A teenage boy looking for love is transformed into a swamp monster. A pregnant woman turns into a tree. A secret agent following the orders of a sinister balloon marries a human goat. I Feel Love is, it is fair to say, not your traditional anthology.
I Feel Love is the brainchild of writers and editors Krent Able and Julian Hanshaw, the follow up to 2018’s I Feel Machine. Able and Hanshaw bring together an eclectic mix of some of the most idiosyncratic voices in modern comics including Benjamin Marra, Kelsey Wroten and Cat Sim. The stories are loosely based around love but also take in themes as diverse as obsession, loneliness, religious fanaticism and fear of infection. Many of the stories start of lightly but take a dark turn very quickly. The first story, Teen Swamp Monster Love, begins on very familiar ground, telling the story of a teenage boy who, desperate for a girlfriend, concocts a “love potion”. Things do not go according to plan and eventually our young hero starts to melt… Hurt/Comfort by Anya Davidson starts by telling the story of a woman and her mentally ill teenage daughter bonding over the girl’s favourite TV show “Witched Granted”. When the daughter mentions that the characters in the show are the subject of slash fiction, her mother decides to investigate and soon gets involved in a very murky world.
The voices in this collection are all unique but this twisted celebration of love has some common motifs that seem particularly apt for these Covid times. The mother in Hurt/Comfort brushes aside an infected cut until she starts to believe that something is growing inside it. A medieval martyr who is prepared to spend her life in seclusion in The Anchor shows off her open-wounded stigmata to those brave enough to look. The pregnant woman at the centre of The Burgeoning is convinced that somehow the tree outside her window is responsible for her pregnancy and that the child growing inside her is not entirely human. People are cut and infections spread. The line between fantasy and reality is frequently blurred especially in Hurt/Comfort where the mother’s fever dreams mix into the slash fiction that she’s become obsessed with. What the woman at the centre of The Burgeoning sees in the mirror is different to what the other characters in the story see.
In the dark centre of the collection is Krent Able’s Black Balloon. On the surface it’s a straight forward spy story. A secret agent dressed in black received his mission: infiltrate a lab, steal a special crystal, return it to base. Instead what follows is perhaps the most bizarre comic strip I have ever read. I can’t even begin to describe what happen except to say that it features a man falling in love with a goat-headed woman and a balloon falling in love with a pyramid. It’s safe to say that Richard Curtis isn’t going to be directing the film adaptation.
It’s difficult to think of anything else published at the moment that I Feel Love is similar to. It reminded me the most of Daniel Clowes’ Like A Velvet Glove Cast in Iron. Visually it’s very Cronenberg, especially Able’s contribution. There’s also a feeling in many of these stories that everything is not what it seems if you prod beneath the surface, something that put me in mind of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. You might also see the influence of Robert Crumb and Charles Burns here, especially Black Hole and there are a few nods to both Swamp Thing and Man-Thing.
I Feel Love is not for everyone but it’s not something that you’ll forget in a hurry. There’s certainly something hypnotic about it that draws you back (I’ve read it three times already) and these dark tales of mad love with stick with you long after you’ve closed the cover.