Karmen should not be a comic book. It just shouldn’t. It should be an art installation, on the wall in the MoMA or the Pompidou or the Phillips Collection or something along those lines. Because that’s the fundamental tension in this story — the art is fantastic. Guillem March is a master of his craft, and the pages – both the abstract expressionist pages that have the narration overlayed, and the actual comic pages themselves, especially the ones near the end of the book – look just beautiful.
If there is anyone that Karmen brings to mind, it’s Will Eisner. Part of why Eisner was so good at making comics was his composition – Eisner made buildings and populated them with characters, which lent a sense of solidity and place to a scene. March does the same. There’s this just great page about two thirds of the way in, where our protagonist and the abstract concept of death walk down the stairs of her apartment. But rather than just showing the stairs, March zooms out a bit, showing the structure of the building itself, the neighboring apartments and what is inside them, and then puts a bit of an angle on the page, to emphasize the disorientation that our protagonist is suffering.
And, similarly, March has a great sense of character. I find March’s Death to be really fascinating, as it’s this great overlap of two styles, mixed together. It’s a fully three-dimensional head, with shadow and light and color, on a totally flat, two-dimensional skeleton with a black outline. Which is inexplicably wearing high heels, on a skeleton. I’m not sure that it is good, strictly, but it’s unquestionably artistically impressive. There is a difference between beautiful and good, and I think that March is pretty much defining that line.
This is a deeply sexualized comic. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself — this isn’t a cape book for kids, and March is fine with aiming for a mature audience. But it’s more worrying when March’s sexualization mostly features on the corpse of a woman who slit her own wrists, and then her ghost wears the bandages for the rest of the issue. I am not the expert here, and I don’t pretend to be an authority. But it feels exploitative.
And, really, I see the behind-the-scenes material at the end, and I remain so impressed by Guillem March’s artistic skills. He is very, very good at this. So why is he marrying that artistic mastery to a story that is boring, trite, and quite possibly sexist?
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