Reviews

A.L.I.E.E.E.N.

Sean Ferrell

Taken out of a timeline each tragedy seems epic, because without a wider context they are the entirety of the context.


A.L.I.E.E.E.N.

Publisher: First Second Books
ISBN: 1-59643-095-8
Price: 12.95
Writer: Lewis Trondheim
Length: 96
Formats: Trade Paperback
US publication date: 2006-04
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A.L.I.E.E.E.N. by Lewis Trondheim is a children's book I would never show my children; I'm too interested in keeping it for myself. This comic, which Trondheim claims he found while on a walk through the woods, is the first extra-terrestrial comic published on Earth. Whether Trondheim found it or made it is inconsequential. I am willing to argue that it is, in fact, extra terrestrial in nature because nothing in it is expected or easily deciphered. It is simple, symbolic, literal and figurative.

This is a book of symbols, analogies, and impacting images which make quick connections and resonate. While originally published in France the translation must have taken about 2 seconds because all the dialog is written in an alien alphabet -- symbols which have no clear meaning or key. What is said is clear -- it's easy enough to decipher what might be meant by any given balloon -- and unimportant. A hiker comforts a friend who is hurt, he finds a doctor, he questions the doctor's practices. All of these moments could be understood by anyone, of nearly any age. What makes them evocative and mature is that the hiker is a yellow alien bird, his friend has gouged out his eyes, and the doctor's attempts to help involves a closeted freak that tongue's the victim's eye sockets.

Don't get me wrong, this is all very funny. All of the characters are cute, even the scary ones. It's like a children's book turned to questions of deceit, social anarchy, witchcraft and medical malpractice.

And like a children's book, A.L.I.E.E.E.N is powerfully emotive. You feel bad for our blinded blue dog-like creature, and his helpful yellow bird. You long for the tall fellow, and hope he'll help the victims of the shit flood. What's more, you know why he won't. We've all been stung by hope, by loneliness. We recognize its form if not the language which presents it. It's the universal in the stories that is amazing. Given to ten people from ten cultures, would they find the same story? I don't know, but certainly there would be powerful commonalities between their readings.

What is ultimately so engaging is that these tales are loosely interconnected stories that loop around themselves. They invite rereading. A timeline could probably be created, a map showing the order in which all the strange events take place, but it's as unnecessary as deciphering the language. What more will you gain? Is it important to know when your heart was broken, before or after the flood? When you lost your sight? When your friends deserted you, or worse, beat you to fit in with bullies? Before or after lunch? Who cares. What matters is the events, in themselves, and the impact they have. Taken out of a timeline each tragedy seems epic, because without a wider context they are the entirety of the context. The shit flood reaches to the horizon. It will never end. In A.L.I.E.E.E.N or in our world. Ultimately, this book stays with you.

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

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