Pentti and Deathgirl by Emma Rendel

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Pentti and Deathgirl by Emma Rendel

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Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: The ugliest kind of fun, in very adult picture book form. This will certainly not be to everyone's taste, but for those willing to brave the style, it offers some black comedy par excellence.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 128 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd
ISBN: 978-0224085069

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I don't think there will be a more divisive book on our Bookbag database for many a moon to come than this volume. The publishers have it that this is a strange and wonderful delight for every reader, and while that phrase starts with full honesty I have to say it becomes less truthful with every word.

The first story in this collection is brotherly love, Finnish style – and I use the word style most cringingly. There is a lovely black humour within the horror, but horrid might be many people's verdict. The styling is most alarming – not just the part-coloured drawings, but the faces of the characters, the way they hold their distorted bodies, with heads held so low to the ground it's a miracle they can see where they're walking. Not only that, there's the way the speech bubbles lollop to the floor of the images, or spurt alien-like in bulbous fashion from the speaker.

The graphic approach is perfectly in keeping with the literary content, but if graphic novels have ever been called an artform then this is the most brutal modern art.

If that's not enough, the second half of the volume is very different. But if people thought comics' previous most mordantly morbid pre-teen girl character, Lenore, looked naïve, this is not for them. One page of each spread is as if Deathgirl has borrowed her school writing book, complete with handwriting guide lines, to pencil down her dark thoughts, while the other is on the whole a full-page splash picture of the relevant details.

And for both stories there have been a lot of full-page spreads, and even when the snap of action hits us with several images scattered before us the book is so rapidly consumed. I think I was cover to cover in twenty minutes. There is a great story-telling sensibility to the pictures and words, as much as there are, and a lovely timing and pace to everything, but again the rapidity of the book will divide people.

So I find myself with the difficult task of working out a relevant mark for the book when it flashed by with a certain amount of insignificance. I don't want to disparage the artist – whose images often show a great amount of work, and I want to congratulate the publishers for producing such a brave volume. I know there will be people grateful for the chance to look at such an initially unattractive adults-only picture book, and for them this is ideal.

For me, I most certainly did appreciate the dark humour of both stories – the pay-off of the first, and the marriage of pictorial detail and sheer childish text of the second. I have to repeat this will split opinions as much as anything in the Tate Modern, or MOMA, and really should be perused before purchase. I enjoyed the experience as a novelty so much beyond anything I've ever read before, even from our small-but perfectly formed graphic novel list, but cannot say I will be going past the ugliness to find the appeal beneath again any time soon.

We would like to thank Jonathan Cape for our review copy.

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