and homophobic. He is Pentti. He spies two new male neighbours move in next door and wonders if they are gay. Angered at the possibility, he goes out on the town looking for a fight, his heart filled with fury and fighting spirit. As he rails on any possible gay man around him, pounding them into submission till they are all afraid of him, we get a glimpse into the obvious secret he is hiding. The book ends murderously and violently, though sadly inevitably. All the characters are drawn with angular balloon shapes, all contorted like misshapen biceps, or with grotesque cartoon faces and human bodies, all sweating and worried. The mosaic patterns that burst into colour filling the backgrounds, the natural surroundings and the forests and fields of Finland make for a beautiful yet bittersweet tale that is predictable yet snappy in its telling and beautifully drawn.

‘Deathgirl’ is also mercifully short because the sadness depicted in this diary format is heart-breaking. An awkward girl, obsessed with death and murder, constantly surrounded by instruments of torture and destruction, writes down her thoughts and feelings. Each double spread is a diary entry of a childishly scrawled text. As she falls in love with Karebear, a similarly odd looking boy, she tries her hardest to show him her misplaced affection. Her parents worry, her schoolfriends keep their distance and her diary becomes her best friend. She is massive and her contorted shapes take up most of the page and the action.

Both stories are short and full of angst and awkwardness. Though hardly ground-breaking in their content, they are wonderfully depicted in a woefully foreboding fashion, their grotesque Elephant Man features contorted into the hideousness of their deepest souls.

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