cover image Secret Life

Secret Life

Theo Ellsworth and Jeff VanderMeer. Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95 (184p) ISBN 978-1-77046-403-2

With his meticulously drawn, uncanny comics, Ellsworth (The Understanding Monster) proves a fitting and unnerving match to mine this eerie, parable-like short story by VanderMeer (Hummingbird Salamander). The narrative is presented in brief segments, each centering on various drone-like workers of a Kafkaesque office building. Whatever their respective positions, these denizens seem more like captives than employees, while corporate life is presented as either oppressive or downright sinister. In one story thread, a woman’s job consists of the single task of stamping paperwork; in another, the company occupying the lower floors carries a name “never spoken aloud,” that “glows a fiery gold when looked upon,” causing any reader to flee the building or rapidly ascend its ranks. Meanwhile, a vine that one woman has brought in to beautify her office grows to immense proportions, spreading its leafage everywhere, eventually taking over the structure—as well as the narrative—as humankind, for all its bureaucracy, is no match for the implacable forces of nature. Throughout, Ellsworth’s minute crosshatching captures a foreboding, otherworldly atmosphere while imbuing each character, no matter how grotesque, with poignancy. This bizarre, fantastical vision will charm art comics and surrealist lit fans alike. (Sept.)