Baba Yaga and the Wolf
by Tin Can Forest
review by BK Munn
Tin Can Forest is the collaborative name for artistic partners Pat Shewchuck and Marek Colek who published Pohadky through Drawn and Quarterly in 2008. This new book continues to showcase the duo’s fascination with Eastern-European folk mythology, reinterpreted through a modern Canadian sensibility, bred in the forests of B.C. and expressed in a lushly beautiful comics narrative. The ostensible plot of the comic, a retelling of a classic tale, involves a wife’s appeal to a witch in a quest to cure her ailing werewolf husband, but the story is submerged beneath a dense sea of symbolism, digressions, folklore, and claustrophobic imagery –embellishments that make the journey just as fascinating as the actual denouement of the plot, which in any case leaves off with something of a cliffhanger, the husband’s fate playfully unresolved. Like a lycanthropic Schrodinger’s cat, he remains buried underground at story’s end, and we wonder if he’s alive or dead and does it really matter? In Shewchuck and Colek’s topsy-turvy universe, the devil is a supermarket, Slavic peasants deal hash and steal their brothers’ faces, and you are probably better off if your werewolf husband is planted in the garden.
Based on the myths of Baba Yaga and firmly rooted in the European illustrative tradition, Marek Colek’s dry, witty comics storytelling (Pat Shewchuck is credited with “decorative elements/plant images/symbols”) has a fittingly organic look to it. The human figures seem plant-like, almost as if they were papery twisted roots, and the characters, who often morph into animals, have fingers that alternately appear as claws and as sausage-like tubers. The clear-line style of the cartooning delineates the world as one large tapestry of folded skin, clothing, tree bark, matted fur and leaves, with a wonderful forest-colour palette highlighted by reddish browns, yellow, and the occasional patterned fabric. The tapestry effect is further evoked by the lack of panels and borders, with one scene or image merging with the next, as characters make their way through the forest, pass through the underworld, and tell each other stories. The relative brevity of the book, essentially a deluxe “floppy” or saddle-stitched pamphlet, is belied by the complex maze-like nature of the art, which rewards rereading and invites the browser to linger over the drawings while pondering the environmental fable on offer. The whole effect is quite charming and the comic as an object is gorgeous. Recommended.
There is a booklaunch for Baba Yaga and the Wolf and the anthology comic Wowee Zonk #3 on Oct. 7.
Read an interview with the creators here.