Review: Weeding

Geneviève Lebleu, 102 pgs, Conundrum Press,, $18

Soap-opera body horror trips through a shapeshifting garden in this beautiful debut graphic novel by multidisciplinary artist Geneviève Lebleu. Weeding explores tense interpersonal relationships between several middle-aged women in a suburban neighborhood through the psychedelic imagery that so defines Lebleu’s illustration style.

Martha invites some friends over for an afternoon tea, which quickly devolves into soap-opera drama: characters rehash divorces, a stolen husband, estranged relationships and a lost, presumed-dead sister who mysteriously arrives. Attacks on one another’s personalities reflect archetypal soap characters, but the frequent shifts in conversation and deep character backstories can be overwhelming at times. Weeding feels like hopping into the tenth season of a long-running drama, which works best when read as satire.

What makes this book stand out is Lebleu’s unique take on body horror. The plants taking over Martha’s garden assimilate characters who venture too close — our protagonists become nightmarish plant creatures. They’re shocked, unable to parse reality from unreality. Perhaps that’s the goal in eschewing narrative clarity for emotional intensity. Everybody is dangerous, but only in their casual cruelty toward one another. As emotions ramp up, so does the terror of the garden itself, which becomes all-encompassing as the book progresses.

The art is gorgeous. Lebleu’s monsters and lush, alien backgrounds are compelling and strange, and uniquely her own. Transformation sequences in which flowers sprout eyes or characters dissipate into the earth feel like animation keyframes, slowing the comic down and letting the reader revel in the discomfort of the shift from human to inhuman (or vice versa), the loss of agency and fear of the unknown lingering. It works, even amidst the complex relationships fit into just over one hundred pages.

It’s unclear what is hallucination or reality, reflecting the nature of the characters’ gossip. Just as they speculate about their relationships, the feelings of hurt, fear and discomfort are real, and everybody is affected.