Amanda Vähämäki’s The Bun Field begins with a three-page sequence of a little girl dreaming in bed, and suddenly starting awake. From there, she wanders out of her bed and into the kitchen, where she finds two other children—a little girl with crutches, and a little boy cracking nuts with little faces—and a guest, a giant, deformed, bald and corpulent humanoid creature.
By the time a little bear growls “MGHRNMRGHH” into the intercom system, and the girl goes down to get in the bear’s car, it’s quite clear that the dream hasn’t quite ended, or that our protagonist has woken up into another one. Or at least she’s woken up into a story being told like a dream.
This is the debut graphic novel—or novella, really—by young Finnish talent Vähämäki, translated and republished for English audiences by Drawn and Quarterly. Already she shows enormous talent and even more enormous potential. Dreams are a notoriously dicey source of inspiration, and stories that operate on dream logic can come off as pretentious and off-putting, but Vähämäki certainly makes such a story seem effortless to tell.
Certainly the events, the plot of The Bun Field are dream-like. From the car ride with the bear, who can talk in the car, the girl goes to a bar, loses a tooth, has the tooth replaced with a dog’s tooth, talks with a cat, is asked to plow a field full of living buns even though she has no idea how to drive a tractor, and is delivered a message by a baby on a tricycle.
It’s not what transpires in dreams that necessarily gives them their dream-like qualities, however, but the way we process them, and the way they make us feel. And The Bun Field behaves just so. There’s a sense of portentousness about everything, a vague feeling of threat and danger behind the mundane and extraordinary events, although sometimes the situations are actually very funny (the entire bear scene cracked me up). Likewise, the point of view switches several time, and narrative even abandons the little girl to follow another character near the climax.
Vähämäki’s art furthers the feeling of a sketchy, ever-changing world. Each page is divided into a six-panel grid, the borders of the panels hand drawn without the use of straight edge. The artwork is all expertly rendered—the “camera” moves throughout the scenes as if in the hands of an expert cinematographer—but the art work is purposefully, pridefully unfinished looking. Not only are unnecessary lines and smudges left in, but throughout you can see where Vähämäki began drawing an image somewhere, erased it, and started over, the abandoned image still visible behind the one she followed through on.
Here, for example, note the erased images of the old woman hovering around her in the first and fourth panel, or the aura of erased cats surrounding the finished cat in the third panel:
The Bun Field is a good night’s worth of vivid dreaming, compressed and captured on paper, and setting it down is not unlike waking up. After I read it, I felt refreshed and excited, but also a little sad and nostalgic about what I had just stopped experiencing.
To read a six-page, PDF preview of The Bun Field, click here.