The Troll King (Top Shelf)

The first full-length work from Swedish minicomicker Kolbeinn Karlsson is one truly bizarre comic.

 

160 pgs. full color; $14.95
(W / A: Kolbeinn Karlsson)
 
There’s a great episode of The Simpsons called “Homer the Moe” where Moe decides to give the ol’ tavern a facelift, replacing “the dank” with live rabbits dangling from the ceiling and giant televisions showing nothing but close-ups of blinking eyes. While calling the redesign “post-modern” elicits blank stares from Homer and company, everyone nods in agreement when Moe explains, “You know, weird for the sake of weird.”

And if there’s one phrase that suitably describes The Troll King, it’s definitely “weird for the sake of weird,” because this comic has seemingly no purpose other than to thrust bizarre imagery at you for page after page. It opens with a vignette about two gay lovers, each with the body of a sumo wrestler and the face of Robert Downey, Jr., from Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus. In one unified voice, the pair talks about their untraditional love, their rare interactions with the normal world, and the care they give to the forest. It seems like just a simple tale of misfit life, until, that is, they announce they are getting married in the most surreal way possible: they don panda masks and dance for who I can only assume is the titular Troll King (a mole-like woodland spirit who seems to have wandered in from Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke) until they turn green, their bellies swell, and each literally shits out a bouncing baby boy. We catch up with the proud parents again later, but first the focus jumps to a prospector-looking fellow who meets some playful woodland creatures that seem friendly at first but then ply him into unconsciousness with food and drink. The friendly sprites put our friend in stocks and let a pudgy green-skinned man with an afro rape him, but that’s totally okay because, in his mind, he’s been teleported into the Sasquatch sequence from Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny. That lovely scene is followed up by a carrot-man taking a dip in a hot tub, the hot water causing him to go to root starting, naturally, from his dangly parts. And on and on it goes like this.

 
Clearly, Kolbeinn Karlsson is not interested in a linear narrative. Instead, the Swedish cartoonist fills The Troll King with provocative imagery tied together at the end in only the vaguest of fashions. And I’ll be honest, I’m generally not big on comics that completely eschew plot for experimentalism and symbolism, but I can usually at least enjoy watching an artist stretch the boundaries of the form as long as I’m rewarded in some way, by some a-ha moment or some skillful use of metaphor that makes me feel like the artist is trying to communicate something deeply personal amid the weirdness.
 
And I really got none of that from this book. Between the shit babies, the rape, the random bursts of graphic violence, and the constant barrage of male frontal nudity (seriously, there is a lot of penis in this book), whatever point Karlsson was trying to make sailed right over my head. Maybe the book wasn’t constructed to have a point, necessarily. The first two chapters certainly seem at odds with the rest of the book, being the only two with titles and also the only two with narration (mostly one line per panel, a stark contrast to the four words total in the remaining 96 pages). But even rereading the book multiple times didn’t reveal any new layers, any deeper truth hidden beneath the surface. It really felt like nothing more than weird for the sake of weird.
 
I can’t argue that Karlsson is a bad artist, though, because his compositions and color work can be quite striking, particularly in the chapter featuring our prospector pal, where he draws ornate landscapes and costumes in felt-tip marker on decades-old construction paper, even incorporating in stains and bits of dried-on Scotch tape. His art is reminiscent of guys like Dave Cooper and Mike Diana, artists who specialize in capturing gross-out images in a style with a simplistic surface covered with loads of fine details (check out the ornate patterns drawn into hair and wood grain, or the individual taste buds drawn on a tongue). A brief interlude sequence even channels Johnny Ryan, with cartoonish characters seen nowhere else in the book stabbing and urinating on each other in a surreally colored Wild West setting. The panel themselves—mostly silent, mostly two to a page—are arranged to force you to linger on the disturbing imagery. The only question, then, is if disturbing imagery is enough for you, because unfortunately that’s about all that The Troll King has to offer. | Jason Green
 
Click here for more information and a brief preview of The Troll King, courtesy of Top Shelf.

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