THE ENVIOUS SIBLINGS AND OTHER MORBID NURSERY RHYMES | AUTHOR: LANDIS BLAIR | PUBLISHER: W. W. NORTON & COMPANY | FORMAT: HARDCOVER | RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 8TH
There’s something charmingly macabre about Landis Blair’s The Envious Siblings and other Morbid Nursery Rhymes. Probe them deep enough and nursery rhymes in general are rather ghoulish stuff, so perhaps it makes perfect sense for a collection such as this to come along. The Envious Siblings contains eight self-concocted nursery rhymes, written and drawn from Blair’s amusingly twisted mind. They consist of children decapitating each other in the playground, a child getting lost on a subway full of monsters, a rag tag bunch of animals inviting a little girl to a particularly sickening tea party, and more.
Blair’s art captures the darkly humorous tone of the book superbly, often saving the last page for a final gut-wrenching punch that removes all comedy entirely and enhances the grim nature of the narratives to gleefully dark effect. Drawn in black and white, his detailing veers between realism and caricature, each emphasising the other. His thick, layered shadows give weight to an unseen horror lurking beneath the surface of his nursery rhymes, while his sadistic, bawdy-eyed children are straight out of the Tim Burton playbook.
The rhymes themselves are carried along with a pleasant, rhythmical bounce. At times, Blair’s words become somewhat cumbersome as he unintentionally shows he’s a more effective artist that rhyme-slinger. In fact, some of The Envious Siblings' most effective moments are when there’s no rhyme at all and Blair allows his gruesome nursery rhymes to show themselves, instead of tell. 'Grounded' is one of the more effective strips in the book. Showing the unfortunate extremes a mother and father are forced to go to when their maniacal son won’t settle down, Blair exploits the strip’s panel structure by entrapping the boy, who’s locked in his room, more and more with each page turn, using the comic’s panel itself as the bedroom wall. It slowly builds up a sickening climax that encapsulates the black comedy of the comic.
Inevitably then, you find yourself drawn to The Envious Siblings’ visuals more than its words. For the most part, Blair’s rhymes are twistedly whimsical, perfectly matching the art itself, it’s just that the art takes up more space in the comic and, therefore, catches your eye more than the words. Suitably stylised like a genuine nursery rhyme book, the comic strips take up 90% of the space with the accompanying narrative often placed at the bottom of the page. Even when Blair’s rhymes match the sordid levels of fun the comics provoke, it’s ultimately the visuals of The Envious Siblings that hook you in and make you stay, turning page after page until the end.
The Envious Siblings is a devilishly funny debut from Blair. His vigorous flair for the horrific unknown ripples throughout the comic in a tense, subdued manner. What radiates out of the comic most is Blair’s Gothic-tinged sense of wit, which easily comes through from both the rhymes and the art.