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Home > Bart Beaty's Conversational Euro-Comics

Bart Beaty Reviews Two By Mika Lietzen
posted November 13, 2008
 

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By Bart Beaty

When I was reading Mika Lietzen's new comic, Elegia, my wife asked me what it was about. I told her: It's a comics adaptation of a starkly minimalist one act play about an elderly couple, in Finnish. "Oh," she said. Then she went back to eating her dinner in silence.

Mika Lietzen does the kind of comics that not a lot of Americans seem to do, and that not a lot seem to have an interest in. That's too bad, because he does them really, really well.

Elegia is exactly as I described it. All of the action, with one notable exception, unfolds in a rigid six-panel grid. The characters are set in a blackish void, a grey wash that perfectly highlights their liminal status. Lietzen draws mostly in mid-figure, with occasional close-ups for emphasis, but, generally, there is a flatness here that nicely highlights the somber tone of the dueling monologues. What's more, Lietzen draws very beautifully, but has so stripped down his style that his skills might not be immediately apparent. Details are washed out, and the whole story unfolds as if in a fog. Indeed, if I were watching a staged production of this work, I would anticipate just such an effect.

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Elegia tells the story of two people at the end of their road. Through a series of flashbacks, presented almost exclusively by way of dialogue rather than in images, a marriage is recounted. Or, rather, several marriages, as it is never entirely clear where memory, fantasy and reality intercept. Did the husband cheat on his wife? Should he have? Did he leave her? Was he killed? Did he resurface in Helsinki? Did she remarry? Take her own life? The questions build relentlessly throughout, and the dissolution of the self here happens so fast as to be almost imperceptible. This is a very well written piece of work.

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Tarinoita Lännestä, Lietzen's prior book, laid the foundation for this story, and, in some ways, is an even better book. The title means "Stories from the West," and the book features four short stories of emotional distance and interpersonal disconnects: a woman confronts another woman who is stalking her husband, and the two share hot chocolate while trying to assess the damage of their lives; an unemployed immigrant father discusses peacocks with his son; a young woman waits at the side of a road for an ambulance to come for a passed out stranger; vacationing Canadians are consumed by jealousy. These are slight stories, but they are also sharply affecting. The cumulative total is quite powerful, and when the book ends on an ever-so-slight moment of triumph, the victory seems well earned.

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Lietzen has a keen ear for dialogue, and a real knack for visual characterization. His clean, spare visual style is refreshingly unusual, although I fear some would uncharitably deem it "bland." Nothing could be further from the truth.

I don't know much at all about Mika Lietzen. His books are published by Asema in Finland. Elegia contains an English translation in the back, while I was provided a translation of Tarinoita Lännestä. Neither of these books are masterpieces, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that he has one in him.

*****

* Elegia, Mika Lietzen, Asema, 22.5 Euros, 2008.
* Tarinoita Lännestä, Mika Lietzen, Asema, 12 Euros.

*****

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