There’s something wonderfully agitating about Bruce Kim and Katia Vecchio‘s Wild Strawberries at the World’s End. There’s horror, murder, betrayal and supernatural mysteries afoot in this fantasy-tinged, 1990s crime drama. However, it’s all executed with a serene sense of tension. That sounds like a contradiction in terms, I know, but I feel there’s no better way to summarise Bruce and Katia’s efforts here. Published through Source Point Press and Comics Experience, Wild Strawberries at the World’s End marks Bruce’s debut into comic writing, along with Katia’s first stab at illustrating a full-length one shot, having arrived on the scene with Warpaint. With this comic, the pair have crafted something memorable, something strange and in places, something quite beautiful.
Right from the off, Bruce and Katia strive to craft a world that’s rich in poetry and symbolism and only then does that symbolism become more apparent when re-reading the comic, as you prize open minute, seemingly inconsequential details in the art and the story that foreshadow a dark, unsettling vision of destroyed innocence. Indeed, ‘innocence’ is the key theme at work here, as grown-up childhood friends Te-su and Sang-ho find themselves reunited when mutual friend Ji-ah, for no reason, commits suicide. Bruce’s talents for building up an enticing mystery bubble to the surface as Te-su feels compelled to search where policeman Sang-ho feels unconcerned to, uncovering a torrid, murderous mystery beyond his understanding.
Wild Strawberries at the World’s End is abundant in mystery, to the point where there’s little concrete conclusion to the story. Emotions run high, certainty is disregarded. A strong sense of aspect-to-aspect transitions are played out as Te-su’s nightmares manifest into something more palpable. It also highlights the comic’s most tense moments: the suspension of time, when it’s lost in the mood it’s conveying. It’s oddly displacing and effective. There remains an inescapable sense then that you’re waiting for Wild Strawberries at the World’s End to deliver an impact that ultimately never comes. Dragging things down a little further is the rather uninspired lettering style, which doesn’t take advantage of the comic’s ethereal soul. It pulls you away from the comic’s gently horrific atmosphere. However, what’s more certain is the symmetry between Bruce’s script and Katia’s art.
Katia employs fragrant colours and humanistic shapes. She injects a recognisably natural look to a comic that exhibits a supernatural threat at its heart. It works in tandem with Te-su’s journeying into a world he’s not prepared for, as his obsessions with unravelling the mystery behind Ji-ah’s death spiral out of his control. Ultimately, Katia’s art is sensitive to the demands of Bruce’s story, making Wild Strawberries at the World’s End a cohesive product of an uneasy premise. A particular highlight comes in the comic’s early pages, when Te-su awakes from one of his regular nightmares of a strange ritual that circles a fire, the flames of which appear to continue burning brightly outside his bedroom window, as if the real and the unreal are colliding together. It’s a muted bit of otherworldly horror that effortlessly sets the tone for the comic.
Wild Strawberries at the World’s End leaves no immediate impact, but instead, plants itself in your mind and lingers there, like a throbbing reverberation. It rolls into view like dense, smothering fog, proceeds to envelope you completely, then leaves as softly as it came, leaving a haunting echo in its wake.