But it looks like you get a double-shot of Anders Loves Maria today, which is odd because I’m quite angry at Rene Engström.
Wait, that’s a terrible topic sentence. Let’s back up to the beginning. I’ve been following Anders Love Maria ever since this gorgeous guest strip ran when Paul Southworth was slackin’ off (something about spawning, I dunno). Combine art that beautiful, that many webcomics cameos, and make fun of a Disney flick, and I am officially intrigued — but there was no URL associated with the strip.
And the webcomic is why I don’t think I like Rene Engström. It’s a romantic non-comedy, about Anders (photographer, in love with the idea of being in love, with a tabloid-fodder famous mom) and his girlfriend Maria (younger, less focused, in love with Anders but still able to get pissed at him when he’s an asshole). They have a comfortable relationship together when Anders drops a bombshell: he thinks they should have a baby. Maria recoils, an old girlfriend comes into the picture, Anders feels the tug of temptation, and Maria gets pregnant inadvertantly. It’s messy, they’re confused, but love wins out in the end. Fade to credits.
Yeah, that’s Hollywood’s version of romance; this is Sweden — we’ve only covered two days of story, and life hasn’t begun to get complicated yet. A brush with the law sends the couple to the far north, to Maria’s family, who treat Anders poorly (’cause let’s face it, he’s a pussy). Old crushes and old enemies enter, all concerned make bad decisions, and we’re reminded that nobody can hurt us as much as somebody you know loves you — but doesn’t like you very much right now.
And that’s where we are, on the cusp of 100 strips (my usual threshold for a review, but it appears that Anne has forced my hand; I shake my fist at her, thus!), with a pair of protagonists that I feel emotionally drained by. They act so utterly, confusingly, exasperatingly real, that I want to comfort them, scream at them, advise them, and kick their asses. Engström has put me through this wringer, leaving me enraged and empathetic towards her creations at the same time. The last time a character left me this deeply conflicted, he wore a red ski cap and a Speedo (for the record, that’s a very good thing to remind me of); seriously, I halfway believe that Rene Engström is really just a front for Wes Anderson. There is a precedent, after all.
One last thought — I’d emailed Engström earlier in the week that I was possibly going to hold this review to sometime past strip #100; I was waiting for a point of resolution in the story to say, Okay, here’s a good break, jump in. She pointed out that I might be waiting for a while if I was waiting for these latest emotional wounds to close — they aren’t even fully open yet.
And that right there is why I adore this strip — just like real life, there are no clear intervals in the story, there is no upswell of music at the end of the reel, there never will be a neat resolution where everybody gets to go Awwwww. There’s just more life and the choices we make, and I guess I really do like Rene Engström after all. Read Anders Loves Maria, and you’ll like her, too.