This review first appeared in the Comics Journal.

Meatcake #17
Dame Darcy
24 pp (?)/ $3.95
ISBN: 9781560977957

Even when she’s not especially inspired, Dame Darcy creates superior goth comics: cheerfully mean-spirited, idiosyncratically stylish, and oozing with surreal ichor. Thus in this issue’s “Rockstar Romance,” we get to see rockstar Trixxie put paid to her stinking boyfriend Tex — the gross-out high point being a half-page panel in which Tex appears as a bulbous, weeping worm strangling itself with its own belt. “Spider-Silk Tropics” features Darcy regulars Effluvia (a mermaid) and Stega-Pez (a girl who speaks by spewing bloody, inscribed tablets from her throat) as they use their amorous wiles to bamboozle a spider-loving Duke. In both stories, Darcy indulges her goth tropes and her feminism: men are tormented, sisterhood is affirmed, and light-hearted squick is relished by all. And, as always, Darcy’s eccentric drawing is a joy, with perspective, proportion, and visual logic all flattened out to fit into geometrically obscure but oddly elegant patterns.

Again, I do have an effervescent attraction for these narratives. But I pledge my true and more hopeless passion to Darcy’s less tongue-in-cheek efforts. “We Are the Fae and There is No Death” forswears quirky hipster humor and jokey man-bashing alike. Instead, it simply tells a fairy tale; Oriana and her younger sister Hyacinth live in a castle ruled by their harsh father, a king whom we never see. Hyacinth wants to leave the castle and marry the forest ruler…but Oriana doesn’t believe there is any such person, and tries to stop her. As is the case in fairy tales, the plot takes numerous twists and turns, but has an eerie inevitability, pregnant with pain, love, death, and magic. The sisters do escape from the tyrant king, who is both abusive father, and, perhaps, life itself. But where do they end up?

Oriana answers in a remarkable poetic denouement, where she speaks for the first time directly to the reader — as if she has become unmoored from the story. Against a design of stars and flowers, she’s drawn with her hair down and in a transparent shift. “Am I alive or am I dead?” she asks. “It doesn’t matter in this place. Time does not run in a linear line as pronounced by man, but instead runs in an eternal spiral like the rings of a tree. My sister is in eternal holy union with a God.” A full page illustration shows two skeletons embracing; in the lower right of the panel, stylized but lovingly-patterned flowers contrast with the white bones. In the last panel, we see Hyacinth bathing in an idyllic pool, while Oriana sits beside it, head on her knees, butterfly wings sprouting from her back. Her expression is difficult to read; her face may be slightly smiling, or wistful, or perhaps just blank. “Now we are the fae,” the caption says, “and there is no death.”

This isn’t the retro-smirk of Jhonen Vasquez, or even, for that matter, of Edward Gorey. Instead, Darcy’s conclusion is reminiscent of the chillingly beautiful take on immortality at the end of Peter Pan…or of Lovecraft’s “Shadow Over Innsmouth.” “We Are the Fae …”, is in other words, not goth, but true gothic, in which queer doublings suggest a relationship between the human and the uncanny — or in which , indeed, the relationships are the uncanny. In Darcy’s other stories in this book, sisterly love triumphs, and evil men are destroyed. Here, in contrast, all love — between sisters, between parents and children, between men and women — seems to run together like dark water, where the self sinks and dissolves until all that’s left is a smiling, empty mask. All three of these stories end, more or less, with a “happily ever after,” but only in this one does it sound so resolutely inhuman.