cover image Secret Passages: 1985–1986

Secret Passages: 1985–1986

Axelle Lenoir, trans. from the French by Pablo Strauss and Aleshia Jensen. Top Shelf, $19.99 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-1-60309-499-3

Capturing the wild strangeness of childhood with fantastical meta-narrative touches, Lenoir (Camp Spirit) sets the stage for an autofiction multiverse in this series launch. Axelle, with a partially shaved head and ripped jeans, opens her narration with the revelation that her “cosmic twin died.” Most of these pages, however, are devoted to her first grade year, which she spends watching cartoons, arguing with her brothers, resenting school, and developing a love-hate relationship with the forest near her home. She fears that her parents—drawn with oversize, blacked-out, almond-shaped eyes—are aliens. Periodically, adult Axelle answers “reader questions”; when someone asks why young Axelle’s thoughts are so mature, for instance, she explains, “Even though a kid doesn’t have an adult’s vocabulary, they experience the same range of emotions and sensitivity.” Lenoir periodically interjects her expressive two-tone cartoons and maniacal character drawing (which look like a more cartoony version of Sophie Campbell’s Wet Moon) with flashes of color (and child’s crayon drawings) and hints at the parallel universe in which she’s a boy with human parents (presumably he’s the cosmic twin). Her work is strongest when depicting the inner landscape of an imaginative, anxious child who’s full of passion (especially for the Sears catalog), terror, wonderment, and weird games. It’s an enjoyably odd place to live in for a while. (Feb.)