Death Of The Artist
Karrie Fransman‘s second graphic novel Death Of The Artist asks whether youthful dreams are inevitably snuffed out by adulthood’s encroaching responsibilities. Assorted deaths big and small, symbolic and real, menace throughout her inventive, insidious psychodrama, whether in the opening photo of the protagonists playing dead on the grass, or that ‘little death’ of an orgasm, or a tragedy which gives the whole project purpose and poignancy.
Fransman is one of a gang of five former university mates who have become thirty-somethings - as one recalls, “30 seemed so old back then”. They reunite for a hedonistic retreat in a country cottage, where they reflect on whether they have lived up to their artistic goals. In response, each composes a comic on the titular theme for this very anthology. As one of the quintet, Fransman portrays herself and orchestrates the other four characters, seamlessly shifting between perspectives. To each she assigns a different medium and voice. The bearded ladies’ man Manuel, now a reluctant father-to-be, revels in the gang’s first meeting and his fling with Karrie; for this, Manuel daubs spreads with bright watercolours reminiscent of the Flemish cartoonist Brecht Evens.
In contrast, gay perfectionist Jackson records with controlled photo-referenced tightness and a limited palette à la Daniel Clowes their reunion and their meeting with young art-school hopeful Tracy in a pub.
Sassy Helena opts for photographs overlaid with a twisted re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood about five ageing ‘hags’ who kidnap Tracy for the secret to her eternal youth and transform her into a work of art.
Life-of-the-party dope-supplier Vincent caricatures himself in a Robert Crumb style as a free-living, cat in a top hat, his pages torn out of a sketchbook and stained with coffee spills and cigarette burns.
It’s left to Karrie in the final chapter to pull the pieces together into the book we are holding and to make us ponder, with friends like these, who needs more artists?
Like the oddball tenants in The House That Groaned, her 2012 debut, Death Of The Artist sparks as a compelling ensemble piece, but it goes further as a feat of daring with Fransman branching out into painting and other media, working with actors and directing her first shoot, taking 3,000 photos. It also playfully demonstrates the metatextual layering possible in comics. And it is proof that Fransman has not killed her artist, but in her cast has birthed five more, if we count the portraits which student Tracy draws onto napkins.
Posted: June 21, 2015
An edited version of this review originally appeared in The Times Literary Supplement, June 12th 2015.