The winner of the 2017 ELCAF x WeTransfer award, Akvile Magicdust’s Tropical Wildchilds debuted as a showcase publication at last year’s East London Comics and Arts Festival and follows the adventures of the “odd trio” of characters from her Lucy the Confused Girl strips (reviewed here at Broken Frontier and also available online on The Nib here). Ostentatiously bizarre on a surface level, Magicdust’s incisive strips have far more to say about the pressures and realities of modern living than may be immediately obvious on a first reading.
In this collection the threesome of friends (Lucy herself, Tiger and Alien) are separated as two parallel narratives complement and tangentially intersect before their eventual convergence. Alien has retreated to his remote planet Kepler 187f where his solitary lifestyle is supplemented by a reliance on the online world to escape a consuming loneliness. Back on Earth, Lucy and Tiger have taken a trip to the Amazon rainforest where they befriend the locals, embrace an alternative way of living and come face to face with some of the stranger inhabitants of this region…
Once again, thinly veiled social commentary is at the heart of Magicdust’s quirky storylines and casually understated wit. Alien’s lack of self-awareness as he ironically searches for companionship from strangers on the internet – first from an almost vicarious use of social media and then more directly – speaks knowingly of our misplaced obsessions with looking for the personal in the impersonal online. It’s a reminder of how that intrinsic detachment becomes self-fulfilling on multiple layers; our own social media over-reliance writ large in fantasy exaggeration. Meanwhile, in the Amazon, Lucy and Tiger slowly abandon the trappings of their everyday lives, finding a comparable symbolism in the rituals of their temporary home and encountering a new feminist ethos.
Magicdust’s deliberately naive cartooning style gives an endearing innocence to characters who are anything but, emphasising their own often gauche interactions with the worlds around them. Colour is a vitally important storytelling tool here with the magic of the rainforest emphasised in vibrant, verdant hues and Alien’s sad existence on his isolated planet having a befittingly mundane and subdued colouring. Shard-like panels and unconventional, irregular and unpredictable page layouts give alternate takes on the passing of time and the intruding presence of social media.
Tropical Wildchilds is, of course, eccentric and sometimes indulgently strange (in a rather delicious way) but it’s also a clever parable about communication, the normalisation of disconnected relationships, self-reflection and the appreciation of true friends. Magicdust’s storytelling proves once again to have a vital relevance sitting within its charmingly idiosyncratic veneer.
Review by Andy Oliver