In tight, thin lines that fill nine-panel grids, Julia Gfrörer’s comics explore the realms of horror and the erotic lives of women and finds, in the intersection of the two, a new sort of agency that borders on empowerment but is often subsumed in some darker truth -- that feminine sexuality and the procreative power of women are potent and raw forces that, having been confined and shamed by a male-dominated social order for so long, manifest as an assertory, supernatural agent of change.
Her latest 24 page, black and white mini-comic, Vision Part One, continues in this vein. Gfrörer pitches the plot as “a Victorian spinster escapes the demands of her invalid sister-in-law through a sexual relationship with a haunted mirror,” and by doing so firmly cements it in all of her themes: horror, the constraints inherent in the constructs imposed on womanhood, the desire to escape, and desire itself. The tension that Gfrörer creates by juxtaposing all of these ideas makes everything taut and tight, and her artwork only enhances this rigidity. At times, Gfrörer’s pages are overwhelming, images so dense with crosshatching that they become claustrophobic, seemingly straining to break out of the nine-panel grids in which she imprisons her work. Through these artistic choices, Gfrörer compels a reader to feel her storytelling as much as bear witness to it.
Adding to all this is a seemingly endless stream of unanswered questions that infuse Gfrörer’s work -- Vision Part One has its own lengthy list. What exactly is the situation behind this narrative? To what does its title point? What is the relationship between the brother and sister? What is the dynamic between the sister and the sister-in-law? What is real? What is imagined? Who is pulling the strings? And so many more. While Gfrörer almost seems to be gleefully avoiding answering any of these in Vision Part One, the state of unknowing doesn’t muddle the story -- there is just enough information to create a type of inferred understanding -- what it does, specifically, is add to the agitation and uneasiness so clearly at the heart of her narrative.
There’s also a rawness to almost every beat found in Vision Part One. The repressive environment of the Victorian Era is juxtaposed with a carnality of sexuality, and this, too, becomes a propelling agent for the narrative, as if dark forces are capitalizing on the explosiveness created by boxing in lust. Gfrörer seems to suggest there is some sort of evil energy at the heart of eroticism -- that a woman’s unbridled sexuality is a gateway to powerful forces that can and should upend the status quo.
Gfrörer says that Vision Part One can be read as a complete story, but the truth is that it is the first of a two-part series. One has to wonder if Gfrörer will answer any of the prevailing questions she raises in the next volume, or whether she will just add more. She seems to understand that withholding answers is a powerful manipulation for a storyteller, one that sets up a tense dynamic between a work and its audience. For an artist whose work is as viscerally impactful as it is visually stunning, this dynamic furthers Gfrörer’s themes and the power she controls therein.
Julia Gfrörer is both of these. Vision Part One clearly demonstrates this.