Monday, 4 May 2015

Review: Cochlea & Eustachia, by Hans Rickheit

By convention a review starts with a description of the plot’s setup. I hope you will forgive me if this sounds like the perverted dreams of a feverish addict. Cochlea and Eustachia, two identical girls of uncertain species, wearing only negligees and domino masks, explore the home (?) of a disturbed scientist (?) whose head is a sooty cotton bud. The girls explore the condemned manor, where bloodless viscera vines the walls. They witness another identical girl steal a book from a hairless borrower living in an owl statue. I won’t go on – not for fear of spoiling the story, just that I doubt I could describe it.

Rickheit’s story flows like a dream. Though not a nightmare. A nightmare terrifies. This dream possesses an internal logic, or rather a sensibility, that pushes the plot forward, inuring you to its unsettling insanity. Moments that should unsettle the reader, such as a gynaecological examination from David Lynch’s amygdala, seem natural. The backup story, ‘How It Works’, referring to the creative process, captures this dream style. It depicts the girls approaching Rickheit while he sleeps, opening his head, and laying an ungeziefer in his brain.

That’s the thing, the book seems a dream, and like a dream I’ve little idea what to say of it. I could comment on the Freudian imagery, the sexualised filles, the incomprehensible motives of the antagonist (?), the possible purpose of the not-quite-internal-organs dripping here and there, but that would suppose the images hold a deeper meaning. If all these images arise from a unifying thematic base, then I’ll call this a difficult work, a work I’ve not even begun to comprehend. But I will take the view that Rickheit intended only to craft an aesthetic experience, an alluring grotesquery designed to consume the reader.

Rickheit’s drawing style manages to have tonally disparate images gel. While the two leads look as if they’ve escaped from a soft-smut comic, the world feels conceived by a surrealist coming down from a high. These contrasting tones never jar the reader. They feel parts of the same whole.  At times the cute and the unsettling overlap, as with the borrower I mentioned before.

The story-telling helps the reader accept the weirdness in the panels themselves. Panels progress as in a breezy adventure comic. Even without words the reader can grasp the narrative’s flow. That’s no exaggeration. A lot of the comic goes dialogue-less, leaving the reader to put together… whatever there is to put together. Even those spoken words give the reader, at most, a slight insight into the leads’ personalities.

Don’t enter this work expecting to plumb a deeper message. Plunge into its blood-treacle atmosphere, and swim through its uncanny world. And given this slim volume is the first print edition of an ongoing webcomic, those who enjoyed the ride know where to get on next.

Pictures taken from Fantagraphics’ 1st Edition 2014 printing


  1. This dream-like comics creates a world of a hybrid between machines and nature. Its style focuses on details, and all those black, black backgrounds… The conversational bubbles (technically speech balloons) should not be there, I wish no character would talk, and it is not necessary for they do not add anything helpful to interpret anything, but that is not fair. The point is that the created world is so bizarre and the style is so surrealism that one could just stare at one panel, one page, and enjoy the break of the expectation. However, the artist did not draw any sound effects or speech or speed line, so his action sequence lacks of energy, but he makes up with its uncertainty. What would happen if you have been captured or hit or touched or…? Everything can be fatal, and these little girls are definitely not humans. Everything is never explained (but the girls’ original story might be explained a little in the following chapter about their origins, but I do not have the energy to finish it). One aspect I dislike about such art is the sexual imagery or suggestion, or the broken bodies, organs in general. It is very, very unpleasant feeling to be stripped nakedly in a conscious level to face all human’s either animal or sexual or instinctual desires. I could not speak about interpretation about people are capable of coming up with one, but I guess there is going to be the argument that I project myself into the interpretation than otherwise, and I feel a little disguised by what I have seen there.

    1. I mean 'disgust', not 'disguised', but all in all, I feel uncomfortable in facing some imageries here and there.