cover image Mr. Lightbulb

Mr. Lightbulb

Wojtek Wawszczyk, trans. from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Fantagraphics, $29.99 (624p) ISBN 978-1-68396-524-4

Wawszczyk’s marvelous debut takes a decidedly unusual approach to the familiar story of a mopey young artist struggling to escape his family and find his way in a baffling and often cruel world. Set in a generically bleak Eastern European landscape of monolithic apartment towers, grinding poverty, and cruelty born of impoverishment, a fabulist origin story sets the stage for how the Polish artists’s hero became a human light bulb. Starting in the infancy of “Bulb boy,” Wawszczyk refracts the stark realities of his protagonist’s parents’ lives into absurdist fantasy, with workplace accidents turning his father into a flattened “pancake” and nearly splitting his mother apart, so that she walks bent over, parallel to the ground. Bulb boy’s accident (swallowing molten steel) burns out his inside, leaving nothing but wires, which he discovers allows him to project light and heat. Rendered in over-the-top fashion by Wawszczyk’s heavy, thick-lined exaggerated cartooning, the story builds steam through anxiety dreams about cloying parents and surrealist allegory about society’s insistence on people carrying on no matter their damage. As Bulb boy uses his luminary power to create art and help others, the narrative morphs into a Giving Tree–esque fable about sacrifice. This masterful and darkly comic epic finds the all-too-human reality in its fantastical inventions. (Apr.)