Thursday, February 19, 2009

"Anders Loves Maria," but has a Funny Way of Showing It

Anders Silfersked is a young photographer known more for his reclusive artist mother than his ability to point and shoot. One morning, he witnesses his girlfriend Maria being especially adorable and suggests they have a baby. It's a bit of momentary prescience as, unbeknownst to either of them, Maria is already knocked up.

But pregnancy doesn't magically transform a couple of quarterlifers into adults. Maria remains true to her inner teenager, still obsessed with video games and clinging to the scars of her childhood. Anders' fidelity waivers at the faintest whiff of insecurity, and his easy life has left him both uncertain of his manhood and unable to cope with any quantum of adversity. And both parties are fiercely impulsive, prone to acting out rather than talking over their feelings.

Rene Engstrom writes Anders Loves Maria for a Swedish publication, but posts the English version online so we can all share in the sweet fucked-upness of their relationship. For most of the pages, Engstrom employs vector illustration, using the computer to create images that are both highly detailed and incredibly clean. She also uses the exaggerated cartoon look of the comic to her full advantage. Each panel is alive with movement and Engstrom is unafraid to make any of her characters -- male or female -- look goofy at the right moments.

Occasionally, she'll play with other media and styles, such as eliminating the black lines in favor of blocks of color or painting scenes by hand. In some cases, this serves a narrative purpose, such as setting apart flashbacks, but in others, it's just to give herself a break from the computer. Some of these latter endevors work better than others, but she eventually returns to the vector art.

Anders Loves Maria is a bit of a melodrama, filled with infidelity, assault charges, paparazzi, and parental neglect. But it's fundamentally a belated coming of age story depicting the ambivalence we feel treading the road to adulthood and the stumbles we make along the way. No character is merely demonized (although Anders is a bit of a cad); instead, Engstrom gradually pulls back the curtain on her characters' histories, helping to explain their present day behavior. When Anders does something stupid (as happens frequently), we get the same sense of titillation as the paparazz who pursue him, but we also want to smack him over the head and teach him to be a better man. Maria's hatred of her Norrland hometown seems the ghost of trivial teen angst until we watch her childhood unfold. And Tina, a figure from Maria's past, appears at times grossly opportunistic, but it's tied to jealousy and desparate desire to be loved.

That's how Engstrom gets us to root for Anders and Maria, for their relationship, even through all the bad choices, missteps, and moments of casual cruelty. We know that the title is true, that Anders loves Maria, even if he has a funny way of showing it. But we also know that it's going to take more than love for them to be together at the end.

Anders Loves Maria features nudity of all sorts and non-graphic sex, so watch yourself at work.

[Anders Loves Maria]


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