Review: Fertility by Gosia Herba and Mikołaj Pasiński

The Polish publishing house Centrala recently set up a wing of their publishing operation in London and has already put together a small slate of English-language books, including Fertility, a dark and evocative fairy tale about the nature of societal expectations and their consequences.

Secret medicine, potions, panaceas, and magic have always been a large part of the folklore and fairy tale culture, and in Fertility, four young women on the verge of being married seek to trap a hare in order to harvest its rennet. In a chilling image, the different parts of a dissected hare are displayed and their uses are explained – the rennet, when consumed, will ensure the birth of a male child upon conception. The women trap a hare and collect their prize, preparing for their wedding days, but are unaware of the chain of events that their actions will cause.

Fertility is a 36 page full color wordless comic, lovingly produced in hard cover. The production values on this and other Centrala books are top of the line, similar to NBM or SelfMade Hero’s hardcopy stock. It’s clear that someone has put a lot of energy into making this book look good. The comic uses dark blues and blacks to set a tone that mirrors the action in the book.

One clear feature throughout this comic is its criticism of a male-dominated, male as superior culture. The reason the women commit the heinous acts they commit is because they are integrated into a society that values male children over female children. In a world where One Child policies and other population controls are still in effect, drawing a real-life corollary isn’t that difficult.

The anthropomorphized hare is a key component to this comic, but what the community of hares represents in terms of the broader structure of the narrative has me a bit mystified. This community seems to be a mirror of the human community that the women are stolen away from; it’s unclear that hares are any better or worse than their human counterparts. Perhaps Herba and Pasiński are masking the male as destructive force through the abstraction of anthropomorphy.

I think it’s very interesting that in Fertility, the desired effect and cause of offending action, a special type of fertility, becomes the punishment as well.  I think this speaks to the previous theme – that even now women are judged by their ability to bear and deliver male children. In Fertility, Herba and Pasiński are quick to show that this societal convention has negative effects for all the parties engaged. For the women involved, Herba and Pasiński seem to lay out four possible endings for the women in a society like this – the woman acquiesces, the woman goes mad, the woman attacks the patriarch, or the woman flees. How these endings fit into the story at large is up for discussion.

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Gosia Herba is an illustrator and art historian. Mikołaj Pasiński works as a graphic designer. Both are based in Wrocław. Together they create children’s books and comics. Herba’s tumblr is gosiaherba.

Centrala is a small press from Poland that has been publishing comics since 2007. You can find information on their publishing slate at their website.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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