Column: Global Ghoul: Clonk

By Dale Carothers

Abadia, Ximo. Clonk. KettleDrummer Books (October 2010). USD $19.95. ISBN: 978-84-15153-09-2.

Clonk, by Spanish cartoonist Ximo Abadia, is a collection of moments, moving from scene to scene with ease. The main character is an anthropomorphized, black rabbit with a human face, and the story begins with his suicide by hanging. He ascends toward Heaven in a beam of light, his human face now a skull, and this moment sets the tone for the entire book. It suggests that death is waiting, just under the surface, much like the skull masks that we all wear under our faces.

Abadia’s art is gentle and friendly, but tinged with darkness, like a creepy children’s book. His inking is fuzzy and his lines sketchy, but this does nothing to hinder his storytelling. The colours are faded, suggesting a lifeless decay that dovetails into the feel of the story. His pacing and tone are much like that of Norwegian cartoonist Jason, with lots of silent, personal moments interspersed with moments of sweetness and despair.

Had I not been mailed a review copy of Clonk, I would’ve grabbed this book off the shelf. Its pumpkin-orange cover, depicting a skull-faced rabbit standing at the sink, toothbrush in hand, drew me in as soon as I pulled it out of the envelope. And its smallish, non-standard size was a boon, as well. There’s something to be said for small-format graphic novels. They suggest an intimacy with both the story and the creator. I don’t have a specific grudge against oversized graphic novels, but most creators fail to deliver on the epic, widescreen feel that the format suggests. Though Miller and Darrow’s oversized Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot delivered on every level.

We see the rabbit with his childhood friend: a tiny, smiling boy with a lightbulb-shaped head, as they navigate their way through their lives – riding the seesaw, reading comics and talking about what they want to do when they grow up.

And soon after, while the rabbit is riding his bike through the woods, he sees the love of his life and crashes. Their love grows quickly, watered by the rain that accompanies that sequence. Rain that foreshadows the gloom that is to come.

War is coming, and the rabbit and his friend sign up together, rekindling their childhood camaraderie in the trenches, fighting the Nazis, while the rabbit’s love pines for him back home. But, before the rabbit and his friend go off to war, there’s a two-page spread, laid out at a 90-degree angle – making the reader turn the book to the side. The rabbit and his friend are enjoying a final walk through the woods. There’s no colour, just two friends smiling and strolling, framed by a scratchy forest of nervous black lines – spider-leg thin, ready to reach out and grab them in their final moment of innocence.

In the trenches, the rabbit and his friend are overrun by Nazis, and the friend gets a bullet through his lightbulb-shaped head, while the rabbit escapes over a cliff and into the ocean. After days of drifting, the rabbit is swallowed by a giant fish. He survives by fishing for junk with an umbrella. The fish carries him home.

But, by the time he gets there, his love has died.

The rabbit sinks into a depression, revisiting his memories of their time together, accompanied by her ghost. He attempts suicide a few times and fails, but soon appears at the very same tree that he hung himself from in the first few pages. Before he dies, the branch breaks and the rabbit falls to the ground. Disappointed, he goes for a stroll in the rain. And, after several silent panels of contemplation in the rain, he disappears. Only to wake up and dance with his dead love.

Even though death lurked in the background of the rabbit’s life throughout the story, he finds comfort in the afterlife with his love. My only complaint is that he doesn’t see his friend again. Their connection was just as important.

Clonk takes on deeper meaning and additional detail with each reading. The subtleties are easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention. I certainly missed a few layers the first time through.

I loved Clonk.

Rating: 9 out of 10

You can buy Clonk from the publisher, KettleDrummer Books.