HCZF MONTH! One of the most pleasurable things about being involved in the UK comics festival circuit is the opportunities it provides to meet new creators on a more one-to-one basis and chat about their work. I have been involved for several years now with ELCAF’s Springboard Meetings (essentially portfolio reviews) and they’ve introduced me to a number of artists who I have gone on to feature here at BF. This year’s meet-ups were, unsurprisingly, held online via Zoom but they were just as rewarding in a digital environment. Cécile Simonis was one of the comics creators I spoke to then and she’s also exhibiting at this year’s Hackney Comics + Zine Fair for those wanting to discover her work for themselves.
Simonis’ Undomesticated is one of the debut comics at HCZF. It’s a minicomic offering with a 15-page tale described as “a poetic and fun story of inner wilderness”. It’s one of those allegorical shorts that allows the reader to either see themselves in the inner dialogue of its pages or, at the very least, to see something familiar in its reflections that speak of recognisable truths about the human condition. It’s also a handsomely tactile publication – inner minicomic contained within a detachable outer cover that opens up into two concertina-style panorama images complementing the themes of the comic.
Whether you interpret Undomesticated to be a series of vignettes featuring the thoughts of different anthropomorphised characters or to be a monologue from one protagonist in a variety of animalistic forms, as I did, doesn’t really matter. What we are treated to here is an ode to our unseen selves; an examination of internal near feral urges representing a desire to be true to our innermost beings; and a visual essay on how sometimes we end up suppressing those impulses to conform to the world around us.
Simonis uses an angular, scratchy cartooning style to bring these thoughts to life with each page consisting of one panel symbolising the accompanying narration. The form of a humanoid bird hiding itself in the nooks of a busy underpass denote barely concealed agitation, while an attempt not to be conspicuous is depicted as a lizard-like ability to be lost in the shadows. But there’s also a feeling of joyous abandon when finally able to throw off the shackles of conformity with a reminder that “When no one is watching I’m not weird, I’m just wild.”
Work like Undomesticated is so intriguing because it’s so bound in the near paradoxical – feeling intensely personal and specific and yet somehow also embodying universal truths and experiences that we can all recognise. I will no doubt be returning to the work of Cecile Simonis in the near future but in the meantime you can find her in the online Hall Three at HCZF.
Cécile Simonis (W/A) • Self-published, £16.00
Review by Andy Oliver