The Bun Field marks Finnish comics artist Amanda Vähämäki’s first full-length release. She has contributed a number of shorter works to such publications as Drawn and Quarterly’s Showcase series, Glomp, and several other European anthologies. During a stint in art school in Italy, Vähämäki joined up with a comic art collective, Canicola, and it was through the collective that she began to release much of her work.
What one perhaps first experiences when they begin Amanda Vähämäki’s The Bun Field is bewilderment. A child experiences a nonsensical dream in which a Donald Duck-like character and its son(is that his son?) are devoured by a dinosaur and a nut is violently smashed in a vise. The child then awakes, but the world she has arisen to is no more comprehensible than the dream. However, Vähämäki makes this sense of confusion into a strength of the graphic novel rather than a shortcoming.
Besides the seemingly inscrutable story line of The Bun Field, what is really striking about the book is the freshness of the drawing style contained within. Decidedly smudgy and at turns both juvenile and painterly, The Bun Field is one of those rare graphic novels in which the drawing style fits the story so perfectly that words and pictures become almost indistinguishable. Messy yet still meaningful, well-rendered panels of a bear driving a little girl around in a hatch-back meshes seamlessly with dialogue like “I can’t drive, I don’t have a license” matched with the response “I can’t drive, I’m an animal.” Much of The Bun Field is punctuated with humorous moments like this, but the over-arching tone is actually somewhat more foreboding.
The looming sense that The Bun Field seems to exude stems from the fact that the text is captioned narration from the perspective of a child. Again Vähämäki presents an inherent strength as an apparent shortcoming. Rather than simply being opaque, stilted writing allows readers the experience of a child lost in a world they do not fully understand. Like a child, one wanders through the text inexplicably confronted with fleshy, hulking figures that one must entertain at breakfast one moment, and then is forced to accept a canine dental implant after a gruesome fall the next. The world of The Bun Field is one in which the reader is forced into the child-like state of both unbridled imagination, coupled with uncertainty, and a certain inability to quite fathom what is happening around oneself. In fact, The Bun Field is more a simulation of the lived experience of being a child rather than a description of childhood memories. The book veers away from the usual portrayals of childhood in which the text is disseminated from the position of sentimental reminiscing of an adult. Delivering the text from the perspective of a child avoids making it seem cloyingly sweet. This avoidance of the usual pitfalls of literature with children as protagonists is where The Bun Field truly marks out its creativity.
While perhaps the episodic nature and lack of a coherent narrative might bother some readers, the elliptical nature of the text is what gives it its distinct and original flavor. The Bun Field is more interested in exploring than arriving at any specific destination. One departs with a sense of mood rather than any sort of thesis at the close of the short text. While one gets the sneaking suspicion that Vähämäki might have found a clever way of not actually saying something, its hard not to forgive The Bun Field since its style and mood is maintained and executed so well.
Another artist who has often been accused of inscrutability and abstraction, David Lynch, once said “I keep hoping people will like abstractions, space to dream, consider things that don’t necessarily add up.” The Bun Field takes Lynch’s sentiment to the next level and is an education how abstractions are also wildly entertaining.