Thursday, 10 March 2016

Folly: The Consequences of Indiscretion by Hans Rickheit Review

Folly is a collection of short strips by obscurantist cartoonist (obscurartist?) Hans Rickheit. What is obscurantism? It’s an art style that is deliberately vague in its meaning – and, boy, does that nail Rickheit’s work! 

Get ready for strips featuring a teddy bear-headed man in a trench-coat sticking two cats together head-first before pushing a plank of wood through his face. Watch as organ-like things in jars are fondled by animal-headed humanoids with gross skin diseases leading to tentacular mutations. How about chest cavities that have cabinet doors that swing open to reveal vinyl records embedded in someone’s guts or a muscles-exposed marble-headed chap with mechanical lobster claws operating on someone? When are you gonna do something original, Rickheit, you hack! 

As inscrutable as Rickheit’s comics are, he does possess a strong understanding of the language of comics. These are readable stories that flow nicely and have a good pacing to them – just because they’re filled with bizarre imagery and unfathomable meaning doesn’t make them messy or hard to read (unless you can’t stomach very explicit body horror). And they're really skilfully drawn too with very detailed, precise rendering. That said, the confusing nature of the comics does create a barrier that keeps the reader from engaging too closely with them. You’re always very aware that you’re reading an abstract comic rather than experiencing the story itself.

I was generally bemused but curious throughout Folly - whatever’s happening on the page is never boring - though only a couple of stories really stood out for me. In one, a bird-masked “superhero” walks across a wire to pee on a crowd of people; in another, Hail Jeffrey, a demented baby-like ruler torments his entourage before machine-gunning his adoring public! They’re so over-the-top ridiculous, funny and memorable. 

There are also a number of Cochlea & Eustachia strips from across the years, showing the evolution of these strange characters who eventually got their own book. They’re scantily-clad twins wearing domino masks that, having read their adventures in Folly, now puts me in mind of cartoonish crooks; these houses they keep appearing in – are they breaking into them? But, like all of Rickheit’s characters, everything about them remains an unsolvable mystery. 

Though I have no single clue what the hell is going on in Hans Rickheit’s stories, I’m glad comics like this exist if only to showcase the range and possibilities of the medium, though I do find them perplexingly compelling. These are images and stories ripped straight from Rickheit’s imagination and as such are utterly unique – you’ll never read a comic like this anywhere else, for better or worse.

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