cover image Tender


Beth Hetland. Fantagraphics, $19.99 (162p) ISBN 978-1-68396-935-8

Hetland gets under the skin in her nimble and unsettling graphic novel debut. On the surface, expectant mom Carolanne is a painfully average woman, chatting with the gals at the office about her husband and baby on the way. But a menacing mood hangs over quotidian scenes, which are periodically interrupted by Carolanne’s grotesque nightmares (in one, she imagines licking a cat until she drowns in hair, her gut depicted as a cave strangled by black strands) and flashbacks revealing her desperation for a picture-perfect marriage. Her discomfort expresses itself in her habit of picking at her nails and skin, and her pregnancy further twists her combative relationship with her body before a tragedy pushes her obsessions to a frightening new level. Hetland’s discordantly cheerful artwork, which features characters drawn with picture-book simplicity against pleasantly busy domestic backgrounds tinted in cool blues, provides a chilling counterpoint to the slow burn of psychological and body horror. Images of food, flesh, and obsessive consumption contribute to the sense that the increasingly unstable Carolanne is either devouring or being devoured by the world around her. Hetland’s ability to maintain a sinister atmosphere in scenes both mundane and monstrous will keep horror fans turning the pages. (Mar.)