Saturday, December 7, 2013

Heartless by Nina Bunjevac

2012 was an amazing year for comics. Humanoids, Selfmadehero, IDW, Top Shelf, Picture Box, Fantagraphics and other were releasing a host of amazing comics. Conundrum Press was one of those publishers whose releases, to my knowledge, didn't get a lot of screen time. Which is sad because they publish some amazing comics from highly original creators. So go check them out. Now.

One of the comics they released was a compendium HC called Heartless, which collects Bunjevac's short stories and imo, was one of the best comics to come out in 2012. Sadly, it too didn't get a lot of talk. 

Bunjevac's stories intensely focusing on the displaced, the American Dream and then subverting it, the people on the outside of society but seen and felt through female perspective. Not only a female perspective but through a Central and Southeast European perspective too. Which is something I haven't comic across a lot in comics. Yet, even though there is a bit of cultural disconnect when I read these stories, but for the most, a majority of her characters deal with everyday problems. Though most of the problems are hefty, you can recognize and understand and feel for her protagonists.

The females in her stories are heavy subjugated, dealing with sexism and overall feelings of xenophobia from the people around them. Bunjevac holds no punches with her stories and most of the characters we meet have endings that are emotionally gut-wrenching. But Bunjevac has a great ability to make us feel for her characters. Yes, some of them may never be able to redeem themselves but you care for them and hope for the best for them. The characters almost know or have a feeling that failure will be coming their way but they persist and try to make the best of their situation.  You can see that glimmer of good in them and it's amazing to experience that within a few pages; that tells a lot about Bunjevac's amazing skill as a cartoonist and storyteller. There's also a heavy gallows/black humor throughout the book. One of my favorite stories dealt around a character called Zorka Petrovic. We see her interacting with various characters, who too get the spotlight, and in the end we see Zorka dealing with failed love and an abortion. It was an intensely sad tale in which there are no real outs. Just inspecting the damage done to by us and then trying to move on and make the best out of it.

Bunjevac's art is a fucking gorgeous. A mixture of heavy pointillism, Robert Crumb, early Drew Friedman and hyper-realism that leaves you feeling a bit uncomfortable but unable to look away because of how gorgeous it is. Her art really makes the characters and their situations pop, and it adds more gravitas to them. I found myself staring at pages or panels for god knows how long, just studying her art and her ability show motion (when it's used) and emotion through her characters. You get a feeling these are real people, and that everything they do and feel is real and not part of a comic.

There's been a wave of female cartoonists entering the comic scene as of lately, leaving a mark that has and will change scene forever. Their new voice and perspective is well needed and well welcomed (though there are those who fight against this wave of change, tsk). And I think if Bunjevac gets the spotlight and popularity she deserves, she could be a huge player in scene and shake things up.

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