The comic is a fantastic medium for surreal, artistic and deeply creative auteurs. While the superhero publishers may be as stuck in the money-making grind as Hollywood and its bland menu of remakes and focus-grouped, lowest common denominator trash, other publishers go out of their way to give a voice to true artists.
The House that Groaned is a good example of the latter. Karrie Fransman has created a fascinating book that (and I know I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again) surely couldn’t exist outside the medium.
It opens with a young, attractive woman, making her way to a new flat in a shared house. She’s just moved to the city and is looking for a fresh start. However, when you’re moving into a flat on Rottin Road, you probably should have been to meet the other residents before you move in.
Her fellow occupants have a strange collection of eccentricities, though that’s putting it mildly. One fetishises women with disfigurations; another is a lonely dietitian who thinks of nothing but healthy food and exercise. The lady in the top flat melts into the background of her life like a human chameleon; while the man across the hall is a freelance photo retoucher, though he has to put on gloves before he can touch people in real life.
While their foibles seem extreme, they all have an intricate, plausible back-story, which we’re told in flashback as the new arrival settles into her flat.
The other problem she faces is that the house is falling apart. The landlord is impossible to contact and there are leaks and ominous rumbles throughout the book. As the plot moves from room to room, we see a rat’s eye view of the house: beyond the peeling wallpaper, in the cavities between the walls, the house can’t hide its battle against decrepitude.
Things start to kick off as the characters begin to intermingle, and it seems like the house can’t take the strain of such an odd group bouncing off one another.
Fransman’s art is as distinctive as her plot. With such a small ensemble of characters there’s no problem distinguishing them, despite what, at first glance, appears to be a relatively crude style. The size of their personalities overtakes their appearance, and Fransman focuses on the quiet minutiae of their lives, letting the characters’ movements, habits and conversations carry the plot forward. The house is also meticulously designed so it always makes sense as the characters move around it, and the decor and content of their flats is as much part of the story as the characters themselves.
A brave and sophisticated book, The House that Groaned digs deep into the psyche of flat dwellers and what goes on behind their closed doors. It’s exaggerated caricature but it’s stuffed full of social observation. It’s a fantastic read: dramatic, surreal, sophisticated, hilarious and horrific in equal measure.