Book Review: Graphic Novels

Candidly morbid is perhaps the best way to describe Leah Hayes' five fairy-tale-ish stories

Graphic Novels

Funeral of the Heart

by Leah Hayes
Fantagraphics, 120 pp., $14.95 (paper)

Candidly morbid is perhaps the best way to describe Leah Hayes' five fairy-tale-ish stories, hand-lettered in stark white against the black pages of her debut graphic novel, Funeral of the Heart. I say "ish" because Hayes' stories give little in the way of nicely wrapped-up morals, and even "The Hair," the only story that ends with what comes closest to resembling a happy ending, still induces a certain amount of shuddering. It's slightly ghoulish.

Funeral of the Heart is not a graphic novel in the traditional sense; it's not a comic book. Instead, eerie short stories are accompanied by equally eerie, albeit sparse, black-and-white illustrations produced using scratchboard.

In opener "The Bathroom," apologetic Mr. Paper lovingly gives apologetic Mrs. Paper a pool, which leads to a tragic drowning, an immaculate bathroom, and the literal consumption of the Papers' hearts. In "The Change," again love engenders tragedy, bridged by a grim sequence of brutally slaughtered ducks. "The Needle" is easily the creepiest in the bunch and thus one of the finest: Two daughters are brought together by the resurrection of their grandmother and a deep fear of a nurse whose trademark accessories are mint-green pants and a needle.

It's actually somewhat disappointing Hayes doesn't employ sequential art to tell her tales, because her characters invoke such bizarre imagery in their appearances and actions that bringing them to comic-book life would bring a tear to the eyes of Robert Crumb, not to mention a tug at his groin at the sight of Hayes' scratchings of voluptuous, grotesque characters.

Hayes, ever the multitalentress at only 26, will be at Austin Books & Comics (5002 N. Lamar) Saturday, March 15, 7pm, signing copies of her gloomy yet sentimental Funeral and performing with her Brooklyn-based band, Scary Mansion, who is also promoting its thunderstick-infused debut album, Every Joke Is Half the Truth.

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