The Eternal Abjectness Of Life : Bhanu Pratap’s “Dear Mother & Other Stories”


“As only the unreal is not ignoble and empty,” wrote J-K. Huysmans, “existence must be admitted to be abominable.” And while most of us enjoy the pleasures of the flesh to one degree or another, every once in awhile something comes along that makes you think Huysmans was probably on to something with that thought. So let’s talk Bhanu Pratap’s full-length debut (as far as I’m aware, at any rate) Dear Mother & Other Stories (Strangers Fanzine, 2021), shall we?

There’s a fair amount of “buzz” circulating about this comic in the corners of the internet I’m assuming most readers here pay attention to, and it’s not hard to see why : Pratap fucks with so many conventions and formalities those of us who rightly or wrongly consider ourselves to be possessed of a certain degree of “comics erudition,” if you will, like to see fucked with, from chronology to physicality to perspective to proportion, that it’s almost like an aesthete’s wish list on paper — but (and you saw this coming), I think much of the discussion misses something vital. This is no collection of “body horror” stories — it’s a collection of psychosexual horror stories that have bodily consequences.

First order of business with this comic, though, is getting one’s bearings within it, and sometimes that’s no easy task, both in terms of deciphering what Pratap is showing us, and when what we’re seeing takes places in relation to other events. More or less all of the more interpretive imagery is overtly sexual in nature, but hell — the same is true of the shit that’s easy to figure out. There’s sublimation galore to be found in these strips, but nothing particularly subliminal about its portrayal. And while the transformations and transmutations and transfigurations of bodies (or, sometimes, what used to be bodies) that Pratap delineates with such a Garo-informed eye toward the disturbingly lyrical are certain to grab your attention, by my reading almost all of them come about as a result of unmitigated (if not always unrequited) need. Indeed, to the extent we can be said to get to know the characters in these stories at all, we get to know them though the sheer force of their desperation — as well as the equally-desperate lengths to which they’ll go in order to try to sate it.

The “title track” story is the most obvious example of this, as a sex worker is literally sucked dry (though not of blood) by one of her customers who may or may not be an older iteration of the son who she’s breast feeding well past any sort of socially acceptable “cut-off point” in the first place, but if there’s one thing that’s perfectly clear throughout it’s that whatever she provides is never gonna be enough for either giver or receiver here, so bottomless is the hole they’re each trying to fill. Over at TCJ, Jog pointed out in his review (which, in fairness, is also where I poached these scans from, not finding sample pages online anywhere and not trusting my own shitty phone to do the art justice given this comic’s generous, magazine-sized dimensions) that the women in Pratap’s stories don’t fare too well, and that conclusion is certainly inescapable : just as the women in much of David Lynch’s work suffer for the redemption of others, Pratap’s are called upon to be instruments of psychological and biological sacrifice, only nobody’s coming out ahead in the deal. The men take all and still want more, the women offer all and still wish they had more to give. I told you Huysmans had it right — this whole corporeal existence thing is a goddamn abomination.

Pratap himself seems to acknowledge as much in “An interrogation Of A Man’s Body,” wherein a hapless asshole meets his end courtesy of his asshole — yup, you read that right, fatal flatulence — but even this wretched creature had a woman who loved him and can’t bear to let him go. I’m not in a position to psychoanalyze any cartoonist based on their work — after all, it could very well be that Pratap’s simply playing us all for suckers, and I’d actually congratulate him if that turned out to be the case — but the degree to which the very same themes pop up in these strips again and again can certainly lead a reasonable person to conclude that he’s working through a very particular set of issues, and ultimately finding no more resolution than his characters do. In that respect, there is a core of existential bleakness here that’s pretty difficult to deny, but equally undeniable is the “command to look” power with which the cartoonist imbues his work, both visually and conceptually. It’s one thing to ask whether or not our desires can ever truly be fulfilled, but Pratap takes it a step further by asking if we even deserve for them to be.
This, then, is some pretty weighty stuff any way you slice it — and trust me when I say things get sliced a lot of ways here, many of which you had likely never considered before. Whether or not it’s the year’s best work, as some seem to be inching toward proclaiming it, I couldn’t say, but in all likelihood it’s 2021’s most challenging comic, so don’t be surprised if your view of it is as fluid as the forms it depicts. Existence sucks and all, sure — but hey, at least it offers us plenty to think about.

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Dear Mother & Other Stories is available for $12.00 from Strangers Fanzine at https://strangersfanzine.bigcartel.com/product/dear-mother-other-stories-by-bhanu-pratap-strangers-fanzine-presents

Also, this review is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

The Chicago Film Critics Association Honors The Power of the Dog!


The Chicago Film Critics have named Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog as the best film of the year!  Here are the winners from the Windy City:

BEST PICTURE
“Drive My Car”
“The Green Knight”
“Licorice Pizza”
“The Power of the Dog”
“West Side Story”

BEST DIRECTOR
Paul Thomas Anderson, “Licorice Pizza”
Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog”
Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, “Drive My Car”
David Lowery, “The Green Knight”
Steven Spielberg, “West Side Story”

BEST ACTOR
Nicolas Cage, “Pig”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Power of the Dog”
Andrew Garfield, “tick, tick…BOOM!”
Hidetoshi Nishijima, “Drive My Car”
Simon Rex, “Red Rocket”

BEST ACTRESS
Jessica Chastain, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”
Olivia Colman, “The Lost Daughter”
Alana Haim, “Licorice Pizza”
Agathe Rousselle, “Titane”
Kristen Stewart, “Spencer”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Bradley Cooper, “Licorice Pizza”
Colman Domingo, “Zola”
Mike Faist, “West Side Story”
Kodi Smit-McPhee, “The Power of the Dog”
Jeffrey Wright, “The French Dispatch”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Caitriona Balfe, “Belfast”
Jessie Buckley, “The Lost Daughter”
Ariana DeBose, “West Side Story”
Riley Keough, “Zola”
Ruth Negga, “Passing”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
“Drive My Car” by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Haruki Murakami & Takamasa Oe
“The Green Knight” by David Lowery
“The Lost Daughter” by Maggie Gyllenhaal
The Power of the Dog” by Jane Campion
“West Side Story” by Tony Kushner

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
“The Card Counter” by Paul Schrader
“The French Dispatch” by Wes Anderson
“Licorice Pizza” by Paul Thomas Anderson
“Pig” by Michael Sarnoski
“Red Rocket” by Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
“Belle”
“Encanto”
Flee”
“Luca”
“The Mitchells vs. The Machines”

BEST DOCUMENTARY
“Flee”
“Procession”
“The Sparks Brothers”
Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
“The Velvet Underground”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
“Drive My Car”
“A Hero”
“Petite Maman”
“Titane”
“The Worst Person in the World”

BEST ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTION DESIGN
“Dune”
“The French Dispatch”
“The Green Knight”
“Nightmare Alley”
“West Side Story”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
“Dune,” Greig Fraser
“The Green Knight,” Andrew Droz Palermo
“The Power of the Dog,” Ari Wegner
“The Tragedy of Macbeth,” Bruno Delbonnel
“West Side Story,” Janusz Kaminski

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
“Cruella,” Jenny Beavan
“Dune,” Robert Morgan & Jacqueline West
“The Green Knight,” Malgosia Turzanska
“Spencer,” Jacqueline Durran
“West Side Story,” Paul Tazewell

BEST EDITING
“Drive My Car,” Azusa Yamazaki
“Dune,” Joe Walker
“The French Dispatch,” Andrew Weisblum
“The Power of the Dog,” Peter Sciberras
“West Side Story,” Michael Kahn & Sarah Broshar

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
“Annette,” Ron Mael & Russell Mael
“Dune,” Hans Zimmer
“The French Dispatch,” Alexandre Desplat
“The Power of the Dog,” Jonny Greenwood
“Spencer,” Jonny Greenwood

BEST USE OF VISUAL EFFECTS
“Annette”
“Dune”
“The Green Knight”
“Nightmare Alley”
“Titane”

MOST PROMISING PERFORMER
Ariana DeBose, “West Side Story”
Alana Haim, “Licorice Pizza”
Emilia Jones, “CODA”
Rachel Sennott, “Shiva Baby”
Rachel Zegler, “West Side Story”

MILOS STEHLIK BREAKTHROUGH FILMMAKER AWARD
Maggie Gyllenhaal, “The Lost Daughter”
Rebecca Hall, “Passing”
Sian Heder, “CODA”
Michael Sarnoski, “Pig”
Emma Seligman, “Shiva Baby”

Here Are The 2021 Florida Film Critics Circle Nominations!


The Florida Film Critics Circle have anounced their nominations for the best of 2021 and they kept things simple by only nominating three films for Best Picture.  (Take that, Indiana!)

The winners will be announced on December 21st!

BEST PICTURE
ANNETTE
MASS
THE POWER OF THE DOG

BEST ACTOR
NICOLAS CAGE – PIG
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH – THE POWER OF THE DOG
ADAM DRIVER – ANNETTE
ANDREW GARFIELD – TICK, TICK… BOOM
OSCAR ISAAC – THE CARD COUNTER

BEST ACTRESS
JESSICA CHASTAIN – THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE
LADY GAGA – HOUSE OF GUCCI
ALANA HAIM – LICORICE PIZZA
KRISTEN STEWART – SPENCER

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
JAMIE DORNAN – BELFAST
JARED LETO – HOUSE OF GUCCI
VINCENT LINDON – TITANE
J.K. SIMMONS – BEING THE RICARDOS
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE – THE POWER OF THE DOG

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
ARIANA DEBOSE – WEST SIDE STORY
KIRSTEN DUNST – THE POWER OF THE DOG
RUTH NEGGA – PASSING

BEST ENSEMBLE
LICORICE PIZZA
MASS
THE POWER OF THE DOG
WEST SIDE STORY
WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY

BEST DIRECTOR
KENNETH BRANAGH – BELFAST
JANE CAMPION – THE POWER OF THE DOG
LEOS CARAX – ANNETTE
RYUSUKE HAMAGUCHI – WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON – LICORICE PIZZA
WES ANDERSON – THE FRENCH DISPATCH
KENNETH BRANAGH – BELFAST
LEOS CARAX, RON & RUSSELL MAEL – ANNETTE
RYUSUKE HAMAGUCHI – WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY
FRAN KRANZ – MASS
KRISTEN WIIG & ANNIE MUMOLO – BARB & STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
JANE CAMPION – THE POWER OF THE DOG
STEVEN LEVENSON – TICK, TICK…BOOM!
TONY KUSHNER – WEST SIDE STORY
FRANÇOIS OZON – SUMMER OF 85

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
GREIG FRASER – DUNE
MIKE GIOULAKIS – OLD
JANUSZ KAMIŃSKI – WEST SIDE STORY
CLAIRE MATHON – SPENCER
ARI WEGNER – THE POWER OF THE DOG

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
ANNETTE
DUNE
SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS

BEST ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTIOIN
ANNETTE
BARB & STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR
DUNE
WEST SIDE STORY

BEST SCORE
ALEXANDRE DESPLAT – THE FRENCH DISPATCH
JONNY GREENWOOD – THE POWER OF THE DOG
RON & RUSSELL MAEL – ANNETTE
HANS ZIMMER – DUNE

BEST DOCUMENTARY
FLEE
PROCESSION
SUMMER OF SOUL

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
DRIVE MY CAR
THE HAND OF GOD
RIDERS OF JUSTICE
TITANE
WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY

BEST ANIMATED FILM
BELLE
ENCANTO
EVANGELION 3.0+1.0 THRICE UPON A TIME
FLEE
JOSEP
LUCA
THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES

BEST FIRST FILM
THE LOST DAUGHTER
MASS
PASSING
PIG
SHIVA BABY

BREAKOUT AWARD
JUDE HILL – BELFAST
COOPER HOFFMAN – LICORICE PIZZA
RACHEL ZEGLER – WEST SIDE STORY

THE GOLDEN ORANGE AWARD
ENZIAN Theater
Keisha Rae Witherspoon
Amy Seimetz