Thursday, December 21, 2006

Review: A.L.I.E.E.E.N.

by Lewis Trondheim
First Second, $12.95

The conceit of Trondheim's A.L.I.E.E.E.N. is that the book isn't of his own devising, but rather an artifact from an alien culture that he found left behind from presumably a UFO landing. This conceit is carried forward in the high class packaging that we've come to expect from First Second, with the cover and interior pages having faux wear and singeing. The dialog is written in an alien language, making this effectively a silent comic, the type that Trondheim excels at.

There are several short stories, each of which features cute little alien creatures doing rather disturbing things to themselves and each other. Eyes get poked out, body parts get swallowed, and in one case momentous defecation commences. The separate stories turn out to be interlocked, so seemingly random events in one story turn out to have relevance in another. Trondheim is definitely channeling Jim Woodring here, and with good results; fans of Frank will find a good deal to enjoy here.

The conceit of this being an alien comic adds another level to the proceedings. We don't know what the intended audience for this book is in its native culture. Is this typical children's humor for little aliens? Or is this a subversive comic akin to the underground comix of our own culture? Is this what the aliens look like, or is this their version of funny animals? Would this book be banned or embraced? Is this high art or low? Reading through this comic with different sets of assumptions can radically change how we react to the material, and brings in question how we react to all those other comics where we know--or think we know--the context in which it should be read.

Rating: 4 (of 5).

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