Brecht Evens makes iconoclastic graphic novels and is responsible for a whole new wave of alternative artists riding international success in his wake. His previous graphic novels The Wrong Place and The Making Of (both published in English by Drawn & Quarterly and covered on Broken Frontier) were very good but there was always one essential key component that was lacking: a solid story. His new OGN Panther fixes this with stunning ambiguity.
Panther, the crown prince of the kingdom of Pantheria, crawls out of the cupboard of little Christine after the death of her cat. But who or what is Panther, as he sets about seducing Christine and a game unfolds between the charmer and his prey?
It seems like a slight description for a 120-page graphic novel, but rest assured that Panther grips you by the throat and doesn’t let go until the exploding last page, where more questions are raised than answered. However, Evens still manages to find some sort of a resolution – even though it is a quite unsettling one.
What Evens manages to pull off here is a psychological thriller with a superb storytelling rhythm: a game played as much between Panther and Christine as between the reader and Panther. What starts out innocently enough morphs into a rather sinister play where one is never sure what exactly is going on and what Panther’s purpose is. That is until Christine’s pet bear Bozo disappears and everything starts to spiral down towards the end, and even then Evens suggests more than he explicitly shows.
Are we watching the degrading psyche of a (roughly) five year old due to the death of her cat? Are we exploring a metaphorical game of cat and mouse between a sexual predator and a child? Is the whole of the OGN an allegory for sexual awakening? I promise you that a game of Twister never looked as menacing as in Panther.
Panther is a laudable example of visual storytelling where you can’t separate text from the visuals. Evens’ design for Panther continues to morph and transform depending on the meaning behind the words or situation. It is an endlessly inventive opera where the artist dips as much into his own imagination as into pop culture: from realistic to cartoony, from a Maurice Sendak creation to the sinister grin of the Cheshire Cat, from sphinx to Chinese dragon, from Bill Watterson to Tex Avery.
Evens’ art is deepened even further; his inventive approach with no panel bordering, diagram cutouts of cars and houses and flexible body language is enhanced by his iconoclastic use of color and the blending of realistic and cartoony line work, which is more assured than in his previous books. A few times he breaks the mold by including full-bleed spreads displaying a masterful eye towards composition and coloring. It truly looks like nothing else in the comics world. Panther is the book where Brecht Evens reaches his full potential. An ambitious, ambiguous phantasmagorical tale that examines innocence on various levels, and which involves the reader in the story to such a degree that he or she has to fill in the blanks from their own psyche to have the story come to a full resolution. A true masterpiece, and one I hope that Drawn & Quarterly snatches up quickly for translation.