Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"Igor Hofbauer is the Charles Burns of the Balkans."
- Nina Bunjevac (creator of 'Fatherland')
A little unusual to start a review with someone else's quote about a work, taken from the front French flap, which in addition to the creepy cover ought to be fair warning of precisely what to expect inside, but I genuinely couldn't think of a better way to sum this work up. When I read said pull quote before commencing reading I thought to myself, "That's a very bold statement, we'll see..."
But do you like Charles BLACK HOLE / LAST LOOK Burns? If, in particular, you are a fan of BLACK HOLE I feel you do need this. The bold, strident artwork is solid blacks paired with stark white backgrounds and dose highlights of red - frequently blood - and has that ever so slightly uneven looseness around the edges stylistically that simultaneously softens it up to the eye, then works on similarly softening up your sanity. It all helps to engender the feel of an early twentieth century period horror film involving characters that manage to come across as both terrifying and pitiful in equal measure.
This is a collection of shorts, I must add, rather than a single, longer form story, all with disturbing elements of surreal... whether that's a train full of zombies...
"The situation is beyond our control."
" Quarantine the train. You know where to direct it."
... or a man wielding a broom with his eyes, ears and mouth stitched up...
"I am well aware that my appearance scares people but still. It didn't seem to have an effect on him."
Or indeed the secret police ferrets who you really don't want a visit from...
"And we are from social services."
"Do you have any ID?"
"Of course we do."
... their ID being straight-edge razors to slash your face open with.
Like I said, that perturbing cover ought to have given sufficient cause for concern if you are of nervous disposition. The level of phantasmagorical within, combined with the art style, certainly should also appeal heavily to fans of Tim ABANDONED CARS Lane, by the way.
What the front and also rear cover neatly portrays is a strong element of old school East European design, with the cover title for example channelling a Soviet-era propaganda poster. That specific tone, which gives this work its own distinct flavour is something that continues throughout, particularly with some imposing concrete, Brutalist, monolithic architecture topped with similar angular blocky signage.
Though as I type I am also conscious that there are strong design elements of what I can only describe '60s Floridian Americana with palm trees and beaches, skyscrapers and sunsets, pop art wallpaper and TVs. It's a frankly hypnopompic blend, the austere East and the wacky West, like the ultimate bad dream in which you know are asleep and fighting frantically to wake from but just can't manage it...
And then the hooded fizzy pop bottle deliverymen arrive...