by Kevin Czap
Today I’d like to talk to you guys a little bit about one of my favorite webcomics. Dutch for “bad girls,” slechtemeisjes is a bizarre weekly strip starring a group of nearly identical teen girls who live with a professor? I’m not sure how much of a continuous storyline runs throughout the episodes, but I get the feeling that isn’t really the point. A typical strip consists of the girls getting involved in some surreal adventure or circumstance, punctuated by the odd, matter-of-fact dialogue that more or less narrates the scene, until culminating finally in some kissing and/or missing clothes.
A slight detour: One of the most indelible marks made on me while at art school was when we went to Pittsburgh to see the Carnegie International exhibition. It was a great show overall, but most significant of all was getting to see Paul Chan‘s piece Happiness (finally) after 35,000 years of civilization…. What the piece consisted of was a very wide projection of a crudely animated masterpiece.
Combining Henry Darger‘s The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion and the utopian ideas of Charles Fourier, Chan’s piece was an epic story of a colonial mansion filled with hermaphroditic little girls, playing, eating, shitting, fucking all over the place. Eventually, a bunch of businessmen invade and the two groups go to war, similar to war between the Vivian Girls and the Glandelinian empire. All this is rendered in the most basic MS Paint graphics and severely limited animation (The best parts are when girls just go cartwheeling past in the foreground, basically just a single image spinning). The result is hilarious and awe-inspiring (at least it was for me). I think the whole thing (or at least a portion of it) can be seen on Chan’s website, so if you have a lot of time, I recommend checking it out.
Anyway, I had never heard of Darger before this, and more research really made an impression on me. What I appreciated about Chan’s approach to Darger’s work was that, unlike most others, he took it seriously. I remember reading an interview with the startlingly brilliant Chan where he presents the case that we perhaps have more to learn from viewing Darger’s work as an actual story, as literature, on its own terms, than to put it in a box as being “outsider art,” made by a crazy recluse.
Anyhow, back to slechtemeisjes.
I couldn’t help but think of Paul Chan when I first saw the strip above, where the girls meet Scott McCloud. You have the similarly youthful and innocent girls who have that Darger simplicity to them, the nonchalant nudity and carefree sex thrown on top. And through it all you can sense the keen mind behind it that’s having just having fun as much as making some subtle, subversive commentary.
The author of this work is pretty mysterious – after exchanging a few messages with them, I’ve learned they live in the Netherlands (obvi), are an art school graduate and that this is their first comic. I was also tipped off that the similarities to Darger are coincidental, and that the main influence is Dutch artist Joost Roelofsz (see below). The artist has also adopted the name of the strip as a pseudonym, which I suppose is just as well since this is so far their only comic.
I think this is a great and hilarious strip, and it’s one of the few webcomics I’ve been reading on a regular basis. I love the drawing style and the colored pencils, and especially the bits of tape or pasted on word-balloons (perhaps a result of translating to English?) that show up from time to time. There’s a very physical quality to how it’s presented, the online presentation is very close to what you’d see in person, which is refreshing after seeing so much computer generated work on the web (not saying that’s bad!).
The true reward is that as it goes on, slechtemeisjes is getting better. I hadn’t read the earliest strips until just before writing this, and was somewhat surprised at how different they are. From what I can tell, the comic was begun this past February, and seemed to be much more focused on the lesbian sex aspect initially. Of course, these earlier strips are untranslated, also, so I can’t really gauge the other level that’s taking place. Still, it’s more clear from the first pages, with the blank background and lack of panels, that things were only just beginning to take to the air.
As the months go on, you can see more and more control being taken over the tone and the compositions. The girls are given space to exist in, and the panels allow for a nice rhythm that makes their varyring tilted poses even more fun. September has to be my favorite month, as well, as we saw one of the girls get pregnant somehow from fooling around with eachother in the woods, the girls do laundry, and the day when one of the girls forgets to do their homework for genius class (spoiler: it all turns out ok). This comic is weird and absurd and silly and baffling in the best ways possible. The humor is as strange as they come, but importantly, it does it all with a straight face, there’s no winks to the audience, beyond of course just how silly it all can be. This is the kind of thing that’s right up my alley.
Hopefully I’ve whetted your appetite enough by now, so you should go read the rest of the girls’ adventures and check back every week too see more.
Thanks to the author for their helpful information over twitter. You should be following them, by the way.