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

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

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 12/13/21 — 12/19/21 | Through the Shattered Lens

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