Debutting in 2012, “Heartless” is a collection of short comics by Nina Bunjevac, a Serbian artist living in Canada. Working in stark black and white, her work veers from hyperrealism to a more caricatural look. The dialogue is minimal, with carefully worded captions blending seamlessly with the art, working primarily to capture a moment and a feeling, akin to illustrated poems.
The emotion on display is primarily longing, as Nina’s characters all seem to be in a state of quiet desperation. While hoping for a better tomorrow they reminisce at the oddities that brought them there. The opening story works as an over the top affair showing a young woman emigrating to Canada and trying to adapt to her new circumstances that on the surface seem bizarre but feel very real. It’s important to underscore the humor that permeates the telling, as it rounds out the way Bunjevac presents her subjects.
It’s especially noticable in the following vignettes which make the bulk of this collection, as they mostly feature an additional step toward cartoonishness. In creating Zorka, the cat on the verge of nervous breakdown constantly trying to raise her beau Chip the stripper on the phone, Bunjevac forms a loosely knit set of stories exploring the dynamic of a girl looking for sex and love. While approaching even such heavy subjects as abortion, the author explores the idea of a woman’s right to choose and the frolics that come with being single and trying to date in your twenties.
Leaving Zorka’s antics behind, Bunjevac follows with another well cartooned vignette, this time dealing with a couple that tries to improve on their home life in their separate ways. Again, Bunjevac goes for surrealism to underscore her female protagonist’s hopes and fears, and once more she manages a story that lands somewhere between humor and pathos. While at first glance it’s not apparent how to read the conclusion, that can’t be said for the final entry which succeeds it.
By illustrating the last letter her mother sent to her terrorist father, Bunjevac decides to complete the collection of her early work by dispensing with the fictional stand-ins and their frolics. While depicting actual events from her life, she finishes by tying her father’s radical actions to his homecountry’s conservative leanings at the beginning of the 21st century. In this way, the author introduces the themes she will go on to develop to great effect in her follow up “Fatherland”. Yet the short stories presented in “Heartless” persist in showing another side of the acclaimed graphic novellist, a softer and more melancholic outlook that gives us an intimate look how she developed as an artist and a person.