By Bartosz Sztybor and Piotr Nowacki
This Polish book gets around the translation problem in the simplest way possible – it merely ignores words completely and concentrates instead on the universality of telling stories just through it’s highly stylised and cartoony imagery. In this wordless 60 page A5-sized beautiful little hardback tome, the subject is love; difficult love, disappointing love, funny love and yes, tainted love.
Author Bartosz Sztybor is a multi-disciplinary Poliish writer – journalist, film critic, movie scripts and comics. Artist Piotr Nowacki is a well known Polish comic artist and head editor of the most popular Polish comic magazine Karton.
The cartoony visuals give the book a surface sweetness, but a longer look and a quick read reveals stories far more concerned with the down side to love – the betrayals, jealousies, anger and all those things that taint relationships. Throughout the six strips Sztybor doesn’t hold back – the cartooning of Nowacki a light contrast against the bitter tang of the themes.
But it’s not something that really did all that much for me. The polished, cartoony visuals actually manage to take something away from the experience. And in a book where the visuals absolutely have to tell the story, there were moments where I felt just too confused as to the actual mechanics of the story. Where it should have flowed, it stuttered.
There were a couple of stories where it all just has nothing to it – take that one above – the very first strip in the book – simply an extended 5-page gag about a spiky ribena-ish berry whose cuddles with the normal berry things go all wrong and a bit squishy. Until along comes the future Mrs spiky ribena-ish berry thing. And that’s it. There’s just nothing there.
Not that there aren’t good things about Tainted… the second strip that takes an eschew look at Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is really nicely done, complete with a lusty, lonely God (with comedy all-seeing eye) creating Adam on a whim and then making Eve when he realises he wants female company rather than male.
But the best laid plans of mice and men (and God it seems)…..
There’s a bit more substance and pep to that one, a few more twists and turns and God gets to be all comedy vengeful. Much better.
Further strips cover the problems with considering perfection and what can occur when a flaw is found, complacency in relationships where shooting for the moon (very literally) just isn’t enough in the end, and a bizarre strip about the dangers of smoking that just doesn’t work withing the context of the theme of the book at all.
We end with a little Romeo and Juliet style opposites attract parable of a female ice-cube and a male flame. And at first it simply annoyed me – I just couldn’t work it out, it just seemed to slip into incomprehensibility halfway through. But careful reading made it clear – the strip suddenly splits halfway through into two parallel, alternate timelines.
Like I say, first time round this just annoyed me, as I tried to read it quickly, missing the split and spent the remaining pages wondering what the hell was going on. But second time round, when I got the trick, I was torn between ….. I don’t know… embarrassment at missing it? Or just annoyance for the trick being too subtly done to really work?
And then I read it again, and again, and damn me, if I haven’t come round to thinking it’s a damn clever, and very subtle (too subtle?) trick of storytelling.
And here it is.. the moment it all splits, using the literary device of the wall between fire and ice world as a divider….
Thing is, one big problem with all of Tainted is speed. It’s a ridiculously quick read. Stupid quick. A wordless strip sometimes needs to put the brakes on a reader, and this sort of slick, polished, cartoony style art just doesn’t slow the eye down at all. There’s so little to take in in every panel that the eye starts, unconsciously, to slip and rush across the page. Or at least mine did. And that’s why I missed the cleverness of that final strip.
All in all, Tainted just didn’t really click with me. For all the fun of the Adam and Eve strip, or the touches of clever humour in some of the others, it felt a little too disjointed and the cartoony style didn’t always work in the story’s favour. But still… that last strip …. clever.