« Talk about cheap – on Christmas Eve, my neighbor shoots off three blanks and tells his kids Santa Claus just committed suicide.» — Milton Berle
We hope this Christmas day finds you healthy and happy, whether you’re spending it quietly with the nearest and dearest, or stranded far from your family. We all do the best we can.
In a slightly different, yet somehow appropriate, vein… the following Christmas story by Max Andersson is a bracing antidote to the usual syrupy cheer of December 25th. As co-admin RG aptly put it*, in Andersson’s world, malevolence is the status quo, and this Jekyll-and-Hyde version of Santa Claus will fluff up the fur of the staunchest anti-Christmas reader.
Today, let’s dip a toe (at the risk of losing it) into the midnight domain of Swedish cartoonist and filmmaker Max Andersson (b. 1962). It’s a relentlessly-perilous scene, but like Kaz’s Underworld comic strip or Arnt Jensen‘s Limbo video game, I find it unexpectedly comforting in spite of (and thanks to) all the darkness, both thematic and in density of ink. In Andersson’s case, might it be owing to the author’s kindness to his protagonists? That’s a factor with odds I rather favour.
I don’t doubt that certain readers of a more sensitive cast will differ, but I posit that the cheerful lack of clemency the artist affords the callous, the cruel and the pernicious makes Andersson’s universe a profoundly moral one. Contrary to, say, your average American action blockbuster, such a purge of the villainous doesn’t restore the status quo… because here, malevolence is the status quo. Andersson’s put-upon little people are true outsiders, and his stories feel like Kafka, but blessed with dénouements far merrier yet merited.
See? A happy ending and all, and even a rare glimpse of daylight.
Soon after he began to publish his work, Gary Groth spoke with Andersson (The Comics Journal no. 174 (Feb. 1995, Fantagraphics):
Groth: What would you point to as your defining influences? How did you develop this approach, style and point of view?
Andersson: What I always have in my backbone is the style of classic comics, the stuff I read when I was a kid.
G: I don’t see much Tintin.
A: No, but it’s there if you look closely. The basic technique of how to tell a story well. I try to do that because I want the storytelling to work, to be easy to read.
G: Were you influenced by sources outside of comics — film, literature?
And don’t leave out old cartoons! Andersson’s thoroughly animist way dovetails neatly with early animation’s unhinged, anything-can-happen mode. By which I mean that anything and everything possessed motion and sentience, be they boulders or pebbles, thunderclouds, petals or creepers, sparks or flames, pantaloons or braces, blunderbusses or bassoons…
About Pixy, fellow dweller-in-darkness Charles Burns exulted: « So you think it’s a cold, creepy, world out there, huh? Hah! Just wait’ll you get a load of Max Andersson’s Pixy… safe sex suits, buildings that eat people, drunken fœtuses with bazookas, money that shits on you, recyclable bodies… hey, wait a minute, that’s not creepy, that’s fun. MY kind of fun. »
For more dope on this important creator’s endeavours, do sidle over to his official website!