Kafka and The Bunny Suicides

During the last week of December, savvy shoppers are aware of the 50% discount on new calendars for the upcoming year.

It is with this in mind that I accompany my wife to the mall with a certain sense of excitement that I typically reserve for the purchase of a new comic book, trade paperback, or graphic novel. This is a time, however, when I’ll be able to view the new publication of The Bunny Suicides calendar. What new and inventive ways will Andy Riley concoct to put the innocent and hapless bunnies to death? And what could this possibly have to do with literary darling Franz Kakfa?

“Throughout most of his life, Franz Kafka imagined his own extinction by dozens of carefully elaborated methods” (Crumb & Mairowitz 4). Discussing Kafka’s self-effacing approach to writing, one could easily substitute Riley for Franz Kafka and then replace “his own extinction,” with “the extinction of bunnies.” Despite my wife’s disdain for the eagerness I display following the warmth of the Christmas holidays for the self-assured destruction of these cute, defenseless animals, I am actually attempting to better understand and appreciate the ways in which Franz Kafka informs our cultural discourse decades after his death.

In the two images above, it’s interesting to note some similarities. The first one — of many — is a classic image of the innocent bunny preparing to decapitate himself. Clean lines and light inking contribute to this light-hearted and rather disturbing cartoon. The reader is able to figure out pretty easily what will happen in the next moment when its petite toe presses the button, sending the DVD tray back into the player, and yet, the facial expressions of the bunny betray no terror at the thought of decapitation; instead, it appears serene and at peace with its impending self-inflicted doom. The second image, by R. Crumb, depicts a violent ending — and yet, not graphic by contemporary standards — of an equally innocent looking Kafka having his skull sliced with a large cleaver. He stands at attention and seems to patiently await the completion of the gruesome task. The language in the text box is without an emotional intonation and seems somewhat calculated and distant — hardly what one might expect for the inner-dialogue of a man whose head is being sliced up. Crumb’s deadpan style also serves to elicit a humorous response from the reader, not altogether what one might expect from such an image, figurative or literal.

Admittedly, this second Bunny Suicides image does not possess the same sort of literary pedigree as readers will encounter in Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony.” However, both make use of a crushing death — though Riley’s is far more simple and less imaginative than what Crumb translates on Kafka’s behalf. Additionally, the result is similar, as well, in that both means of killing the subject are absurd. Riley takes the simple act of cutting down a tree and turns it into a “Giving Tree of Doom.” Kafka (as depicted by Crumb), on the other hand, takes the issue of capital punishment and presents a farcical “Etch-a-Sketch of Death.” Although Riley’s purpose is strictly entertainment, Kafka makes use of this morbid humor to open a discussion of the disturbingly warped logic pervading the ever-building Czech nationalism.

Standing in the calendar store, Kafka was not in the forefront of my mind as I chuckled at the many deaths Riley subjects his numerous little bunnies to panel after panel. However, it is interesting to look back on my annual pilgrimage to the mall as a form of participating in the continued influence of morbidity, farce, and Kafka. As Mairowitz concludes: “It’s the Nature Theatre of Prague — something for everyone — in which Kafka is finding his place amidst the kitsch” (175).

Works Cited

Crumb, Robert and David Zane Mairowitz. Kafka. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2007. Print.

Riley, Andy. Bunny Suicides #1. Digital Image. Jorge.cortell.net. 29 Jan. 2011. Web. 25 Mar. 2012. <http://cortell.net/blog/2011/01/>.

—. Bunny Suicides #2. Digital Image. Smoking Cool Cat.net. 19 Jan. 2011. Web. 25 Mar. 2012. < http://smokingcoolcat.blogspot.com/>.

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Forrest C. Helvie lives in Connecticut with his wife and two sons where he is chair and professor of developmental English at Norwalk Community College. His literary interests are broad-ranging from medieval Arthurian to 19th-century American, and most importantly, pedagogy, comics studies, and super-heroes. In addition to academic publications, he writes a variety of comic short stories, including his own children’s comic series, Whiz Bang & Amelia the Adventure Bear. He regularly writes for Sequart and reviews comics for Newsarama. Forrest can also be found on Twitter (@forrest_helvie) discussing all things comics related.

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Also by Forrest Helvie:

How to Analyze & Review Comics: A Handbook on Comics Criticism

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