Sunday, October 07, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #280: Night Animals by Brecht Evens

I probably shouldn't be counting this, but I am. It's all my rules, right? And I've finished two books a lot of days this year, so this is good enough for one Mulligan day in mid-September.

(Can you tell I'm trying to convince myself? Do you think it's working?)

Night Animals possibly doesn't count as a "book" since it's a collection of two silent comics stories by Flemish cartoonist Brecht Evens, published by Top Shelf in 2011 in -- and this is the important part -- a stapled binding. I had this up on a shelf, since the cover is sturdy and that's where I keep things I'm going to read, but it unmistakably looks more like a "pamphlet" than a "book."

(It's definitely not a "periodical," since it was a one-off.)

Anyway, I read it on a day that's now nearly a week in the past -- so I can't read any other books that day -- and I'm definitely going to write about it here, since it's interesting and creepy and slightly problematic and full of dark, evocative art. So, despite all of my waffling, it does count, for the purposes of Book-A-Day 2018.

It has a subtitle, "A Diptych about What Rushes through the Bushes," and the two stories here are about strange things in the night, and about sex.

First up is "Blind Date." A man gets out of his car, puts on a bunny suit, and follows luminescent arrows through increasingly stranger and more uncomfortable locations -- it starts in a nasty bar's bathroom, and heads down into the sewers -- before eventually finding what's at the end of his search.

That story is amusing and cute, and Evens's art is suitably dark and ominous in all of the strange tight places his protagonist gets into.

The second story is a little more problematic, or at least it seems that way to me. It's "Bad Friends," and the front cover describes it as "join an innocent young girl as she becomes a woman and learns where the wild things are." She is young, and "becoming a woman" is what you think it means (at school, at possibly the worst possible time, in public) and "where the wild things are" does have something of a Maurice Sendak feel.

But this girl travels to that land very differently than Sendak's Max. She's enthusiastic once she gets there -- that's her on the cover -- but this story is less happy than the first one, and the difference feels entirely gendered. (Men chase sex, and are happy when they find it. Women are chased by sex, and should beware of what can happen to them.)

This story also looks great -- Evens is really good at creepy monsters and creatures and dark things that lurk in dark places -- but I'm not at all comfortable at how much it sexualizes a pre-teen girl and how it seems to blame her as well.

So I want to see more work by Evens even as I wonder if this is characteristic of his work: the darkness, the sexuality, the wordlessness, the sexism.

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