Author: Shiamin Kwa
Source: Strong Bonds: Relationships Between Children and Animals in Comics. Ed. Maaheen Ahmed. Acme Series on Comics Studies. Liège, University of Liège Press: 165-179.
Publication type: Chapter in a book
Abstract: Brecht Evens’ Panther (Drawn & Quarterly, 2015) is a horror story masquerading as a children’s illustrated book. The oblong book features brightly colored and ornamented watercolor illustrations, and details the growing intimacy between a little girl and Panther, who emerges from the bottom drawer of her bureau. The dangers are subtle at first, relying on verbally and visually suggestive clues; but, like the 2014 Beautiful Darkness (Vehlmann and Kerascoet), this book plays on the tropes of the children’s book and, especially of the dark sexual undercurrent of fairytales. This paper begins with the form of the book itself, which layers lines and colors to tell its story, and eschews the traditional bordered panels of the Comics form. This formal structure mirrors the text itself, which scrutinizes the layers of identity and subjectivity of its characters, whose actions and words are read like clues. Taunting the reader into more elaborate hermeneutics of suspicion that bleed into paranoia, the book invites multiple interpretations of the trauma of sexual abuse at its center, which subtend in the figure of the father. Panther is deliberately ambiguous, choosing to make elliptical suggestions that increase the dread and paranoia against, and because of, the impassability of its surface. The threats of unfixed identity, disguise, and double speak, add meaning to the figure of the pedophile as “domestic terrorist,” and Panther invokes contemporary fears of the threat of terrorism, from those who have entered from beyond borders, and now from unknowable ‘naturalized’ citizens. Reading Panther as a multi-layered examination of the undercurrent of fear that resides in borderless worlds, this paper scrutinizes a “state of exception,” blending the intersection where animals are humanized and humans animalized, foreigners enter the domestic space without the necessary papers, and where the sovereign father is ultimately implicated as the greatest threat of all.