cover image The Troll King

The Troll King

Kolbeinn Karlsson, Top Shelf, $14.95 paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-60309-061-2

Swedish cartoonist Karlsson's first book is the closest thing comics have yet produced to, say, Devendra Banhart's music: psychedelic, shambolic, mystical, very hairy, and redolent of musk. It's low on text—there's no dialogue at all in its second half—but high on... well, any number of things. The book is a series of linked stories about various woodland monsters; its first piece concerns a pair of fur-covered, bodybuilding creatures who are married in a dance ritual witnessed by a burning wicker figurine. Karlsson's artwork has some obvious inspirations from a previous generation of art cartoonists—there's a little of Mike Diana's violent/sexual grossouts and fanatically intense mark making, a little of Jim Woodring's silent, fantastical world-building and supersaturated color palette—but it's also got its own heady aesthetic, shifting between crude, wobbly rendering and subtle attention to details of body language and facial expressions. His stories are vivid as a fever dream, very vaguely grounded in the real world (a few characters shop at a chain supermarket), but mostly sweaty, uncanny, and intuitive rather than logical: this is the kind of book whose most straightforward story involves a bulbous carrotman who wades into a hot pool and is transformed into an enormous tree. (May)