Review: Weeping Flower Grows in Darkness by Kris
I was delighted by Kris Mukai’s The Extremely Small Witch
Bibi, Who Lives in Mrs. Sen’s Garden (my review of which you can find
here), and I’ve been sitting on a copy of Mukai’s latest work, Weeping
Flower, Grows in Darkness (Weeping Flower hereon in) for a while
now. Weeping Flower is a 25 page purple, red, and green
risograph-printed comic that Mukai self-published in April 2015. Mukai has,
between the two works, grown as a writer; Bibi, while cozy and playful,
does not have the intensity of purpose that Weeping Flower displays.
Weeping Flower follows Eleanor and
Micky, two neighborhood friends who play in the woods around their homes. The
adventures the two have together are pretty simple, exploring abandoned
campfires and creekbeds. The idyllic exploration initially masks what is a very
tense comic (we later we find out that Eleanor and Micky’s older brothers,
Jeremy and Lawson, are missing). Eleanor and Micky find some completely white flowers
under Micky’s family deck, and this strange discovery leads Eleanor down a
proverbial rabbit hole.
The comic is something of a period piece, although the
period isn’t a far and distant memory – the two youngsters spend time chatting
on AOL Instant Messenger, which among other small references place the comic
somewhere in the late 90s-early 00s. I thought this was an interesting choice,
potentially referencing Mukai’s own childhood memories.
That Jeremy and Lawson are missing has a big impact on the
overall mood of the story. Eleanor’s overactive imagination strongly reflects
an anxiety that is the result of conflict that exists just out of sight. Not
knowing where her brother and Lawson are, Eleanor fills in the gaps of her
knowledge of the older boys’ disappearance with her own story.The result fills
the book up with skin-crawling imagery. That Eleanor’s worries manifest
themselves in such a visual way is a testament to Mukai’s illustrative and
storytelling chops; seen and felt, not said, this dysphoria becomes more
effective with each pass.
There’s a specific scene I think is worth explicitly mentioning for its
spectacular pacing; Eleanor, after a night of horror and anxiety, tells Micky
her theory that explains both the white flowers and Jeremy and Lawson’s
disappearance. The scene lasts over four pages, and Micky ends up refuting
Eleanor’s proposed explanation for Jeremy and Lawson’s disappearance. But Mukai
lingers, and gives readers a chance to see a relationship change
in that moment. The background conflict Mukai continues to reference throughout
Weeping Flower has fundamentally changed the relationship that Eleanor
and Micky have, partially because of Eleanor’s anxiety, and partially because
of the secrecy of whatever is going on with the older siblings.
Despite the change in overall tone from previous work, the
energy of Mukai’s previous cartooning is still here, and breaks out in the best
moments. Eleanor falling in the woods, moaning, “I think I broke my butt.” felt
childlike and funny and real. But the strength of the malaise of Weeping
Flower proves to be its defining aspect, and the part of the comic that
lingers well after reading. Recommended.