Cover art of Kim W. Andersson's 'Alena'

Love can be hard to reconcile, especially when it takes the form of scissor-wielding, murderous spirit. Alluring as it is gruesome, Kim W. Andersson’s Alena explores sexuality, doubt, and vengeance within the caste-system of a preppy boarding school. Originally published in 2012, the graphic novel garnered acclaim and The Adamson Statue, an annual award given by the Svenska Serieakademien (Swedish Academy of Comics) for exceptional art and narrative. Though a rushed and simplistic look at relationships and angst can often feel detrimental to the work, a sharp didactic and classic terror save Alena from becoming a butchered love letter, at least in an unintended fashion.

After the death of her best friend, Josephine, Alena struggles to find happiness at her school. It doesn’t really help that she terrorized by Philippa, the institution’s Lacrosse star. Often taking jabs at the heroine’s waived tuition costs due to bereavement and her overt social anxiety, few panels show Alena receiving any kind of reprieve. Docile and unable to take action, Alena is encouraged to respond violently by one particular voice: Josephine’s. Like a trendy and more talkative Samara of The Ring, Josephine prods Alena, condoning resentment through an emotional (and at times, abusive) rhetoric.

Alena Panel Preview

Though Andersson is careful to flesh out the piece’s central characters, some of the conclusions they often come to feel a bit forced. For instance, a comical illustration of Philippa’s musings of becoming a super model super-imposed over her vomiting at the high-class party gives you a bit of insight into her idiocy. This also feels like it lends itself to some microcosm of redemption, but expectation is defied. It lends itself to the work’s theme in many respects, but it still feels a bit disjointed. Horror and teen drama proves to discern the worst of individuals, but Alena goes through great lengths, almost in spite of itself, to solidify this notion. This is noticeable in a few of the tale’s more horrific scenes, but it still feels like something is lost.

Andersson, responsible for the work’s art as well, is keen on body types. Alena often appears small, within herself, and frequently standoffish. However, the silhouette seen in multiple chapters of Philippa, such as atop a table or in the midst of lacrosse practice, is powerful, daunting, and baring the hips of Robert Crumb’s female illustrations. The school’s counselor endures a later term pregnancy that seems to swell nearing the novel’s conclusion. Even more subtle nuances, such as the shape of the P.E. instructor, add a level of both realism and symbolism that seems to more than make up for the moments that seem lacking.

Alena wrestles with incredibly relevant themes, so it can at times feel a bit peculiar that they are never examined in any significant depth. The ending of the tale does offer a meaningful conclusion, but it feels as though the sprint to get there could have benefited from a bit more contemplation. Furthermore, while the culture surrounding boarding school most likely falls on the more conservative end, repressed sexuality doesn’t seem to hold the weight it does in and of itself. In other words, it seems like Alena would be a bit more considerate and less spontaneous given her situation than the way she’s usually conveyed. She is introverted, but can often come off as explosive. Her reluctance is rarely bookended with much of the same. Consistency may help stabilize the character, but then again, stability is far off from her current state.

Alena has struck a social chord in many circles, and the recent film adaptation from Daniel di Grado has been making subtle waves on the festival circuit. The graphic novel is worth tracking down for those with a soft spot for pieces like A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and the more classic horror elements could satisfy a traditionalist. However, it’s far more than the narrative that keeps this scissor-pierced heart pounding.

Wicked Rating: 5.5/10

  • Kitty Trundlebutt

    As someone who’s made a fair amount of dosh illustrating comics, including horror stories, we should not compare the artwork to Crumb’s. Especially not considering the ‘wacom/cintiq’ vibe of the art. To be fair, comparing it to Mazuchelli, especially his Batman minimalist stuff, would be far more apt.

    • kimwandersson

      I don’t mind being compared to any of those great artists! And actually this book wasn’t done on the cintiq, it’s all sable hair brush and indian ink 😀 My next book on Dark Horse will be all cintiq and Manga Studio 😀

      • Kitty Trundlebutt

        I love the Swedish/Scadnavian cultural honesty! As expressed by yourself, here. 🙂 it’s in the bones and blood of why Scandanavian narrative media has been taking over the attention of genre audiences since ‘Hour of the Wolf’. Long before ‘Geister’ aka the Kingdom tv miniseries; both seem to have opened ‘creative doors’ for Norsk comic-book illustrators, due to only the best of reasons 😉 Frankly, Vertigo would never have had a chance to exist at all w/out that trail-blazing work, sequential-narrivitive work, in my opinion (and that of many comics pundits/boffins).

        So don’t get me wrong/misinterpret my post; I ‘get it’. But I’m a wee bit older than thou. And also have worked as a comics-artist for Dark Horse, DC, and Vertigo. Therefore, leaving my comment in my 1st post aside, I could laud you on your layout talent/skills, which sadly most folks don’t realise is the greater part of making a comic ‘yum’ to a reader, despite inking style. Though if the inking style is CRAP (hello, Al Milgrom; no apologies), the average reader won’t see the value of the Lay-out. Or as per Hour of the Wolf, the ‘blocking’.

        I dig this site, and the folks whom write for it. They dig comics (as they fucking should, credit to them). You receive benefit from traffic to this site (you cannot deny that). So, if we want to assist this site (which has assisted yourself), why don’t we open a dialogue RE inking, both physical and digital, as per horror comics, referencing stuff going back to Berni Wrightson (who’m I’ve hung out with, having mutual bosses/friends) and Frazetta? It’ll only help you, help this site, and assist burgeoning comics-artists whom love ‘scary stuff’. Sound good?

    • Daniel Bokemper

      Hey Kitty, sorry I didn’t reply a bit sooner. After reading the exchange between Kim and yourself (I’m incredibly thankful my review instigated this discussion, by the way), I feel like I should mention that my allusion to Crumb maybe came from a significantly less technical or historical vantage than what you’re citing. Frankly, it makes me wish I researched a deeper catalogue of styles, which I believe I’ll commit to in preparation of future pieces.

      The reason I reached for Crumb is because of the way he composes bodies. There’s a bit of grotesqueness, but also a consistency among many of his female figures, like the thick hips, muscular builds, and the frequent power stance. I felt that was rampant in ‘Alena,’ especially when looking at certain instances featuring Josephine and Philippa. I also happened to be reading Crumb’s take on Genesis a few nights before reviewing this, so there may have been a bit of cross-contamination. There are few other things, too, like the loads of saliva and some of the hunched, almost conniving stances of some of the male characters. Aside from that I, unfortunately, can’t draw many other comparisons to him.

      One of the best ways critique film, which is more in my comfort zone, is through intertextually. Unfortunately, that’s pretty dependent on just what you know, rather than what’s actually out there. While it seems to work with cinema, comics and graphic novels are probably not the best medium to approach in such a fashion. I’d be happy to lend an ear to any resources you might have for me to look into.

      Regardless, thank you for your comments.

  • kimwandersson
  • Kitty Trundlebutt

    to Kim:

    Having been paid in the comic-biz for longer than you’ve been published within it, I understand why you haven’t replied. And because of said-experience [more below, including Gamergate references], you most-likely presumed that my initial post was merely one more “bitchy comment from someone whose never ‘been there’, versus someone who has dealt with folks as high-up as Dick Giordano*”, and that is a fair P.O.V. for someone in your position to experience. It is not fair to expect that people with more experiences like yours, more publication history than yours, will not reply to an article lauding your work. Then have you reply assuming ‘the person offering critique, rather than knee-jerk support’, has no [paid] publication-history.

    By the time you’d read half of my previous-post, you’ve most likely scanned the ‘Lambiek’’s comic-professional database, to check for the name ‘Kitty Trundlebutt’, Then asked yourself, upon finding no-such name on Lambiek,

    ‘Is it worth my pointing-out there’s no-such name on Lambiek, nor any USA analogs of Lambiek?’.

    At which point, because you are Scandinavian, and you know how many many Scandinavian folks have contributed (in both good and horrible ways’ to the ‘Gamergate’ stuff, and why fellow-comics-professionals, in the aftermath of Gamergate, have often opted to rely [on sites like this one] With Nom De Plumes such ‘Anne Rocelaire’, used by Anne Rice, one of the greatest horror-novelists of all time. To deny her that right is both Misogynist and ‘FanBoyWanky’. Since we are on a horror Pop-Culture Site here, you cannot deny the truth of that, especially as you are ’Norsk’, and therefore you know what Norwegian/Swedish folk have contributed to Gamergate, as well as to the recent ‘gender-wars of the DC editorial staff’ stuff, as was covered by Heidi MacDonald herself, and leading to ‘all too much bandwidth’ wasted on sites like CBR.

    Then (most likely) you decided to ‘say nothing’. Hey, no worries; I completely understand. Since ‘I’ve been there’. Because I COMPLETELY understand your need to do so, due to the ’SJW knee-jerk’ crap on the internet RE comics, which is no better/worse than ‘Trump-ism’ (in current USA politics). And I despise/revile BOTH. As do many people whom make a living being sociological pundits on the internet, TV, and Public Radio, from places you live, places you love, places that lead to production of films like Hour of the Wolf’.

    None of that excuses lazy inking, either by tablet, or ‘brush’ which stuill looks like it was done by tablet. That might SEEM harsh, but it’s not; I can appreciate your DELICIOUS comic-book layout talents, while being HONEST enough to say ‘the inking is ‘fan-boy’, and then say, I can see that if you WANT to, your inking can improve to a level where Berni Wrightson himself would be happy to receive-over-his-pencils. Current ‘internet culture’ attempts to use “Emperor’s New Clothes’ bullshit to that say I (and many others) must be afraid to compliment you on your layout talents, while being ‘afraid’ to comment [HONESTLY] on your lack of inking-acumen/ability. Well, that’s bullshit, and neither helps YOU *or* your fans, and certainly cannot help your future career. Though knee-jerk/internet SJW comics garbage would ask me to be dishonest about that, and thus treat you like an extra in a BAD Jesus Franco film.

    You can fucking FORGET that, because I respect your work. As others, respected MY work, and thus were equally honest with ME, such as Denys Cowan HIMSELF. (If you don’t know whom Denys is, you have no right to complain about ANY reaction to your work). And you can fucking FORGET complaining about the HONESTY of that, because of the success of the Scandinavian TV show phenom of “Helljford’ (featured at Glasgow Frightfest, btw), and you DAMN well know what I mean. So as one ‘multicultural/SJW-approved’ comics-artist to another, DON’T waste your time pretending that you DON’T know what I mean. Even through ‘radio-silence’ as per lack of internet-reply.

    You owe yourself better, you owe your FANS better, including future fans.

    I say this having ‘been there’, as a paid comics-artist for the Big Four, whom has dealt with detailed-inking, while fighting the demands to ‘make deadline’, for both ‘indie/independent-publications’ and also ‘The Big Four’. I’m on Lambiek, dear motherfucker. I have been for LONGER than the creators of this site have been blogging.

    But that means I am allowed the freedom-of-speech to be honest enough to say that I also understand that you copped-out here, unlike my countrymen/country-women such as Ashley Wood, and Nicola Scott, and others; again, you can’t possibly complain about my saying that, posting here under a name different to my listing on lambiek, thanks to the physical-threats from Gamergate ‘Hayahs’, and how female editors/writers in comics, ‘whistle-blowing’ re the sexist bullshit which has befallen female writers/editors working for ‘The Big Four’, have been harassed, to say the least. I refer you to the term ‘Batgirling’, and remind you that any males standing against this have suffered as well.

    All these folk understand that ‘one cannot be honest as per comic-book critiques’, or game-critiques, without some form of protection. No different to the protection Anne Rice herself used/employed by writing the ‘BDSM Erotic Fiction Beauty Series’ under the nom-de-plume of ‘Anne Rocelaire’.

    And that’s part and parcel of making any $$ from a horror site, so therefore, as we are conversing on a horror-site, often reviewing novels and graphic-novels or comics, NO-ONE with a spine can complain about my invoking the ‘Anne Rocelaire’/Anne Rice thing, due to her influence in horror-publication. No different to ‘being honest’ about comic book art/writing. Which, thus far, is fair to conjoin with the ‘Gamergate’ bullshit, ‘Anne Rocelaire’ stuff, and the ‘Batgirl Editor’ bullshit…

    (…We can talk about THAT bullshit later.)

    My only complaint in my opening post, AS A FELLOW PROFESSIONAL, was the inking/your inking. Which is FAIR for me to address, since I have done comicbook-inking [for pay] with Kolinsky, synthetic brushes, Hunt Nibs, Gilotte Nibs, and more ‘classic REAL comic book inking’ tools. For my own pencils, and for other peoples’ pencil-art. As proven by contracts I still have from more than one Big Four Publisher. Which I was doing while discussing such/comparing such professional comic-book challenges with such Horror-comicbook luminaries like Berni Wrightson himself, and others, at places like Chicago-Con. While having to sit tet-a-tet with editors, deciding my fate.

    So, let’s talk about THAT, combined with what PROFESSIONALS say, and know, can be the ‘deciding factor’ for horror-comic-book art, regarding what can affect the ‘end result, printed result’, which is often decided by the quality and ‘finish’ of the bristol-board we work on…

    be that ‘classic vellum’, or hot-press, or cold-press, or yank Bristol-Board such as Strathmore or superior materials such as Beinfang. And thus, rather than copping out to cocklesss/clitless Internet ‘let’s all just support each other despite any lack of effort’ bullshit, and instead we actually HELP people seeking to get PAID to create art for horror-friendly comics, which frankly, will ASSIST AND AUGMENT sales of any comic YOU create, and is vaunted, here. Therefore helping YOU, and this site.

    Unlike any wanky-SJW-CBR bullcrap, or the overly-conservative ‘Bro-Tard/Frat-Tard’ version we see on sites that work [too hard] to be the opposite of CBR. BOTH suck. Because BOTH are equally mendacious/diengenuous . And frankly, despite what you might imagine, WON’T help you.

    If you choose to be honest, in your interactions with other people who’m have made their rent from comics and horror-based comics, you’ll end up with more ‘money in the bank’.

    The ball is in your court. And if, you look at all of this, and say ‘as per talentless selfie-culture’ onanists, “The reply is too long and thus I cannot pay proper attention to it’, you don’t deserve a review sans honest critique, and every Scandinavian KNOWS that. 😉

    Oh, and by the way, before you (or anyone else) wants to render themselves ‘castrati’ by commenting upon the length of this reply?

    I have some names for ya. ‘Jack Kirby, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore’. All of whom worked ‘ong-form’, and whom have FOUGHT, and suffered, to make sure you get the monetary-rights you want to receive from your work. So, considering the publication contracts YOU’VE most likely had to sign, anyone being snarky about the length of this reply, being cerebrally-lazy enough to not understand why the length was necessary, is “Bruno Mattei” as opposed to Mario Bava. As you are someone seeking to gain benefit from this site (and others), and thus we presume are a Horror Film Fan, you and any of your pals can understand why I’d mention that, add that.

    Therefore, let us later/soon speak of your INARGUABLE talents RE comic-book horror: your WONDERFUL sense of timing/pacing, as indubitably proven by your layout, which is a talent HORRIBLY lacking in 90% of all folks claiming to be ‘comic-book-horror-artists’ in the past 10 years. Because your ‘timing’ is sublime. As is the bests of your pencilling. Your inking ‘ain’t there yet’, but that can take less than a year of part-time effort to change, and frankly, you can always do the right thing and hire a VERY talented inker to make your work SHINE, until your inking (IF YOU WORK AT IT, sans being Hipster-Tard lazy towards it) becomes as lovely as your layout/storytelling abilities, which ARE luscious.

    Yeah, even now, SOME folks whom are reading this, whom never had to face the realities of ‘making rent from comics’, of making-deadline or discussing dances of ink work with editors, are being cockless or clitless wankers here**, screaming ‘too LONNNNG! We’re Twitter-addicted wankers! Make it 800 words OR LESS!!!’. Please note the beginning of this paragraph SPECIFIED ‘some folks’. Thus non-lazy people cannot complain.

    But in regards to the LAZY FUCKERS, it’s funny how they never complain about ‘long-form’ stuff on anything on the internet (including here, and CBR) about comics such as ‘Walking Dead’, or TV adaptions thereof. Then again, they never had to DRAW anything for pay for a MOMENT in their life, on DEADLINE. That’s a pun; ‘deadline’. Big wink to you, since you know why, since you have to conform to the needs of Diamond, and their promotion-machine for comics. 😉

    (As we are both ‘paid’ comics folk, it’ll be fun to see if any ‘arm-chair-quarterback wankers’ choose to bitch about the length of this – thus saying ‘fuck you’ to Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, which all modern comics could not exist without, despite wankers whom never been paid do draw a PAGE of comics or paid to write one bitching about Moore. Or complain about the ‘grammar style’, or ‘diction’, or ‘syntax’, etc. Since we could bring up equal-and-abiding hypocrisies for THAT, too.)

    Let’s make some $$ for you, and this site. By being ‘honest’.

    All the best, KT

    *Before he, as an inker beyond compare, had sadly passed-on.

    ** Note how I refuse to be genderist? Weak-sauce people of either gender are STILL WEAK-SAUCE. CBR, take note.