Creepy and mythic, Cyril Pedrosa's "Three Shadows" follows a family to the end of its greatest fear, examining what a parent will do for a child, while managing to steer the story away from a foreboding gloom that could overtake it and transforming it into a fable.
The appearance of three dark horsemen on a hillside upsets the idylls of life for a mother, father and son. Both parents deal with these manifestations in their own ways, seeking both frightening counsel and unsure flight from the problem. The father's solution sends he and the son on a treacherous journey from home on a boat that is filled with passengers who pack the decks and nooks and crannies like scared insects, overseen by a corrupt captain and his associate, an amoral slave trader who attempts to befriend the father.
The incidents on the sea journey are merely a portion of the odyssey that has engulfed the father and son as they try to outrun the mysterious trio, but for Pedrosa, this is not the story of a chase, but of a transformation. Filled with mysteries to be solved, Pedrosa stays with you far past the logical end, guiding the reader through a range of emotions as each layer is peeled away.
The most amazing aspect of Pedrosa's storytelling is his rich understanding that the family are just three people in an entire world -- with each page, hundreds of stories are hinted at, little snippets of every person's journey is eavesdropped upon and, by the end of the book, a ledger of happiness and grief has been compiled through the interactions of the father and son with everything that happens around them.
By doing this, Pedrosa is able to reveal the personal fears inherent in the family's situation while giving it a context, one that ultimately leads to the conclusion. Once the three shadows are revealed and the nature of the universe is accepted, it is left to the family to be a part of the world that has unfolded around them, rather than apart from it. Life itself is an entity made of many parts and they, as a segment of this creature, must play their part in its continuance.
Pedrosa's tale is reminiscent of certain films of Ingmar Bergman, like "The Seventh Seal" or "The Virgin Spring," as well as Italo Calvino's modern fairy tales like "The Baron in the Trees" and "The Cloven Viscount," and every bit as lovely and profound as any of those. Pedrosa is able to mix the dark allegory of his writing with a skillful visual talent that is able to utilize various stylistic endeavors depending on the scene. Pedrosa's work is at times light and cartoonish, with springy black lines giving motion to his figures and his backgrounds -- other moments, it is stark and black, sometimes sketchy, sometimes muddy, often vague and always pounding you down with heavy emotion. It's a visual tour de force by a former Disney animator and certainly a sign of further great things to come from Pedrosa.
Haunted by Phillipe Dupuy (Drawn and Quarterly)
French cartoonist Phillipe Dupuy brings the reader along as a jogging partner on a journey through his own landscapes -- psychological and physical -- in the short story collection "Haunted."
Dupuy's rushed and sketchy art style gives the book the feel of a quick and personal journal, though at the same times the visuals can echo the loose line work of Ludwig Bemelmans. The framing device only bolsters this intimate impression -- there are several pieces that depict Dupuy's thought process while jogging, where the stream-of-consciousness involved in the self-analysis often finds its way to the real world.
Anyone who has done any sort of satisfactory exercise can probably identify with the idea a physical exertion, when done properly, unleashes the psychological, frees the mind to go where it will.
That's exactly what's going on here, giving Dupuy the opportunity to converse with his dead mother, reminisce about things that disturbed him as a kid, and get into a philosophical conversation with a duck.
Dupuy extends the themes from this self searching into little anecdotes involving the angst of animals and Mexican wrestlers -- and some other asides -- treating them with the tenderness that is perhaps missing in his self-portraits.
Not all the individual stories stand alone -- though all of them work together to make a thoughtful collection -- but there are several of great strength on their own, including "Forest Friends," which follows a group of animals dealing with a troubled friend who has lost a limb, and "Lucha Libre," the Mexican wrestler story in question that ambles along mysteriously before ending with a superb sweetness.
In the end, Dupuy is able to put himself in the same place as his characters and "Haunted" stands a testament to the notion that comics don't have to be about flash and concept, just honest lines and ideas.
Hieronymous B. 1997-2007 by Ulf K. (Top Shelf Productions)
The little world of Hieronymous B. is a surreal one, realized in geometric black and white imagery and collected in German cartoonist Ulf K.'s charming collection "Hieron-ymous B. 1997- 2007."
The set-up is simple -- Hieronymous B. is a meek clerk in an anonymous agency, his boss is tyrannical and his job absurd. Very often, his work involves books -- chasing down elusive ones or attempting to gather those that rain from the sky. Hieronymous B. has an antagonistic relationship with black clouds and he is often given to flights of fantasy that take him to other worlds and different ways of living, but are usually interrupted by his mean boss.
Unfolding through a series of silent vignettes, "Hieronymous B." is one part Fritz Lang and one part Harold Lloyd -- gentle pantomime and slapstick that takes place in a world oppressed by symmetric design and general surrealism. There's also a little bit of Jacques Tati in there, and just possibly some Picasso, as well.
Ulf K. has rendered small tales of Hieronymous B. for over a decade in various outlets and this slim volume is the first collection of them all in one place. I imagine that in disparate appearances, a page here and a page there are curious and charming, but gathered under one roof, they add up to something that seems more personal than the gag quality of the humor implies.
What goes on in Hieronymous B.'s life is something we can all identify with, there's always someone like the boss interrupting or the black clouds conspiring or the books eluding us. That's a nice thing, actually, because the book could come off as surreal humor at an arm's length from experience, but instead it's something that wraps itself in our arms, embraced and understood. Some of the better things in life are slight in girth and simple in presentation -- the quiet humor of Hieronymous B. is one of those.