SAFARI FESTIVAL FORTNIGHT!
Blurring the lines between catalyst and non sequitur, Laura Ķeniņš’ Alien Beings is the latest short-form offering from Latvian micropublisher kuš!’s line of mini kuš! comics. Its premise is a simple one – a family of four’s lives change forever after they encounter lights of an apparently extraterrestrial origin on a night-time drive home – but all is not as it necessarily seems in this poignant coming-of-age drama.
From the opening scene with two parents lovingly singing away to the strains of Foreigner, Ķeniņš establishes a close-knit family unit apparently somehow inexplicably tainted by that otherworldly roadside incident. Thereafter the daughter (and the book’s narrator) notices her parents’ relationship taking a belligerent turn as it slowly begins to disintegrate before her eyes.
In the following months, as her mother and father move further apart and divorce appears a probability, she becomes more withdrawn from her previous childhood pursuits and a growing obsession with science fiction and alien investigations emerges. But as life moves on questions arise about our childhood perceptions of the world around us and how we interpret and make sense of it…
Ķeniņš’ visual style and approach to lettering has a deliberate yet faux naivety to it that adds to that child’s eye perspective of events. That’s perhaps never bettered than in those opening pages where the cramped, claustrophobic conditions of being trapped in a car with one’s parents are perfectly captured from a child’s backseat viewpoint. But throughout Alien Beings she continues to evoke a sense of helplessness as her young protagonist realises her impotence at the prospect of an imminent family break-up. This is particularly well realised in the frequent depiction of her mother with either her back to the reader or framed in the backgrounds of panels – unintentionally aloof and removed from the immediacy of her surroundings.
Parallels between the breakdown of her parents’ marriage and the alien abductions she becomes fascinated with are eventually put into a sharper and more pragmatic focus. Alien Beings uses a possible uncanny occurrence as a trigger for its subsequent events but it’s one that is, at best, superficial in influence as we begin to question any causal connection between the two and realise that, instead, this is a layered and thoughtful comic about the logic of kids, their attempts to draw meaning from reality, and how we frame memory to suit the narratives of our choosing.
kuš! will be exhibiting at Safari Festival on August 27th.
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