Thursday, January 13, 2011

Grabs from the Top Shelf - - - NIGHT ANIMALS

NIGHT ANIMALS  (Top Shelf Productions, March 2011 release date) Writer / Artist Brecht Evens.  48 pages  $7.95

Last year, Top Shelf expanded their line to include a number of acclaimed Swedish works.  In 2011, they bring us some more European craft with NIGHT ANIMALS by Belgian cartoonist Brecht Evens – originally published in Belgium as NACHTDIEREN in 2007.

I was attracted to this book because there is no dialogue or captions  -- so no need to worry if the translation is a good one.  NIGHT ANIMALS contains two short stories told solely with pictures - - and what fantastic imagery is contained inside!   It’s a real dose of  psychedelic power and brought back memories of some of the classic trippy underground comic books I enjoyed as a 1970’s college student.   It’s a quick read and I suspect you’ll do what I did after I finished it again.  I started over from the beginning and took more time to savor the art - - and it rewarded me a second time with many things I failed to notice on the first go-around.

NIGHT ANIMALS is subtitled “A Diptych About What Rushes Through The Bushes” .  Both stories are related in that they center around personal voyages of discovery through strange landscapes,  both occur at night and involve weird animals, and both have sexual themes (direct and implied).  Evens possess an elaborate imagination as a cartoonist but that’s not all he commands.  He also employs a skillful use of bold colors, taking a minimalist approach on some pages to enhance and make the one or two colors used really “pop”.

The book opens with “Blind Date” as a man drives from the city to a park location, dons a rabbit costume and waits on a bench with a bouquet of flowers for an apparent first romantic encounter with someone.  As it begins to get darker and just as he suspects he is being “stood up” - - a pointing arrow appears on the ground at his feet.  He follows this and more arrows to a seedy bar and into the rest-room where a most unusual variation on “down the rabbit hole” occurs.

He’s entered through the sewers into a world below the surface inhabited by various and strange creatures, many of which seem to threaten and come close to attacking him as he winds his way through many landscapes and crawls and squirms through many tight holes and tunnels.  “Blind Date” is a testament to the lengths that a man will go and what he will endure if he believes he might “score” at the finish line.   Delightful!

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The main character in “Bad Friends”, the second story is a early teenage girl who completes a grueling gymnastic routine for a demanding instructor.  As she retreats to the locker room when finished, her body matures and grows breasts in front of the other female gymnasts.  As she begins to menstruate on the tile floor for the first time, she runs away in shame.

When she returns home she rushes straight past her parents and retreats to the seclusion of her bedroom.  Sometime during the night a Pan-like satyr performs a flute serenade and flies her away to a strange and wondrous land where she is the center of attention at a weird animal party.  She has the time of her life and becomes more uninhibited and carefree as more clothing is shed.   The next day search party looks for her in vain as her parents ponder over her disappearance in the night.

Not only did I want to re-read this right after finishing - - it made me crave a number of other art works as well.   As I read /viewed NIGHT ANIMALS  another rush of memories assaulted me and I scrambled to try and remember all the influences I detected in Evens’ work.   Don’t misunderstand - - he’s not a copy-cat.  He’s just blended some of these styles into his own work in a way that will make it seem immediately familiar to you (provided you’ve been exposed to the same sources as I have).

Both stories have that playfully dark sensibility to them  -- like the best works of Gahan Wilson and Charles Aadams.  As you read “Bad Friends”  - - “Where The Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak will come immediately to mind.  The character in “Blind Date”  would find many sympathetic friends in the cartoon creations of Jules Feiffer.  Lastly, many of the nocturnal creatures in NIGHT ANIMALS could easily step right off the panels of early Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch.

In fact,  I thought that the subtitle of this book - - “A Diptych About What Rushes Through The Bushes’”  was  a subtle nod by Evens towards the Bosch influence.  Bosch utilized the “triptych” style of expression - - works of art divided into 3 panels  (see Bosch’s “Garden Of Earthly Delights” for a good example of this).  This got me rushing to the dictionary/reference books where I learned that “diptych” is not only an art style that involves painting on two flat plates attached by a hinge.  It is also used to mean a thematically-linked sequence of two books.

Aha - - - clever one, is Brecht Evens.

Order a second copy of this one as a gift to your art-loving friends.  But keep away from the younger readers. Mature audiences only.   Available in March 2011.

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