Nine years ago, as I was starting my website, I wrote a post (still on the previous version of this site) about the online comics of Ragnar Brynjúlfsson, an Icelandic artist who lived in Oslo. I didn’t see anything new from him for a long time after that, but I’m happy to say that he has launched Queer Tales, a new website filled with short comics mostly about young gay guys, who are about to or have just begun to come out to their friends. On whom they often have a crush.
Some of those stories have been collected in The Raft and other stories, a 150-page book that the artist sells from his website. Here are a few thoughts about each of them.
The book opens with the longest, and newest story, The Raft. Nathan and Devon are two teenage friends who have decided to use a raft they’ve built themselves to reach an island, a couple of days away from the shore (or at least, they think so). Nathan clearly has a crush on Devon, but keeps it to himself. Without telling Nathan, Devon has brought Janet, a girl he has a crush on, in the hopes of, well, scoring with her.
The 60-page story is told with a leisurely pace which is entirely appropriate, considering both the setting and the characters themselves: there’s nothing much to do on the raft as it follows the winds, and both Devon and Nathan are still at that stage of their life where they’re looking for a path they’ll want to follow. The relationships between the two boys and the girls are portrayed with humor and tenderness, without any of the mawkishness often found in stories about youths.
Brynjúlfsson’s art has changed a lot over the last decade: he now employs a thin, round line, and in general a more realistic style than he used to. He works a lot on facial expressions and can portray a teenager’s body, male or female, with assurance. One can’t help noticing that hands, and in particular open palms, still need a bit of work, but that certainly doesn’t distract from enjoying his art.
The use of a raft drifting on the open sea as a story center can of course be seen as a cool, metaphorical way of showing a few moments in the lives of the three young people. The metaphor is present right until the ending, which is both satisfying and a bit cruel.
Three very short stories follow The Raft, and two manifest the author’s rather wicked sense of humor:
Haul has a family hanging from a cliff side, wild dogs growling below, with only a rope to prevent them from falling. It’s again a metaphor, and I won’t reveal the punch line, but I laughed openly when I read it.
The Pillow Method sounds like something dreamed up by a particularly lost teenage boy, with its clinical description of the predicament the main character finds himself in and the solution presented (how to make a difficult choice by using a pillow). Its dry humor works well, but it’s also a emotional story.
Kamikaze is a different beast altogether: it’s the closest to a “regular” fictional story in the collection. Showing the last moments of a Japanese Kamikaze pilot before he flies off to his death in the last days of World War II, it’s also a moving (and bitter) love story in times of war. I’d definitely like to see Ragnar Brynjúlfsson write more stories like that, because this one is very well done.
The last story in the book is another large one. In fact, it’s only a few pages shorter than the first one—but it’s also the oldest one, and it might be my favorite. Drawn in a blocky style with which Brynjúlfsson’s current style strongly contrasts, Tim is again about two friends, one gay, and one straight. The big difference from The Raft is that here, Tim opens up to Luke and tells him about his being gay and being attracted to him. The dynamic between the two friends is very well written, with Luke remaining unfazed by the revelation and Tim being able to concentrate about his other pressing issue, that of his relationship with his mostly absent father.
I won’t say that the art for this story is sophisticated, but it’s solid enough to carry it, and the layouts are clear and varied, something which is more important in my opinion than “pretty” art.
The Raft and other stories is obviously a labor of love for Ragnar Brynjúlfsson, and I hope he’ll be able to write and draw more stories. In the meantime, you can buy this book on his website (or at Amazon) and read the stories I’ve reviewed there. You’ll also find that the site offers a couple of stories not collected in the book, including a very funny one about two boys, a pair of binoculars, and people practicing nudism on a beach. That sounds very Scandinavian, doesn’t it?