The Troll King
Kolbeinn Karlsson, writer/artist
Top Shelf, April 2010
Like the work of some kind of less violent altcomix Clive Barker, Kolbeinn Karlsson’s The Troll King is a defiant, love-it-or-shove it celebration of monstrousness, queerness, and the dreamlike Venn diagram overlap between the two. The burly beasts who inhabit the forest just beyond the glow of the city lights in this suite of interconnected stories have, through “hard work” and because society is “not worthy of [their] presence,” created a world for themselves, a world of their own, a world where their “bodies” and their “pleasure” are their “first priorities.” In this place, the creatures are stocky, broadly designed, miraculously self-perpetuating species, evoked with a wavy, almost furry line and bright, flat colors for an overall effect that wouldn’t look out of place in a Kramers Ergot tribute to Super Mario Bros. 2. Appropriately, events proceed with demented video-game (or dream or drug-trip–both adjectives made literal at points during the book) logic–a man they rescue from the river, for example, is transformed via sexual congress with the titular monarch into a “noble steed” upon which the Troll King flies to the Moon. I’m not saying there’s no horror or loss in this world, because there’s plenty of both: Our two main characters have twins, whose coming-of-age story involves coming to terms with death, yearning for something they can’t get with their cozy family inside the forest’s borders, and eventually turning on the parents who love them so much; there’s also a batshit violent “Wild West” interlude/shamanic vision that demonstrates the way community can break down and tease out the worst aspects of humanity (however broadly construed) as a counterpoint to the way the forest creatures’ world seems to bring out their best. But (and again like Barker) Kolbeinn is giving his gay utopia an edge: It embraces the lived experience warts and all. Freedom, like the panel where the Troll King and his noble steed fly to the moon (itself part of perhaps the most affecting sequence of comics I’ve read all year), is overwhelming and scary, which is part of what makes it so wonderful in the first place.