Rites Of Spring

“Sleeping And Dreaming Of Food” from The Troll King (Top Shelf) by Kolbeinn Karlsson









A dwarf drifts unconscious down a black river and dreams himself at the center of a pagan bacchanalia, where he is feted by all the participants – worshippers in masquerade and makeshift creatures composed of rags and cardboard boxes – with pigs and humans among the feast’s main courses; perhaps befitting the dream state, everyone is drawn in a single color against a fully colored background. Having sated himself into a stupor, the dwarf is then placed within a box-like wooden mold and is sodomized by the King Of The Forest (a green Hulk-like fellow, and the only character in this story drawn in full color – he does actually look like Lou Ferrigno), whereupon he is transformed into a flying beast, galloping skyward in triumph with the King his rider, Destination: Moon.

It’s an affecting little story, nice and exhilarating, and probably the most traditional piece you’ll find here, thanks to a) an easy audience surrogate at its center and b) the entire narrative tailored to the self-conscious framework of a dream; sure, dream-logic is predominant within The Troll King, but more often presented in a matter-of-fact manner. Neither is anything else quite as eldritch or silent-movie sinister, what with the costumes and cannibalism – more typically, things tend toward the hermetic and, y’know, damn weird: a carrot man goes for a dive in a pool and grows into a mighty tree and, in a later story, the flowers which sprout from his form breed whole new batch of carrot men, one of which serves as a vessel for a creature akin to the aforementioned jolly green monarch, etc. (As the key blurb you’ll find on the back cover points out, it does call to mind Miyazaki, specifically Princess Mononoke .)

There’s also stray bits of surrealism as a condiment to this main course – the dreamscape of “Sleeping…” isn’t a forest, but a series of rooms in the David Lynch manner (replete with wall sockets), with trees growing within and the walls a painted backdrop of black mountains outlined against a blood-red sky, never mind the brief genre switch-up, probably the book’s only definitive narrative rupture, where one of the Hulk fellas, after having been planted, Swamp Thing-like, in the earth, announces his rise to consciousness by telling his caretakers “HERE COMES THE WILD WEST!” Therein follows a series of scenes, in the revisionist western manner of, say, El Topo: a cowboy having his limbs pulled off, a showdown against a fake Hollywood backdrop, a headless prostitute; stuff like that.

Altogether, it adds up to one of those works, a personal mythology of interconnected sketches in the insular “you can tag along if you want” fashion. Or, probably better stated, world-building premised not on a message but on compulsion; the medium is certainly amenable to this approach, being itself never too far from a slightly more elaborate version of a ten year-old’s notebook of imaginary creatures. The cumulative effect is a catalogue of odd rites of spring, or maybe just a vast one, glimpsed in parts – a frequent interplay of twin motifs, forest creatures and wood gods that adds up to, one imagines, an unending cycle.

It’s not too hard to parse, assuming you’re paying a little attention. Karlsson’s style is a wondrous bit of simplicity – all flat simple images that mean what they say and say what they mean, with a basic day-glo color palate which shows he knows his way around a Crayola 24-pack, and a typical panel layout of two images per page, one above and one below, just a notch above a straight-up storybook (SEE ALSO: Panter’s Cola Madnes). It’s little surprise to learn from the author’s bio that Karlsson recently adapted the book into an animated short*, given that many of the works here are silent pieces, each image a nice rectangle more often than not depicting a discreet action, very much ready to be mistaken for a cartoon cel. (In fact, you can see the story summarized up above in fancy pants moving picture form here – just skip to 1:28 for the sake of convenience).

Comics or otherwise, worth a gander, natch.

* UPDATE: From the good Mr. Karlsson, via twitter:

“That was actually a bit of confusion with the film. Only Sleeping and dreaming of food was ever animated, sadly.”

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