After reading Grenuord #1, the first comic in a series of six by Italian comic book goddess Francesca Ghermandi, I felt like I needed to tilt my head all the way over to one side and vigorously shake all the pent-up surrealism out, like a swimmer does who's trapped water in her ear. Film clips from Brazil, where Robert DeNiro shows up as a bizarrely menacing repairman, and The Wall where Pink cringes irritatingly around for an hour and a half, whining that all the women in his life are out to get him, a droopy black and white pencil illustrated leading man that looks like Munsch's The Scream, and the old standby of the futuristic world mired in fascism-lite and fealty to the Corporate Overlords - it was all there. The only thing missing were melting clocks, but again, this was only the first issue. We don't want to use it all up at once.
Francesca Ghermandi is quite the hot ticket in her native Italy. She made her debut in 1985, writing comic strips for The Reporter, and became known in the U.S. through her works published in American anthologies such as Zero Zero, one of the top comic book anthologies published in the late 90's. Known for her surreal city landscapes, Ghermandi went on to be published in newspapers across Europe, and published several serial books; Pop 666, Helter Skelter, Indiana Joe, and her most acclaimed comic, Pastil, the silent Alice-in-Wonderlandish girl with an aspirin for a head.
With Grenuord #1, Ghermandi has added a sort of hard-boiled layer over the top of the surrealism, spinning out the story of George Henderson, a down-on-his-luck factory worker/kept man who flees an abusive relationship and runs to Grenuord, a country who, due to terrorist attacks, has turned into a police state. Like institutionalized paranoiacs who don't fare well living in a place where they really are being monitored all the time, Henderson's own growing paranoia only deepens in a country where everyone seems to have a slightly menacing, unstated agenda. His downstairs neighbor, (from the illustrations, I can only conclude the part of the neighbor is being played by the Michelin Man - so nice to see him doing other work!) plucks, and makes off with, a toxic crumb from Henderson's basement, and a mysterious, hallucinatory young hitchhiker demands to be dropped off by the side of the road so she can float away into a cemetery.
If you are a surrealism superfan, you'll adore Grenuord #1. If you've never had much exposure to it, you might find there's a lot here to discover. If you're somewhere in between points A and B, you may find few surprises here.
Cross-posted at the Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society.
by Francesca Ghermandi
published by Fantagraphics Books
Wednesday, March 15, 2006