One of a vast number of creators I have covered in ‘Small Pressganged’ to have studied at the University of the Arts London, Swedish artist Fredrik Andersson is currently a final year student at Camberwell College of Arts. Mistreated is the first issue of a projected 8-part autobiographical offering that he describes with the tagline “This is a story about finding the courage to stand up for yourself!”.
Andersson promises that the series will deal with his experiences of growing up gay in the north of Sweden, coming out, and coping with societal pressures. This first 34-page instalment, however, acts more as scene-setting prologue, beginning with the creator depicting in minute detail the trepidation of awaiting the results of an HIV test after a former partner has been diagnosed as positive. It’s an uncompromising account of the judgemental attitudes of those around him at the time that encompasses both family relationships and those of a professional nature.
What immediately strikes the reader about Mistreated is Andersson’s narrative command of time to build up a sense of tension and empathy between audience and artist. Those initial scenes as he waits to be seen by medical staff are paced with a dramatic precision that pulls the reader inexorably into events. The clock on the clinic wall becomes a potential harbinger of doom as the seconds gradually count down, and the awkward sideways glances of those in the waiting room underline the palpable anxiety that permeates the atmosphere.
It’s a powerfully personal piece of writing as Andersson’s candid account of the experience of being tested deals not just with the disapproving behaviour of officialdom but also the strain it places on his relationship with his mother. This sense of intensity is augmented by the artist’s constant use of extreme close-ups or zoomed-out perspective to underline his on-panel persona’s reactions to events. It underlines the emotional gauntlet he runs within these pages – which includes exasperation, fear, distress and anger – and further forges the book’s empathic connection between reader and narrator.
Mistreated is a very measured piece of storytelling; decompressed but substantial, with a pensive tempo that is nevertheless compelling and passionate in delivery. The nature of serial comics means that to a degree this first issue feels like prelude but as a taster for a larger work Andersson’s use of the form is confident enough in poise here to indicate that this is a project to keep a watchful eye on.
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