Sunday, 22 January 2012

Transformative Cycles - Anna Bongiovanni's 'The Offering'

I first stumbled across Anna Bongiovanni's work in 2D Cloud’s ‘Good Minnesotan 4’ anthology. Her short allegorical strip ‘Onion Mama’, was by far my favourite of the anthology and it haunted me for days after I first read it. ‘Onion Mama’ tells the story of a family who unexpectedly lose their mother, emphasising the burden of responsibility that passes to the eldest daughter. In Bongiovanni’s story these dramatic changes take the form of a literal metamorphosis whereby the child ages forty years in an instant; becoming the mirror image of her dead mother as she solemnly assumes her new role as matriarch. I remember being deeply impressed by Bongiovanni’s ability to cut so deeply with a mere five pages.

Her latest mini comic ‘The Offering’ shares many of the same qualities that made her 'Good Minnesotan' contribution so rewarding. Much like ‘Onion Mama’, this is a tightly coiled piece of fiction, trimmed of all the fat you might find in less mature work. ‘The Offering’ is a short but rich piece of sequential story telling, stuffed to bursting with visual information, all told in Bongiovanni’s beautifully expressive clear line style.

The story unfurls like a bleak fairy tale, laced with mystical dread and foreboding. We’re witness to the misadventures of two sisters who sneak out into the woods in the dead of night to partake in a bizarre woodland ritual. What at first seems like innocent revelry, soon turns sinister when the assembled throng calls for a blood sacrifice. In an act of blind devotion, the elder sister offers her own life to resurrect an otherworldly looking infant who bares a striking resemblance to the Greek God Pan. When the sacrifice has been made, her grief stricken younger sister seeks assistance from a witch to bring her sibling back to life. As you might imagine, things do not go at all according to plan.

Broadly speaking, Bongiovanni’s focus seems to be on the cycle of life and death; bringing her story to a close with an unexpected transformation. Thematically ‘The Offering’ feels like a companion piece to ‘Onion Mama’; exploring a similar line of thought but from another angle. There’s a strong sense of the natural world running through the comic, and I would hazard a guess that the verdant setting is far from incidental. Nature is represented here as it truly is, both alive and flourishing but also cruel and brutal with little concern for human suffering. The ongoing cycle of creation and destruction continues unimpeded and those caught in its wake are left to pick up the pieces.

With her deceptively simple tale of woodland rituals, magic and transformation, Bongiovanni has grappled with those most personal and profound of losses that we’re never quite prepared for.

Review by Matthew Dick.

Quick Links:

Anna Bongiovanni Official Site
Soft and Fleshy (Anna's blog for sketches, updates and gag strips)
2D Cloud (Good Minnesotan 4 is well worth picking up...)

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