Friday, April 9, 2010

King of the Flies Volume 1: Hallorave

King of the Flies Volume 1: Hallorave
by Mezzo and Pirus
Fantagraphics 2010

Hillary Brown: Reading this slim but seriously illustrated volume was a pleasurable experience in disorientation. I'd never heard of Mezzo (Pascal Mesemberg) or Pirus (Michel Pirus) before, and even if you try to find out more about them, it helps to read a little French to get to their various Wikipedia pages. I didn't know jack about this book or the project or whether it was even American. In fact, I totally assumed it was, and in many ways it reads as an American comic, which makes the occasional reference to Euros all the more startling. The Fantagraphics website says it's "set in a suburb that is both nowhere and everywhere," which I guess is as accurate as anything else, and when I think about some of the darker European films set in the suburbs that I've seen, I suppose the tone translates between countries (and continents), but it's still... strange. The touchstone is, of course, Charles Burns, down to the art, which makes use of a similar coloring palette (garish, but not too much so) and woodcut-type style of shading, but also because of the content, which is heavy on weird sex and mind-altering experiences. Really, I'm not even sure if I liked the book or not as a whole. It's as though the things I liked and the things I didn't like can't come together and agree on a compromise, but it gets inside your head regardless. There are plenty of easy criticisms to make here--it relies on shock value, too many panels have the same visual set-up, who cares about these jerkwads anyway?--but it seems to me to end up being a bit more than that. I'm really curious to see what you think.

Garrett Martin: Our thoughts might align on this one. Hallorave is beautiful, but tries too hard to be hard. The sex and drugs are a little overblown, too often coming off as cheap and obvious "shock" value. But it's not as simple as that, as sex is also vital to the vignettes that do work, like the piece where the girl loses her virginity and afterward feels just about every single human emotion possible at the same time. There are a few believable and genuinely touching character moments within Hallorave; they're not subtle, but I know I was never particularly subtle in my teens. I am perhaps a little troubled by how the two male authors basically define every single female character by her sexuality, but then that's true for the male characters, as well, so I'm probably just being a dumb uptight prude again, and a very American one, at that. I'd probably like it more if all the sex was replaced with machine guns and soaring eagles. And then you also have the clear David Lynch inspiration, which normally is the kiss of death for me (even with a lot of Lynch's stuff); the fact that Pirus and Mezzo are able to evoke that obvious comparison without immediately alienating or angering me is a sign of how talented they are, even if I'm not completely in love with this book.

HB: Right. There's an ability they have to poke you in the eye or make you uneasy that's genuine, even while it's obviously out to do just that. Another comparison I was thinking of that didn't come up when I first wrote you about this because I hadn't seen his most recent film yet is Lars von Trier, who spends a lot of his time trying to piss off his audience and say things about America, but he succeeds a little better than these guys because he has a wider range of things to say. I don't think you're being a prude. I think that you could probably justify Mezzo and Pirus's repetitive focus on sexuality by talking about the other things that repeat in these pages, which seem at first to be made up of unconnected stories before they're revealed as part of a web that we just haven't pulled back far enough from to grasp in its entirety, but they're not exactly feminist either. The thing is, every female character drawn from the boobs down, recumbent, in a frame we see over and over, looks exactly the same, and that may signal a problematic outlook, one that has more in common with superhero comics than the book would seem to otherwise.

GM: The women pretty much are interchangeable, aren't they? And it doesn't help that every male character can basically have sex with any of the females whenever he chooses. Apparently Hallorave takes place in a Europe where every man is R. Kelly. And yes, Von Trier might be a better comparison than Lynch. The light surrealism and blue collar Americana of the bowling alley definitely owe more to Lynch, but that European tone and the final moment of graphic yet banal violence feel more like Von Trier. And speaking of film, how Sundancily shitty was that Rolling Stones-worshiping story?

HB: Yeah, if I had to pick out the weakest one, it's definitely that story, which just feels jammed in, like it was part of an assignment ("Draw a comic about your favorite band"). Speaking of which, were these published previously and separately? They're pretty graphic to show up in most things, but it might lend to the slow-building realization that the narratives are interrelated. And it might account for the vague feeling I have that, while all the stories overlap, there may be some missing pieces or some parts may be told twice but contain slightly different events. I haven't gone back to the book because I'm not sure that there's an answer, especially when everyone involved is out of his or her mind on some substance. But this is sounding like I don't like the book. I like aspects of it, but I'm also cognizant of its weaknesses, and I suspect that pickier people than I might like it less.

GM: Right, I also liked it more than this makes it sound. Like I said, I love the art, with great layouts, nice thick lines, and coloring that's somehow both rich and muted. Even when I don't like the characters or find their actions believable I still love the way everything looks. And the elliptical structure was a smart choice because it adds at least a little bit of mystery; instead of just reading to see what happens next you keep going to better understand what's already happened. I don't know if the stories were published individually anywhere, but Hallorave is basically the first book of King of the Flies, with two more on the way. I'm interested to see how closely they intersect with each other.

HB: Yeah, I'll read the next one, too. It's successful at very least in that!

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