The Amateurs

Conor Stechshulte. Fantagraphics, $14.99 trade paper (72p) ISBN 978-1-60699-734-5
“I fear that all my life I’ve been sheltered from some horrible truth, some terrible knowledge that I’ve only glimpsed the remotest edge of”—these words in a schoolgirl’s diary set the tone for this stunning debut graphic novella set in a rural past that resembles Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The tale opens when two schoolgirls find a rotting human head on a riverbank, and it warns them to “Look back!” The reader immediately does so, flashing back to two butchers, Winston and Jim, who have suddenly forgotten how to do their jobs and where they came from. When two women enter their shop and ask for their usual cuts of meat, a hideous and hilarious ballet of carnage begins as the pair haplessly attempt to butcher a cow and pig, cutting off as much from themselves as from the animals in the process. Although this is Stechshulte’s first graphic novella, his mastery of the form is stunning, from the cover, which supplies an essential clue to the story, to the dense lettering and borderless panels that drag us right into the “terrible knowledge.” The grim and humorous grotesqueries of the tale are reminiscent of Vehlmann’s Beautiful Darkness from earlier this year and should appeal to the same readership. (June)
Reviewed on: 06/09/2014
Release date: 06/01/2014
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