THINGS HAPPEN by Leslie Black

In 1992, Leslie Black self-published a limited edition large-format comic book titled THINGS HAPPEN. The book contains a 79-page "fairy tale" and a 13-page "Author's Postscript, OR Two Sides to Every Story." A notice on the copyright page reads "THINGS HAPPEN will be published in late 1992 in STICKS AND STONES (Spider Baby Graphics)."

SpiderBaby Graphics, publishers of TABOO, has since gone the way of many spider babies (and Some Pigs), but it would be a shame if Black's work were to be lost in the general slaughter: THINGS HAPPEN is the strongest stuff ever to come out (or almost come out) of the TABOO cellars (with Jeff Nicholson's "Through the Habitrails" down a ways at number two).

The art seems obsessively delicate at first, fine lines surrounded by tracts of white, some spotlights of black, and a few rare tawdry grays. Then one notices the selectivity at work: it isn't the beautiful line which is shown, but the necessary line. There is ugliness here, awkwardness and absurdity. What we took for obsessive decorativeness is obsessive economy. Even the restricted pallette begins to resonate with meaning: the author's name is Black and the central character's paternal name is White.

The book's script alternates stasis and crisis, twirling around vortices of display: "I want to tell you something," "I want to show you something..." There are characters -- father, daughters, stepmother, saviors, spectators -- but they shift stories, locations, appearances, lifespans, and even species without warning. The settings -- a mansion, a car, a porch, a field -- and events -- escapes, storms, car crashes, rapes -- fade one into another in an illogical fashion which nevertheless seems anything but arbitrary.

"Things happen" is the formula which holds, the formula by which one denies causality. A child is defined by its lack of control, while irresponsible adults insist on their weakness before the child which "overpowers" them and which they systematically (the system called "family") seek to destroy. In this supposedly uncontrollable storm, all that's left intact is the need to express. That need may be unforgivable -- but it remains untouchable.

The same can not, of course, be said of the expression itself. ("First we were reduced to molecules...") The book's scattered form seems ordered by fatigue rather than traditional narrative convenience. Whatever the artist can bear to imagine next will be imagined. When necessary, we escape into multiple viewpoints and timelines.

In other words it's a fairy tale, as Black promised: a story which expresses that which couldn't be honestly expressed by the resources of realistic fiction. We tell ourselves a story because stories are what we have to work with, but the story can't make sense: nothing can in these circumstances. Some things are too important to serve as a plot point in a standard narrative, and it would be insulting, even evil, to so use them.

The "Postscript" to the book moves to a more documentary style, though it continues to split between voices: a running text border expresses first the parent and then the child, a historian handles a running subtitle, and there's even a brief first-person narrative. The "two sides" of the postscript are first father's (which graphically depicts footbinding as the ultimate expression of patriarchal passion and callousness -- one party guest exclaims with quiet wonderment "My god. You did it. You actually bound her feet") and then mother's (sickening possessiveness masked as care). Daddy returns to get the next to last page and the next to last scrap of dialogue: "Don't be frightened."

The last page shows a sitting woman, torso ripped, viscera dangling, face hidden by a horned mask, eyes intent on the reader. The last words are "At least God loves me."

THINGS HAPPEN is distributed by Capital and thus should be available through your local comics store. It can also be ordered (for $7.95 plus $1.50 postage) directly from:
Asymmetrical Books
110 Remsen St.
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Leslie Black has been working on her next book, BIG WINGS, for three years and hopes to begin issuing it in December.
Copyright 1996 Ray Davis, except for excerpts from THINGS HAPPEN, copyright 1992 Leslie Black