cover image Maids


Katie Skelly. Fantagraphics, $19.99 (112p) ISBN 978-1-6839-6368-4

Skelly (My Pretty Vampire) plays with the dark side of femininity in this quietly vicious graphic novel based on a historical murder case, which unfurls like a wicked fairy tale. In 1930s Paris, sisters Lea and Christine Papin work as maids to the Lancelins, a family too wrapped up in petty personal dramas to view the help as more than occasionally malfunctioning appliances. The narrative observes the sisters through daily chores—cooking, cleaning, tending the garden and the chicken coop—and flashes back to their troubled past, including hiding from their alcoholic mother and an unhappy stint at a convent. Christine takes an obsessively protective role toward Lea, who suffers intrusive thoughts and visions. “No one would ever know who we were before,” they intone to each other. But those old wounds haven’t healed, and new injuries from their callous employers push the sisters past their breaking point. Skelly’s signature spindly, long-limbed figures, with sweetheart mouths and bloodied hands, look like old-fashioned fashion drawings gone just a bit wrong. Under the aggressively girly gloss, the tale writhes with sex, violence, madness, and rebellion. This subversive horror story will satisfy readers who like their crime stories served with gender and class analysis and a pretty whipped topping. (Oct.)