Arsène Schrauwen

Olivier Schrauwen. Fantagraphics, $34.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-60699-730-7
In this crackpot graphic novel from the historically minded and utterly original Schrauwen, the Belgian cartoonist imagines a fanciful history that slips the bonds of reality almost immediately. In 1947, Schrauwen’s grandfather Arsène boards a boat for “the colony,” a tropical jungle whose European settlers wrestle with dementia and a skewed, Cubist reality. His purpose there is never quite made clear, but Arsène plugs away through a series of surreal encounters that volley between the dangerous and the sensual. Arsène is initially a stereotypical bourgeois with an eternally lit cigarette and a taste for Trappist beer, but his veneer is undone by the colony’s fears (horrific parasites) and his own temptations (his cousin’s luscious wife, Marieke). Schrauwen’s simple and slightly awkward early 20th-century drawing style, rendered only in blue on some pages and red on others, gives the story’s more outré elements (sexually rapacious leopard-human hybrids) a deadpan humor. The author’s obsessions with infestation, death, mutation, and genitalia, scroll in a continuous waking dream set amid a Magritte-Dali landscape. Schrauwen’s absurdist satire of colonial mores is probably best read according to the author’s instructions: every now and then, with breaks in reading for a week or two—the story may be recursive, but this way the dream will always seem fresh. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 12/01/2014
Release date: 11/01/2014
Genre: Comics
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