Written and Illustrated by Lewis Trondheim
First Second; $12.95
You gotta hand it to Lewis Trondheim. If he didn’t actually find discarded comics from alien children at a UFO landing/picnic site, he’s damn convincing about it. A.L.I.E.E.E.N. (Archives of Lost Issues and Earthly Editions of Extraterrestrial Novelties) isn’t the screwed-uppest comic I’ve ever read, but it’s up there. It is – pardon the expression – alien.
I’m not familiar with Trondheim’s other work (though I will be after this), so I wasn’t sure what to expect from A.L.I.E.E.E.N. at first. Or rather, I thought I was, but I totally wasn’t.
A quick look at the cover and first few pages reveals some cute alien creatures. In the introduction, Trondheim refers to the book as a “comic strip for extra-terrestrial children,” so I went in expecting sweet and funny. That didn’t last long though. It’s on page two that the first adorable, little creature gets its eyes skewered on sharp tree branches. Maybe alien kids find that funny; I have no idea.
The concept behind the book is brilliant and it’s brilliantly executed as well. I’ve read some reviews of A.L.I.E.E.E.N. claiming that it’s funny for earth-people too, but I didn’t think so. The alien creatures in it are too sweet for me to find humor in their violent deaths. But I think that maybe that’s sort of the point? I read the entire book in slack-jawed astonishment. Not disgusted exactly, but bewildered and intrigued. I couldn’t stop turning pages to see where it was going to go. How much more horrifying could it get?
Plenty, it turns out. Culminating in the poop-gag that should end all poop-gags. I mean, seriously… no one’s ever going to top that poop-gag. Poop-gags should officially stop now, because Trondheim has them all beat. For eternity.
The structure of the book is a series of connected short-stories. They start off not looking connected at all, except by theme. There’s a pattern of happy, innocent, little creatures who try to interact positively with their world only to fail miserably. A baby-chick-like creature takes his blinded buddy to the doctor only to witness a cure far more terrible than the problem. A lonely little alien tries to make a friend, but is instead terrorized to the point that he has to commit an atrocious act to survive. A friendly creature wants to be kind to trees, but inadvertently causes the eye-skewering from page two.
At that point, we become aware that the stories are also connected by characters as well as tone. These various, miserable, little beasts continue to cross paths; their negative impact on their already-terrifying world being directly proportional to their contact with each other. Outside of the pleasure I got from being horrified by the book’s outlandish gruesomeness, my biggest joy in reading A.L.I.E.E.E.N. was the nerdish delight of figuring out how the various stories matched up.
But as fun as it is, I don’t want to talk much about the book’s internal continuity and risk diluting how screwed up and weird an experience it is. Even the vague ending, which is only heartening if – like me – you really want it to be.
The whole time I was reading this obviously-for-grown-ups book, I kept repeating in my head, “This is for alien children. This is for alien children.” That disconnect between the human reader and whatever culture the book was intended for is fascinating to think about. It sticks with you. As a pretend artifact of an alien culture, it’s so completely effective. Maybe someone with a more demented (in a good way, of course) sense of humor than mine will find A.L.I.E.E.E.N. hilarious, but even if you’re as squeamish as I, the gawker attraction of the book is irresistible.
Four out of five multi-eyed sperm-doctors
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