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I Am Not These Feet, Your Name is Krishangi and Two Stories, Kaisa Leka
posted July 11, 2006


True story from Angouleme: I was browsing in the fanzine area with my friend Alfred, and we stopped at the Finnish booth. We were chatting with Kaisa Leka about her mini-comics and asking what they were about and so on.

"This graphic novel, I Am Not These Feet, that's a weird title. What's that about?"

"It's about my decision to have my feet amputated", she told us.

"You don't have feet?" we asked, like slack-jawed yokels.


"Oh man, I guess I better buy that one then"


Many autobiographical cartoonists have interesting hooks that lead a reader into their world. Some travel to Bosnia, others are porn addicts. Some are born in Iran; others have epileptic brothers. Such a hook is not a prerequisite for interesting autobiographical comics, but they don't hurt either. An unusual subject may give the cartoonist an initial shot of interest, but ultimately the question will be whether or not the work is compelling beyond the initial curiosity.

Kaisa Leka certainly has curiosity working for her. To the best of my knowledge, she is the only Finnish Hare Krishna double-amputee currently making mini-comics. So she's a unique figure, and, appropriately, she has a unique voice.

I recently sat down and read the three comics that I picked up from her in January, which are her newest works (she also has some earlier minis that I've not read).

The big one is I Am Not These Feet, a 60-page professionally printed graphic novel about her decision to have both of her feet amputated in 2002. Kaisa had previously lived in chronic pain because of severe arthritis in her feet, which was caused by a birth defect. Reasoning that eliminating that pain would improve her life, she opted for surgery to remove her feet, and the graphic novel tells of her process of recovery.

This is an unexpectedly blunt comic on a subject that could be self-pitying and maudlin, or self-congratulatory and boastful. She takes neither approach. Her very spare illustration style -- she draws herself as a sort of minimalist Mickey Mouse-esque figure -- suits an approach that is primarily diaristic. The tone of the book is a simple retelling of the facts, largely stripped of emotional baggage. The fact that it is almost completely the opposite of what one would expect given the subject makes it a fascinating read. The matter-of-fact acceptance of her changed circumstances is heartening, though she resists the temptation of trying to make the story uplifting.

Your Name is Krishangi takes a similar approach, but strikes a slightly stronger emotional chord. This is a travel comic about the artist's honeymoon in California in 2003, where they attended the Ratha Yatra festivals and were initiated by B. V. Tripurari Swami. Again, Kaisa, now known as Krishangi Dasi, uses a very spare style -- generally one panel per page, occasionally two. The minimalist figures (her husband sort of looks like Donald Duck) and the sometimes expansive text will remind readers of artists like Maaike Hartjes, while the general sensation of awe, wonder, dry wit, and humility is akin to the work of James Kochalka.


Despite these minimalist tendencies, she spares no effort on production design. Your Name is Krishangi is available in two versions, each with a different secondary color (blue or pink), and her most recent work, Two Stories, are a pair of two-color minis joined in an envelope with real stamps from the Ukraine. One of the attractions at the Festival in Angouleme was comparing the stamps to decide which copy of the book to buy. Two Stories are a pair of letters, reproduced as comics, from Kaisa to her husband and vice versa, written while he was on a trip to the Ukraine. Again, the stories are stripped down, but full of warmth and charm, plus they have the occasional insight about life in the Ukraine. What more could you want?

All of Kaisa Leka's comics are available from Absolute Truth Press, and all are in English (bless the Finns for their ability to write well in a second language, otherwise we'd never have any clue what they're talking about).


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