How the Lion Lost Its Pride
If I am to trust my Saturday afternoon forays with nature documentaries on television, the basic survival of a pride of lions is reliant on its lionesses. While the males sit around acting as figureheads, the females hunt, raise the youth and, in general, do all the work. Even if the males exude order and principle from their heavy manes, it is the lioness that acts out that essence, turning it into something tangible. In short, the lioness gives the pride its worth.
Of course, you’re not reading this review for secondhand zoology lessons. The cover of Mother, Come Home, however, is adorned with a solitary, lion’s head doorknocker. This is our entrance to the imagery of this collected edition of the first stor arch in Paul Hornschemeier’s Forlorn Funnies series, and so it seems to me a fitting place to begin.
To wax on PBS and the animal kingdom for just a second more, then If the lionesses were removed, the pride would be doomed even though its symbols of social and political order held their place. At least, that would be the case if the pride were unable to adapt.
At the center of Mother, Come Home is a human father and son who (as the book’s title suggests) have lost their lioness. Despite their greatest efforts to adapt, their love prevents them from moving beyond the old order of things. From the book’s opening pages, we see into the fantastical psychosis of the father as he drifts across a desolate landscape searching for her. The shadowed sea in this search reflects the father’s consumption by the darkness in his mind. He is unable to accept a permanent separation from his wife and wanders into the void of depression because of it.
While the father aimlessly floats through sorrow, his elementary-school-aged son, Thomas, has been given a role to play. Before her death, his mother presented Thomas with a plastic lion mask; after her passing, the mask’s air-brushed mane becomes Thomas’ authority. At first, Thomas simply takes command of the lioness duties of his mother, viewing himself as groundskeeper for the family residence. The mask gives him his purpose, but Thomas discovers over time that he is not fit to be a lioness. At one point, we see his mother’s grave thickly coated in grass, and then the garden Thomas has taken the responsibility for, withered and muddy. Thomas’ intended provision for his father takes similar course. Even when he picks up the role of the male lion, leading his father through the wilderness, Thomas is forced to realize that real authority still remains in the errant mind of his father. The mask is only a mask. His role was only play something to let his mind survive the inevitable dissolution of the family he found so much pride in.
Hornschemeier presents the story to us with exceptional command of a dull color palette, bringing bright emphasis to Thomas’ mask as it guides us through the tragic epilogue of a family or, as the author frames it, the prologue to life of Thomas Tennant. Visually, the book is saturated with careful imagery (something Hornschemeier winks at in “The Garden” vignette where we see a book titled Evolving Symbols on a shelf), and Hornschemeier is, occasionally, deftly verbose in analysis of the rudimentary emotions of the characters.
Mother, Come Home is on one level an argument that although it is in our nature to build close families, it is absent in that nature to deal with the collapse of those units. When our order crumbles, we rely on external constructs, masks, to protect us not only from the encroaching world around us but also from our own minds.