Review: ‘In the Flesh’ by Koren Shadmi
In the Flesh
By Koren Shadmi
Villard, February 2009, $14.95
You probably haven’t heard of Shadmi before this book – he’s an Israeli, now resident in New York, and this is his first collection. Some of these stories did appear before…in French, in various anthologies, which I doubt any of us are familiar with.
But he’s clearly a mature artist; these nine stories are of a piece, both in their drawing and their writing, and they paint a consistent picture of the world. It’s not a pleasant picture, though: Shadmi’s world is ruled by tormented desire and inchoate longings, populated by characters who live in quiet despair only when they’ve settled down a bit from the loud kind. In fact, [[[In the Flesh]]] reads very much like a comics adaptation of the short stories of some young writer with a strong voice – it’s not so much “art comics” as it is a direct translation into comics of a particular kind of art short fiction.
It’s called In the Flesh for a reason: these are all stories about sex, in one way or another. Sometimes that’s sublimated, as in “[[[Pastry Paradise]]],” a story about overeating, and sometimes it’s very blatant, as in “[[[A Date]]],” the story of a couple in a world where everyone wears paper bags over their heads. There are no happy couples here, no lucky people with matching libidos and wishes – Shadmi’s characters want very particular, unlikely things, and haven’t any chance of finding someone else with precisely the same kink.
So we start off with a man in a furry dog suit, in “[[[The Fun Lawn]]],” and move through one man’s date with a woman with a separated head, another man enthralled by a radioactive young woman, several obsessed young men, and some oblique approaches to pedophilia or voyeurism before ending in “[[[A Lavish Affair]]],” a circular, heavily narrated, overheated story that encapsulates the whole book in the monologue of its female narrator.
Shadmi has a clear art style, somewhere in the middle ground between American independent comics and the Europeans, and his writing – though at times very overwritten – is generally equally controlled. These are memorable, gripping stories, though not happy ones, and Shadmi shows fine cutting insights into character in small spaces. His people may be miserable and tormented, but they’re authentically so. I suspect his work will be more appreciated than loved, more cited than enjoyed. But he is a strong new voice in comics, with his own dark viewpoint.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
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