Hinterkind is a brand new Vertigo book that has all the right fanboys talking about it, so I decided to check it out and bring you my thoughts on the first issue. Here goes…
I have no idea what a Hinterkind is (nor what to do if you find one growing on your arse), but the cover, an arresting, fantasy-like mural that looked like the poster for a really great imaginary movie, totally drew me in. It was exotic, exciting and cleverly structured.
Inside, this book turned out to be a neatly constructed modern fairy tale, or else the epic meeting of a post-apocalyptic bildungsroman with a refreshingly shallow teen adventure story, lushly illustrated by a wonderful penciller by the name of Francesco Trifogli.
Somewhere along the line, I also realized that this story was not unlike a headlong collision between the Americana of Mark Twain and the antiquainted superstitions, folklore and ballads of Europe. It was, to some degree, the barebones DNA of American fiction, displayed via that uniquely American art form, the comic book.
Within a couple of introductory pages, Trifogli majestically rendered an overgrown New York City skyline with an impossible tangle of trees, vines and seemingly limitless miles of verdant growth. It looked like a postcard from a dreamscape, an urban eco paradise of impossible promise, but there was something else lurking in there, something sinister…
Our heroes make their homes in Central Park, which is neatly switched from being the most nature-centric area of the city, to the most urban. This is what Hinterkind seems to be all about, taking your perceptions and twisting them into something unexpected…
Trifogli handles character interaction well and with a subtlety that promises to become a staple of the series as time goes by. The 21st century fable aspects come out in small, unobtrusive ways (such as the crumbled, headless ‘Alice in Wonderland’ statue surrounded by overgrowth -another cleverly altered ‘postcard’ image).
Trifogli adds to the magical feel of the story with artwork that smoothes almost all background details into simple, minimalist (yet still expertly crafted) line work. Its as if the background is vanishing from the horizon, forcing us to focus only on the here and the now. The end result is whimsical and picturesque, perfectly complimenting the feel of the book.
The first chapter is called ‘Once Upon A Time’ and it’s obvious that writer Ian Edgington is building something exquisite. Edgington creates a world of vivid possibilities and populates it with four central characters, all of which are compelling and interesting.
We’re soon introduced to Prosper and her friend Angus, and the pair’s back-and-forth banter feels as comfortable and well worn as any conversation between two long-time friends. The dialogue is natural, not overly revealing and yet it still finds room to sizzle with snappy one-liners and deft character construction.
All too often, first issues suffer from an abundance of exposition-heavy dialogue, as well as forced naming of characters, but Edgington neatly sidesteps both of these common teething problems (my best friend’s name is Alex, yet I rarely ever use his name, we simply start our conversations in the middle, the same way that Prosper and Angus do here).
In my opinion, the mystery that Edgington leaves in his narrative is nicely done. It makes the story feel unhurried and gives the characters (and their dialogue) ample room to breathe. This works especially well with Trifogli’s broad, panoramic panels, which, as often as not, feature small, stick-like figures dwarfed by the big wide world around them.
I don’t want to go down the ‘spoilers’ road with this, but suffice it to say that there’s one scene of a sexual nature that particularly stunned me (in a good way).
Embarrassingly often, comics’ approach to sexuality is juvenile at best (and utterly ham-fisted at worst). Every month, a seemingly endless parade of large-chested, long-legged sexpots are trotted out to (largely male) comic book readers, as we’re treated to the regular misadventures of stripper-superheroines with introductory pages that ‘introduce’ us to nothing more than a female protagonists…Um…assets. Misogyny in comics is a hot topic right now, but that doesn’t mean that sexuality in comics need be ignored.
OK, well, here comes a spoiler: Prosper walks in on Angus wanking to gay porn…Except that he also has a tail. Chew on that for a second and see what you make of it. A cunningly placed inset shows the porn literally obfuscated by the tail.
No further mention is made of the character’s sexual preference; in fact, the tail is all we really notice at first and it’s also the only thing that Prosper notices (or seemingly cares about).
It could also be said that I’ve just got a dirty mind; that he isn’t doing anything more incriminating than getting changed, or maybe getting out of the shower…
Well, OK. Where’s his towel? (That thing he’s covering his modesty with is a rag at best) and where’s his change of clothes? And, if he’s been friends with Prosper for so long, why has she never seen his ‘photo collection’ before? Whatever the case may be, the scene was drawn with subtlety, sensitivity and humour and Trifogli excellently handled the awkward, contorted posing of the embarrassed Angus.
…So yeah, he was wanking.
The tail works brilliantly as a euphemism for self-discovery, just like mutant powers do for growing up.
This is what I like about comics (no, not gay porn and/or masturbation. If I were coming out, I’d find a better way to do it than within a comics review, trust me). I’m talking about the juxtaposition of the mundane with the magical, the infusion of new meaning to everyday, commonplace objects and events, the addition of childlike wonder to a cloudy, rain-dappled Wednesday afternoon, it is an irresistible, heady concoction.
When Kyle Rayner, struggling artist-about-town headed into the alley behind a bar to take a piss and discovered a blue alien who gave him a power ring, he opened a door to a realm of impossibly rich fantasy. That scene thrilled me no end when I was a child. It was the lighting of a magical, dreamlike torch that fused reality with reality+.
Likewise, every time Peter Parker was late for a date with MJ, only to get attacked by The Green Goblin on his way to make it up to her, it was relatable because of the drama of the everyday, real-life event, but so addictively compelling because of the added flavour of a thrilling sky chase and the resulting dynamism of a four-colour fight scene
Edgington pulls a masterstroke (no pun intended) by taking a wholly relatable scene (being walked in on whilst engaged in a ‘menage et une’), with another relatable experience (who hasn’t had a friend come out as gay?) and then adding a thoroughly unexpected, fantastical element (the tail). I kept thinking about it over and over, was I more shocked by the wanking, the pictures, or the tail? I had to admit, it was the tail.
Offices, public spaces, even traffic jams are all brazenly re-appropriated by Edgington and Trifogli and fashioned into objects of impossible wonder, high adventure, or immediate danger. Everything is shined up, re-designed and given back to us as something new and dreamlike.
Turned upside-down and twisted inside out, the world of The Hinterkind is a great feat of literary magic.
Like the familiar image of New York City, but now with added rainforest, this book pretty much distilled what I like about comics down to a fine and very pleasing point. Put simply, it’s about imagination. This comic looked great, read (literally) like a dream and somehow felt fresh and familiar at the same time. It was, in short, a joy to read.
By the way – it also has ravenous lion-tiger hybrid things and flesh-eating mutants. Just in case none of that other stuff floats your boat.
And no, I still don’t know what a Hinterkind is (or what you’re supposed to do if one of them walks in on you when you’re having a ‘J. Arthur’), but as soon as I find out, I’ll let ya know…
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