Book Reviews

The Meat Cake Bible (Fantagraphics)

Meat Cake

The Meat Cake Bible
Dame Darcy
Fantagraphics

Dame Darcy’s world is not our own, and yet it seems so damn familiar–a bizarre, surreal landscape where she rules supreme, simultaneously being a Victorian-inspired mermaid, witch, and damsel. She established this world via the many illustrated stories featured in her zine, Meat Cake, which ran for seventeen issues over fifteen years. Fantagraphics has compiled all of the series in The Meat Cake Bible, a gorgeously designed hardcover book that serves as a portal to this world.

The world of Meat Cake is not one that can be fully digested in one sitting, nor can it be easily described in a review. Though a fan of the series, it wasn’t until this collection came along that I realized just how dense and intense the trip into Darcy’s world can be. It’s one full of all sorts of interesting characters, such as the Pig Latin-speaking pig (reminiscent of the Halas and Batchelor Animal Farm adaptation), Stregapez, a woman who speaks via Pez-like tablets that issue forth from her throat, Friend The Girl, and a narcissistic shellfish named Scampi. Along the way one also finds men with evil intent, damsels in distress, ingenues with secrets, orphans, and lots and lots of dark corners of the world.

Melodrama—always a feature of Gothic writing—is par for the course, and Darcy’s illustrative style is wonderfully melodramatic. She achieves this not just from the plots of her stories, but also from drawings that often seem cluttered, cramped, and too compact to read. For those not familiar with her work, it can seem quite off-putting and difficult. As the series developed, her style became cleaner, but the more clear style never came at the expense of her storytelling; the later stories are just as intense as her earliest, if not more so.

Although a fantasy land, there’s something intensely personal and attractive about the world of Meat Cake, characteristics that makes Dame Darcy’s stories quite palpable. Moments of levity, such as when she offers up a test to see if your doll is possessed, or the story of her double-egg yolk spell, are lighter moments, but tempered with the heavier fare, makes it all feel quite real. Personal touches, such as her movie reviews and tour diaries, as well as interpretation of classic stories and bluegrass songs, help to tether Meat Cake back to the tangible world we inhabit, while firmly establishing Darcy within the annals of the literature Meat Cake admires. Thus, one walks away feeling as if they’ve experienced something quite anachronistic—and Meat Cake most certainly is an anachronism.

Meat Cake isn’t for everyone; it is complex, sophisticated literature that quickly established itself as demanding patience of its readers, yet rewarding for those who could appreciate and keep up with Dame Darcy’s style. As the Meat Cake world ages, it rewards the reader with a land that is truly unique and compelling, and though Darcy shut the doors to Meat Cake, this collection of curiosities satisfies and intrigues the reader; even after twenty years, I still find myself attracted and confounded by Darcy’s strange, bizarre, and compelling weird world.

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