March 2012

Martyn Pedler

comicbookslut

A Rabbit's Heart: Gabriella Giandelli’s Interiorae

Something lives underneath every home. A black, shapeless thing known as a Great Dark One. They take your racing, inexplicable, often frightening dreams and draw them into their bellies, feeding off them so you can sleep at night.

Gabriella Giandelli’s Interiorae is the story of a Great Dark One. It’s also the stories of a handful of people who live in its apartment building in an unnamed city and of the cartoon rabbit who watches them. “It’s Tuesday afternoon. The time is nearly three o’clock,” says the rabbit, shushing the reader with a finger to its lips. “Let’s see what the others are doing...”

Comic book narrators are an odd breed, required for additional purposes to those they usually serve in prose. They can explain action that isn’t clear from the sequential art. They can wax lyrical to give the comics a literary sheen for "real" readers. They can offer a stream of consciousness monologue from inside a character’s head, overlaying action with grunts and moans and hard boiled bon mots. Sometimes narration is only present to slow down the experience, forcing you to take in each word instead of racing over the pages as if scampering across rooftops.

Interiorae’s rabbit does more. It flits between rooms, catching quick scenes of strangers’ lives. It’s invisible, intangible, speaks as though in a children’s storybook, and sometimes grows enormous and peeks through windows like King Kong. It’s intrigued by the usual human dramas too -- death, infidelity, angst. It feels at home eavesdropping on teenage girls. “They make me feel like I’m in the right place. Exactly where a white rabbit ought to be!” it says, adding that “their dreams are among my master’s favorites.”

Reader identification is an amazing, elastic thing. How could I feel more for this rabbit than anyone else in the book? Most of Giandelli’s human characters seem lost at best or miserable at worst, trapped in lives they don’t understand anymore. They step forward in frame, tears rolling down their cheeks, like characters in old romance comics who’d catch Lichtenstein’s eye. Despite having access to their private moments and innermost thoughts, they don’t exhibit the kind of authenticity required to make them pop into three dimensions.

But when it appears in the background of their scenes, it is bizarre how they become more interesting. Like a magic sigil, it activates a different way of reading: curious, alien. “Rabbits only have a rabbit heart,” it says, gathering dreams for the Great Dark One, and “you can’t go overboard with the emotions.” Much like these human stories might only be here to feed the Great Dark One, however, they’re also here to fill Interiorae’s architecture. Every one of Giandelli’s surfaces -- walls, windows, bedspreads, books -- seems alive. Her colors almost wriggle. The darkness she draws is so black it’s wet. She approaches long corridors like David Lynch does in his films: not something you walk down, but something you’re swallowed by. Interiorae is engulfing.

(“Please, ladies and gentlemen,” says the Great Dark One, “settle down in the dark velvet of my innards.”)

I can’t imagine how this would’ve read in individual issues as first published. In restored and essential color, this collected edition gives the mood the necessary space to simmer and boil -- just like poetry has the white of the page around it to slow you down and give it weight. Even before you notice the chapter titles are counting down to zero, you can feel that something about to happen. The men and women who live there can’t see it, but everything’s about to change. Even the building’s ghosts -- beloved by the rabbit because they never, ever change -- can’t stay frozen forever.

In the end, Interiorae isn’t about either mundane, everyday reality or the vivid, symbolic realm of dreams. Its power’s in the precarious space between the two. That’s where the rabbit lives.

Martyn Pedler is a writer and critic in Melbourne, Australia.