Eurocomics Spotlight : Rikke Villadsen’s “The Sea”

Lost at sea, adrift at sea, swept away by the sea — any and all of these cliches will likely apply to readers of Danish cartoonist Rikke Villadsen’s The Sea, a physically-short but conceptually-dense graphic novel originally published in the artist’s home country in 2011 but only within the last few months making its way to the English-speaking world courtesy of Fantagraphics.

Which is to say, I suppose, that it’s easy to get pulled into the world this book either conjures and/or creates (depending on just how literally one chooses to view the tale it relates), yet impossible to find any firm footing within it.

For my part, I tend to take the proceedings herein as purely allegorical, but your willingness to do so — as well as whatever mileage you get from it — may indeed vary, and that’s all well, good, and more than likely Villadsen’s intention. I mean, we are talking about a seafaring yarn about a fisherman (or, as he insists, a “sailor”) who nets a newborn baby and a talking fish from the murky depths.

Truth be told, it’s Villadsen’s wistful, smoky, borderline-mystical pencil work that not only sets, but ultimately sells, the tone of the book itself, the sparse scripting being the kind of thing that likely could be interpreted in just about any manner visually, but only works when infused with, even subsumed by, the ephemeral. Like deciphering the meaning of a probably-vivid dream that immediately begins to fade upon waking, you reach for message, for meaning, only to find it tantalizingly out of your grasp — even as its essential character clings, romantic and ultimately frustrating in equal measure.

The primary responsibility of both fish and baby appears to be hacking away at the grizzled seafarer’s crusty, hardened worldview in piecemeal fashion, while concurrently the mystery of their origins — and perhaps the self-described sailor’s own — plays out in non-linear fashion, their tag-team efforts at de-mythologizing the old-timer’s past (specifically his memories of his mother) ironically adding a greater tinge of the mystical to his syrupy reminiscence, sure, but also to the present and maybe even to the future.

Which, ultimately, is what I think Villadsen is steering this boat of hers towards, deliberately rickety as it may be. The old giving way to the new, yes, but also continuing on, should one care yo see it that way — not so much negated by the act of succession as re-invigorated by it. What was it Marlon Brando’s Jor-El character said in Superman : The Movie? “The son becomes the father, and the father becomes the son”? Something like that.

Not that we’re talking strict blood relatives here, Villadsen’s not serving up anything so obvious. Hell, this may not even be about succession in a strictly generational sense, more a broad-based, conceptual one. Letting go, moving on, so that life may move forward, the past remembered — correctly or less than — while the weight of its baggage is, well, tossed overboard.

Sure, it’s not going without a fight, that’s understandable, but it knows when its time is up — as surely as I know that a damn good time for you to read The Sea would be right about now.

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We close things up with a reminder that this review, as well as all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Lately, it’s been a lot of politics. Your support there not only keeps things going, it also ensures a steady stream of new content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. So what are you waiting for? Join up already! Please?

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