February 16, 2018

New World in Her View: Kawai Shen reviews MOTHER by Celine Loup

Mother is the first volume of a comic by the award-winning illustrator and cartoonist, Celine Loup. It features the unnamed inhabitants of a gorgeous fantasy world that does not lend itself to an easy description, a place that is at turns plentiful, wondrous, and dangerous. Rather than providing her readers with explicit explanations, Loup allows the fantastic logic of this world to unfold organically. This immersive approach allows the world’s more unusual facets, including Loup’s refreshing approach to gender representation and gender relations, to surprise the reader throughout the story. 

The comic itself is rendered with a gestural lushness that Loup evokes effectively in black and white through her use light, texture, and tone. Even though you may not understand the history and workings of Mother's world, you are subsumed within its sensual beauty. 
Examples of Loup's use of light gives a sense of immediacy and grounding whether it's direct and graphic in the form of rays of light or dynamic and fluid, as we see on the characters' sun-dappled skin.

Her rendering of organic textures, with their dynamic, flowing contours, give the comic a tactile dimension. You can almost reach out and touch its foliage.

Like many of the comics I enjoy reading, Mother rewards an attentive reader. It is not a comic to be read by racing ahead, consuming plot. With Mother, you can enjoy the sensuality of place. 

Mother’s dynamic layouts with large panels means you could easily skim right through the comic but that would be like wolfing down an excellent patisserie. Why not slow down and savor it?

Mother’s world is reminiscent of earth, but it is also radically different. It is populated by giant birds and strange hybrid human-animals. Its people possess supernatural powers: they can float and soar, they walk on clouds, light emanates from their fingertips or foreheads. However, it is Mother's representations of gender that are perhaps the most striking and original aspect of the comic. 

We are introduced to Mother's male protagonist as someone concerned with beautifying his physical appearance with flowers but who shortly demonstrates his strength and aggression in a wrestling match. He is a refreshing character, unrestricted by gender roles. He expresses self-doubt, creativity, aggression, tears, tenderness. Gender relations are both familiar and unfamiliar. The female protagonist also displays a wide breadth of characteristics despite the brevity of the comic. She is at points sorrowful, nurturing, brave, demanding, vulnerable... 

Because of this break from traditional gender roles, Mother also presents one of most erotic passages I have ever read in indie comics in which our two leads engage in mutually pleasurable intercourse grounded in verbal consent. It challenges the belief our culture holds that talking about having sex before having sex is both awkward and decidedly unsexy. In the patriarchal imagination, negotiating consent verbally could only look like a legalistic dictate imposed upon us, a bloodless or socially uncomfortable exchange entirely devoid of play, sensuality, or spontaneity. This passage shows us an encounter that is nothing like that. It is realistic, unforced, fluid, and erotic.
We need more sex scenes like this in comics. We need more sex scenes like this, period.

But before I leave you with the erroneous impression that Mother is just an imaginative and pretty story with a good sex scene, I should mention that plot is an integral part of the comic. Loup’s characters hint at past conflicts and betrayals although the exact history of why certain relationships have become strained are never revealed. That Mother’s first volume only hints at a rich backstory that includes a radical vision of gender relations makes it all more unfortunate that Loup does not plan to continue the series. There is so much potential condensed into these few pages. Even if we accept the fantastical elements of the world, the first volume concludes with many unanswered questions. What happened in the past that has turned some inhabitants against each other? Why is one female character so much physically larger than the others? Are there others like her and why do the men wait for her? Although such questions may remain unanswered, I still think it’s worth picking up a copy of Mother because of its unique story and Loup's illustrative skills. 

Mother is available for purchase on Loup’s Etsy webstore; I bought my copy at The Beguiling.
Kawai Shen is a Canadian writer and cartoonist. You can find her at cutejuicecomics.com or on Twitter as @kawaishen.

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