Along with Montreal’s Drawn & Quarterly, Conundrum Press, based in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, is responsible for publishing most of the cutting-edge graphica this country has seen in the past several years.
Both presses delight in pushing the envelope. In 2010, D&Q published Paying for It, Chester Brown’s graphic (in both senses of the word) memoir about his experience patronizing prostitutes. Now, Conundrum is responsible for a collection of comics from Toronto artist Nina Bunjevac that is alternately mordant, sexually explicit, and poignant.
Bunjevac’s narratives explore displacement and urban ennui, with a distinctly Eastern European sensibility (the author credits Serbian filmmaker Dusan Makavejev as an influence). In “Opportunity Presents Itself,” a Balkan woman is brought to America by her venal uncle. Hoping for a new life, what she finds is closer to hell on earth. In the collection’s centrepiece, a character named Zorka Petrovic (who resembles a female version of R. Crumb’s Fritz the Cat), becomes pregnant with a male stripper’s child. Her abject loneliness and longing for some form of basic companionship is heartbreaking.
Visually, Bunjevac employs a stippled, shadowed approach that accentuates the noirish aspects of her narratives while also providing a high degree of almost documentary detail. The result is an irony-laden tour though a seedy milieu that is as visually impressive as it is emotionally provocative.