Experimental comics can be a gamble, one that in my opinion more often than not does not pay off. Combine that with the often also overplayed hand of the autobiographical comic and you are betting something of a long shot. However, after buying a copy of I Drank Holy Water: A Visual Diary by Zen Bucko (aka Olivia Sullivan) I was both pleased at its quality and intrigued by its style.
“Being raised a Catholic didn’t work out. But its made some interesting memories. I accept its unwelcome part in my life.”
I met Zen at the recent East London Comics Art Fair although, like a lot of my initial encounters with the comics crowd, had first started chatting to her on social media. I’m not sure what I was expecting from her: I try to keep my mind open at this sort of event as you get all sorts of product shown to you. What I bought was DIY and self published.
Zen is just finishing her final year at the Camberwell College of Arts in its (soon to be, but not quite yet) cool South London venue. The place isn’t up its own rear in the usual art school way, quite the opposite, in fact it’s hugely confessional and honest. It reveals an artist. It is harder to put it more bluntly than that. It is a revelation of the shaping of a young life.
Chapter One of I Drank Holy Water is entitled ‘Iconography’ and Zen uses this to describe her upbringing in the UK and Ireland. From moment one you begin to feel the leathery wings of the Catholic Church flapping around her and her family and she opens up about her life and obsessions, some funny and some (more often than not) painful.
This reminds me of a rawer, rough edged companion to something like the recent work of Tillie Walden or the autobiographical books by Jeffrey Brown. Zen never at any point steps back from being completely honest about her fears, anxieties and surroundings. She also fires a few sharply sarcastic arrows at different establishments, mostly the aforementioned church. She successfully hi-lights the ridiculousness of religion as we treat it in the UK, I particularly like the way she said a newly built church reminded her of a McDonalds restaurant.
The second chapter, and possibly one of the most difficult to read, deals with illness and its metaphors and meanings. It links it to feelings of self worth and guilt. This is so raw that it is a little difficult to both read and stomach in the way the flaking skin and rashes are shown but it is a brave and honest portrayal nonetheless. It is a scream of pain and rage on a page, before moving on and dealing with more therapeutic matters later in the next chapter.
As a whole, the book is a little less sequential than I would have hoped. Images rarely follow each other in motion, but they do follow in a flow of confession and a real character of the creator that shines through. Rough around the edges and not for every comic fan, this was an experience of a read that I am 100 per cent glad I personally encountered. It is intriguing and original – and I look forward to seeing what Zen produces next. Although not for the weak of constitution!
• You can grab a copy at www.zenbucko.bigcartel.com
Many thanks for reading.