The art of onomatopoeia
After first being introduced to Lilli Carre through her short-animated films What Hits The Moon and For the Birds (you can view them on her website), I have had my eyes on this young Chicago artist. Easily identified by the graphic trademark of the black triangle inside each character’s nose, Carre’s work is garnering attention through her features in the MIME series as well as Best American Comics of 2008.
In 2006, Top Shelf Productions put out Carre’s Tales of Woodsman Pete, a collection of stories featuring the solitary, thoughtful Woodsman Pete and the giant, sexually frustrated Paul Bunyan and his companion Babe, the blue ox. The stories are hilarious and disturbing, including Paul Bunyan accidentally engulfing Ms. Woodson while engaged in a passionate kiss while Woodsman Pete conducts endless conversations with his stuffed moose heads.
Still, most are considering her recent book The Lagoon to be her official debut graphic novel. In this tale, a family of four- a grandfather, his daughter, her husband and their daughter- live in a house near a black lagoon where an amphibious creature sings a beautiful song on certain summer nights. This deeply seductive song awakens people out of their sleep and leads them to the lagoon where they listen to and watch the creature intently until the song's end. The listeners then safely return to their perspective homes, except on the rare occasion when a listener mysteriously disappears into the dark waters forever.
Throughout the course of the story, each member of the family hears and reacts to the seductive sounds of the lagoon creature in different ways. Zoey, the young girl, thinks the song sounds like “a cat in a bathtub" but then later obsessively plays the tune over and over again on the piano. The grandfather, completely mesmerized by the song, is deeply entranced by the creature and found later by Zoey in the lagoon spewing out such nonsense as "Wet the felines. Only in July, when it's hot." Zoey’s mother, who has apparently formed an intimate friendship with the lagoon creature, whispers to him over a cigarette, “I want to hear it tonight!" and then later is discovered by her husband shoulder-deep in the lagoon and in danger of disappearing forever.
Along with the lagoon creature's song, other sounds continuously creep in and out of Carre's story. The "tap tap tap" on the window, a cat’s “plank” over the piano keys, a metronome’s "tic tic tic", the "zzzz" of night insects, and the "crunch" and "rustle" of dry leaves and reeds all lingered in my head long after closing the book. And the fact that each reader must imagine his or her own unique versions of each of these sounds, including the creature’s seductive song, gives this graphic novel an expansive, rather mysterious quality. This together with the strange, obscure storyline keeps the reader constantly wondering what lies beneath such simple, spooky situations.
For the most part, I found the book’s ambiguity extremely tantalizing. Still, parts of the story felt unnecessarily abbreviated, and I yearned for more of Carre's playful details and action. It is perhaps obvious that this is her first major graphic novel, and I think it is reasonable to hope that her storytelling will expand and improve over time. On the other hand, her rich black and white ink drawings seem perfectly realized, reminiscent of old German woodblock prints in their density of tone and their use of negative/positive space. And the overall tone of the drawings has an equally eery as well as playful quality, perfectly mirroring the quirky, yet haunted story line.
I'd venture to guess that Carre's popularity will increase over the next decade. And if The Lagoon is any indication of her appreciation of sound, I also think it is a probable guess that her work will likely veer more towards animation and film. However, in the meanwhile, I recommend you check out this graphic novel and take advantage of the unique opportunity to attempt your very own spooky soundtrack to Carre's rich artwork.