Brecht Evens’ late 2010 graphic novel The Wrong Place was a great one, but it was also a revelatory one. Evens used words and pictures to tell the story, but he also used color, page space and implied, invisible panels co-created by the reader’s act of reading to tell that story in a unusual, perhaps even unique way.
I haven’t read all the comics yet (although I’m working on it!), but I’ve read a lot of them, and I can honestly say I’ve never read anything quite like The Wrong Place.
This week Top Shelf released Evens’ Night Animals, and while it’s rather different than The Wrong Place, it is a new Evens comic and thus the most like Wrong Place of anything I’ve seen so far.
The title page of the slim, 48-page volume bears the sub-title, “A Diptych about What Rushes through the Bushes,” and the contents that follow are two short, wordless stories that indeed share a nighttime setting and a massive menagerie of beautifully, bizarre creature.
In each, a protagonist takes a strange, scary, sex-fueled journey, although the tone and results of each are quite different.
The first is entitled “Blind Date,” and finds a middle-aged man parking his car, withdrawing a bunny suit from the trunk, putting it on, and then sitting on a park bench wearing it and holding a bouquet of flowers.
When darkness falls, a glowing, painted arrow appears on the ground in front of him, and we follow him as he follows the arrows, down a sort of rabbit hole, and through thirteen pages of increasingly perilous landscapes and settings filled to overflowing with strange and scary creatures.
Its fun, a little funny and awfully sweet, but mostly a showcase for Evens’ incredible skills as a designer and artist. As in Wrong Place, he uses color to convey mood and the passage of time—once night falls, each setting takes on its own, dominating color theme—and implies more panels than he seems to actually draw (particularly during a few sequences which look like splashes, with multiple images of the protagonist in various stages of moving across them).
The other half of the “diptych” is entitled “Bad Friends,” and features a young girl hitting puberty all at once, in exaggerated, visual metaphor. She rushes home to bed, and, that night, is awoken by a dark, hairy, devil-like figure, wearing striped stockings and red ladies high heel shoes, who takes her to a strange world of strange, randy animals having a strange bacchanal that seems one-part orgy, one-part party and one-part pagan ritual. (How strange are these animals? There’s a bipedal ant-eater wearing a sombrero and pants licking the many legs of an octopus that is wearing a fishnet thigh highs and high-heels on each tentacle, done up with a tiara and mascara; there’s a tiny dog humping a big dog humping a huge lizard humping a dog humping another dog humping another tiny dog).
It’s a sort of Where The Wild Things Are adventure about puberty, which is either a literal horror story or a striking metaphor for the death of the child and the birth of the adult, in style that suggests The Garden of Earthly Delights in Rocky Horror Picture Show accessories as much as Maurice Sendak.
Here Evens starts in black and white, with drops of red blood signaling the onset of puberty, and then the girls whole, feverish world becomes red. Indistinct, ink-less red water-colored figures further suggest the division between too worlds in the pretty amazing ending.
The Top Shelf version is a republication of the 2007-published, Belgian version of the work, Nachtdieren. That makes this a couple years old, so as amazing as it is, it’s not what Evens is up to right now, or what direction he’s necessarily headed in.
I look forward to seeing what Evens does next, and once you see his work, I’m sure you will too.