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Disney, Kafka and Jay(l)bird

Dark Horse Comics is marketing Jaakko and Lauri Ahonen’s ”Jaybird” as a graphic novel where ”Disney meets Kafka,” which is rather befitting. The feeling of Northern noir is here expressed by characters more cute than grotesque, motivated by human desires. There are no monsters to be slain… except those in our imagination.

Jaybird is an anxious, scared creature. The huge house, he and his ailing mother inhabit, is dark and the dampness has made the wallpaper peel in the corners. The silent duty of dusting the portraits of long-dead family heroes is only occasionally pierced by the deafening sound of bells, summoning Jaybird upstairs to his blind bedridden mother.

Despite her physical fragility, it is her, who is pulling the threads in the house. Dependent and fearful of abandonment, she is keeping Jaybird on a constant diet of blue pills of fantasy. “Why would you be thinking about what is outside?,” she inquires. “Do you love your mother at all?”

“I boarded up the windows, to protect you.” The authority of love has turned toxic. To ask questions is to show disloyalty, to try to escape from the elaborately constructed fantasy world, to escape from the cave. Where obedience is a virtue, guilt is the leash. And it has bound Jaybird to watching the shadow play on the walls instead of stepping out into the light.

Nevertheless, questions have dug in too deep in Jaybirds mind to get rid of them, so he keeps prying. “Why are all the windows boarded up?” And he is not ready for the answer. The image of Bad Birds, just waiting in the shadows to be able to feast on his eyes, pushes the docile protagonist right to the edge of paranoia. When mother assures him that as long as they live quietly, the Bad Birds will not be able to find them, Jaybird decides to take further steps to protect them…

The story of Jaybird stems originally from Jaakko Ahonen’s collection of upside-down animal fairy tales, where the heroes do not, as usual, ride into the sunset to face a happy ending, but are rather forced to see and endure the darker consequences of their choices. It took the brothers approximately four months to adapt the story from text to a visual medium and a year to complete the artwork.

The artwork of “Jaybird” is completely digital, created with Adobe Photoshop and a Wacom tablet. The more complicated perspective shots were first constructed in Cinema 4D 3D software program. Lauri Ahonen, the artist behind “Jaybird” describes the working method as follows: “I would take a primitive cube to represent a room, and place some more cubes inside it to represent objects and move the camera around until I had the composition I wanted. I would then take a screenshot and paint over it.” This technique also helped to save time on re-drawing similar shots.

“Jaybird” (original Finnish title “Pikku närhi”) was published in Finland in 2012 and won the Comics Finlandia award in 2013. For the authors, brothers Jaakko and Lauri Ahonen, it was their first joint project. Jaakko Ahonen, the writer, is currently studying aquatic sciences in Jyväskyla University and also works as a freelance writer. Lauri Ahonen, the artist, has graduated as Master of Arts from Aalto University and works as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator.

The Finnish brothers ran a successful Indiegogo campaign for funding a print run of 1500 copies to be sold and distributed in the USA, before “Jaybird” was picked up by Dark Horse Comics (Blacksad, Hellboy). Their European publisher, SAF Comics from Slovakia is currently negotiating contracts for “Jaybird” to be published in several other countries.

It is still possible to read the first 60 pages of the book and order a paper copy from their website

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