TW: Discussion of suicidal ideation and mental illness
When you encounter a cartoonist through a webcomic or a long-running series, you often don’t get a grasp on the full range of their capabilities. It’s exciting to take an artist out of their initial context and see how they fare with different kinds of storytelling, and that excitement is exactly what fans of The Immortal Nerd will get when they pick up Hanna-Pirita Lehkonen’s zine Start Over Again.
Start Over Again is a collection of short comics that range from humorously tongue-in-cheek to dark and disturbing. The zine opens with several sweet, funny and feminist comics that are tonally reminiscent of Lehkonen’s webcomic, The Immortal Nerd. Women discover that, without chivalry, their day-to-day lives become difficult, a new dog-owner experiences a strange, emotional loss, and a broken arm helps one person discover their inner hero. While many of these stories also highlight Lehkonen’s fabulous color sense—“Dog Shelter” features some gorgeously watercolored city scenes—one of the standouts is the black and white “Incredible Man-Man,” starring a guy named Guy, an ordinary man who once got in a bar fight, and had an experience that pokes fun at stereotypes of masculinity.
Gag comics like “Incredible Man-Man” eventually give way to comics that use a serious tone to address issues. In “Find Five Differences,” Lehkonen alerts readers to the shift in tone by flipping a “Spot the Difference!” style image on its head in order to address stigma against people with mental illness. Lehkonen then delivers a comic that is a complete visual break from the beginning of the zine; they set aside their usual clear lines and bright coloring for more erratic linework that communicates an internal sense of losing control. In six short panels the readers gets a look at the internal world of someone experiencing suicidal ideation. It is visceral but effective, and the break in style prepares the reader for “Start Over Again,” the final story in the zine.
“Start Over Again” is a science fiction comic unlike any of Lehkonen’s other comics. It takes place in a world that largely resembles our own, but in this world people who commit serious crimes have their memories wiped and are given new identities so that they may attempt to start anew. The story plays with the Oedipal concept of ignorance; rather than granting bliss, ignorance can wreak havoc on those we try to shelter from harm. Lehkonen again reminds the reader of their brilliant color sense by dropping color strategically into the initially black and white comic to heighten its emotional impact, and the final result is a story that questions the value of memory and humankind’s ability to learn from past mistakes.
As a whole, this collection highlights the incredible range of storytelling of which Lehkonen is capable. While I found the darkest stories most compelling, there are plenty of light-hearted, snarky comics that more squeamish readers can enjoy. To pick up this delightful sampling of Lehkonen’s work, head over to the Team Parvelo website. For some fun, queer, optimistic sci fi, read their comic The Immortal Nerd on LINE Webtoon for free!