Review: Fish, by Bianca Bagnarelli
Bianca Bagnarelli’s illustration work captured my attention earlier this year, so I was happy to hear that she was having a book published through Nobrow Press’ 17×23 line, a series of comics that features short stories by young talented cartoonists. The line has a sparseness to it, which requires a certain economy of the author.
The economy of Fish is both in a short 24 pages of story, but also the economy of telling one moment in time. The story features Milo, a 12 year old boy who is still reeling from the death of his parents in a car crash. When their bodies washed to shore, he wasn’t allowed to see them – but when a body washes up on the shore of their local beach, Milo thinks he can solve his inner turmoil.
Bagnarelli plays around with the theme of death throughout Fish. The eye of Milo is constantly dwelling on things that are dead and dying. He passes a decorative cow skull as he is walking to the bridge over the local river, he stares at a vase full of wilted and dying flowers, and he thinks about the frailty of life. He’s bitter and withdrawn. He can’t connect to his visiting family. His eye is drawn to towards the macabre, talking about organs and shrimp intestines.
The bombshell of the book is Milo encountering the corpse of the missing girl. Against the warnings of his cousins, he fights to see the remains, and then is overwhelmed. Before this encounter, death was an abstract. But now he sees how scary it is, sees how dirty it is. “We’re all just full of shit,” he muses. “Does it scare me?”
But Bagnarelli isn’t content to let Milo freefall, and in the last 5 panels, turns the narrative on its head. Offering Milo hope, and by proxy, the reader – we can live with our past provided we live in the present, it seems to say. The result is something more complex and nuanced, something confusing and yet surprisingly uplifting.
There’s an intensity of storytelling here amplified by beautiful illustration. Bagnarelli uses a sunset palette to mirror Milo’s depressed mood, and the result is a stunning mix of reds, pinks, purples, and yellows that give the story the feeling of imminent ending. But rather than an ending, Fish seems like a beginning. Sundrenched vistas and detailed foliage make reading Fish a joy for the eyes, and it is clear that Bagnarelli is an illustrator with an eye for detail and complexity. And in Fish, Bagnarelli’s complex and beautiful art are matched by a story of death, and more importantly, of life, that refuses to cater to the casual whim. Recommended.
Bianca Bagnarelli (tumblr: biancabagnarelli) is a illustrator and cartoonist whose work has been printed in the New York Times, kushkomikss, and in 2010, founded Delebile, an independent comics label that publishes short comic stories. Their newest anthology, Work, releases later this month.