måndag 7 maj 2012

Li Österberg: Nekyia

Two mortals descend into the netherworld. One, a philosopher, wants to get some answers on how a good life should be lived. The other is his cousin the necromantic priestess, whom he needs to help him enter the realm of Hades. Simultaneously, the trickster and messenger god Hermes has an errand down to the nether realm, and accompanies a sort of "lost" soul: a young woman, Timareta, who's died in childbirth but doesn't realize that she's dead. The kindly Hermes comforts her as best he can (among other things, pickpocketing her obol from Charon and giving it back to her) but she feels very much out of place, and can't understand what's happening to her.

Li Österberg's Nekyia – funny, sad, and charming.
Hermes brings his message to Hades, a gaunt, somewhat misanthropic figure who doesn't appreciate his cheerful nephew, nor Zeus' invitation to a family gathering. (Hermes, on the other hand, doesn't really appreciate the attention he gets from Hades' three-headed dog… and from the avenging Furies, who think Hermes is a real cutie.) Hades is perhaps even less appreciative of the nosy philosopher Theodoros, who arrives to ask about what the good life is – as Hades says to the priestess Melito, "I'm the lord of the dead, what do I care about the living?".

When you also add two dead heroes (who just happen to be sons of Zeus with mortal mothers) to the mixture, there is plenty of opportunities for conflicts and interactions, and Österberg uses them well, managing to be both funny and thought-provoking in the process. As is a frequent theme in her comics, this story is very much about being an outsider – even Hades, the lord of the realm, is one, after all; he can't stand his own family and is quite satisfied to have nothing to do with them, and he doesn't like the living either.

There is also usually a tragic undercurrent running through Österberg's comics, and this one is no exception: the poor Timareta, who only got to live 16 years before dying during childbirth, is disoriented and depressed (no wonder). But as is also the norm in Österberg's comics, things never get depressingly tragic; there is also an element of hope and comfort.

Both Österberg's love and her knowledge of ancient mythology are vast, and she uses that knowledge to great advantage to craft her story. The gods and the supernatural are taken for granted by the characters in the story to such an extent that they don't mind mocking them a bit, and the characters of the gods and mythological entities make for some very good interplay between them – in fact, the ancient Greek gods are depicted pretty much like a dysfunctional family, and it works very well. And while the philosophical debate between Theodoros and Hades makes for a couple of too-wordy (even if the debate is interesting) pages, neither that nor the many humorous touches overshadow what I think is the main drama (even if it's not the only one) of the story: Timareta's tragedy, and how she will learn to "live" with her new situation.

Plus, you also learn that the ancient Greeks actually had analgesic pills for headaches!

This is an excellent story from an excellent comics creator, and it's really a disgrace that her work isn't translated into English so that she can have the audience she deserves: a world-wide one. Seriously, Fantagraphics, Top Shelf or whomever – get on the ball!

Anyway, warmly recommended. This is very good stuff.

See more examples of Österberg's work at her blog – and if you like funny and intelligent comics, by all means check out her self-published comic book Agnosis as well.

2 kommentarer:

  1. Såg dittblogginlägg på Medusas facebooksida och efter att ha läst din bloggpost vetjag vad lite av nästa lön ska gå till. Kanontips för en kombinerad serie- och antikennörd som mig.

  2. Jamen vad jätteroligt! Li är väl värd alla läsare hon kan få, även för sina nutidsserier (de finns nog på en hel del bibliotek också så man kan provläsa lite, hoppas jag).