Igor Hofbauer, Mister Morgen (Conundrum Press, 2017). $25, pb.
If you are an aficionado of the avant-garde, especially poster-art constructivism, and have a tolerance for perversity and despair, this book is for you. First published in French (2016) by the independent publishing house l’Association, Conundrum International has brought a stunning example of the Croatian alternative comics to English audiences. Nina Bunjevac, author of the acclaimed Fatherland and translator of the work, compares Hofbauer to Charles Burns, and I would have to agree.
Hofbauer got his start designing rock posters, and brings a silk-screen aesthetic to his bleak narratives that weave through an apocalyptic urban landscape of brutish Yugoslavian architecture. There are visual delights such as abandoned Tito monuments to socialism and Tatlin’s tower, as well as the concrete slabs of housing high rises, trams, factories, and warehouses. A deep red––conjuring up socialist symbols as well as blood––offsets a subdued palate of grey, black, and white. The artistry of his pages is spectacular and mercurial: a small red box is transformed into a labyrinth in one character’s daydream, and smoke dissolves between panels as if it were part of the gutter. An attentive reader is rewarded with connections and patterns that emerge upon multiple readings.
Mister Morgen masterfully slips from reality, to hallucination, to nightmare until it is difficult to distinguish between the various levels of narration—and this is part of the point. We see the grim aftermath of civil war and socialism in stories populated by addicts, the homeless, factory workers, artists, bureaucrats, and the police. In one story, an employee of an electric company passes people selling objects spread on blankets on his daily commute before he goes to check the meters of various desperate tenants in a concrete highrise: a tattooed pensioner, a photographer hobbyist, an obese, disabled schoolmate. In another, Desmond, the former faithful servant of an aging diva, is caught as a stowaway on a train. In revenge for his arrest, he spreads a virus that turns ordinary citizens into flesh-eating zombies. Sinister sacrifices and rituals are left unexplained; it all feels like a gigantic, sinister metaphor. As Bunjevac somberly concludes, “this book embodies the demons that have plagued this region for the past three decades…[and is] reminiscent of old Twilight Zone episodes; except, in this case, the terror is real, and lived by millions.”