Review: The Troll King

Artist(s): Kolbeinn Karlsson.

Gay woodsmen, kings of the forest, surreal imagery, sweetness and love and mysterious rituals… Kolbeinn Karlsson‘s The Troll King is a beautiful and unsettling book that I’d completely missed when it was published two years ago1.

Saying something is “dream-like” is often a cop-out to avoid trying to analyze it deeper. But in the case of this book, I must admit I can’t find any better description for the impression created by reading the stories concocted by this Swedish artist. Composed of half a dozen stories set in the same neck of the woods (literally), the book follows the lives of a forest’s strange denizens, ranging from hairy men in love to incomprehensible deities, building a picture of a coherent world without completely making sense — which is why I definitely want to call it “dream-like”.

Wildmen in love

Of interest to gay readers are the two longest stories: two burly wildmen live together in marital bliss, thanking the sun every morning, refusing to show themselves to townspeople (because they don’t deserve it). The only thing missing to their happiness? Kids, of course. A forest deity will grant their wish in an unexpected fashion, making this story weirdly relevant for my countrymen right now, as gay marriage and adoption is being discussed in France. But I digress, as usual.
The second story concerning the wildmen is the most affecting, and in fact, the most realistic, despite its fantasy settings (or maybe thanks to). We follow the happy years they spend with their two kids, as the boys discover life in the woods. The quiet domesticity is moving, as is the relationship between the two fathers and their offspring; but what is even moving is the depiction of the growing dissent in the family, as the then older boys decide to make a life for themselves.

The forest king

Of course, there’s more to the book than the life of the two men, which covers a little less than half its pages. The world-building I was talking about comes to the forefront with the other sequences, which show a hairy dwarf being dined by magical creature, gnomes growing new kin from skulls put in the ground, and linking all this (and more), the strange creature who gave boys to the wildmen. There is a narrative, there is a common world, but we can’t quite grasp it, which makes me feel like reading the book over and over again.

The Troll King is a book I think should be shelved beside Edie Fake’s Gaylord Phoenix. Both books present addictive and lush imagery, as well as unapologetically gay characters following rules we can’t completely understand. I’d love to read more works by Kolbeinn Karlsson, but I guess I might have to learn Swedish for that.

  1. This 160-page graphic novel is published by Top Shelf, and you can find it at Amazon, both sites offering a good preview.
    You can read the first story from the book in pdf here, though only in black and white. Another story is available here.

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