Zejian Shen’s 44 page, black and white comic Keep Fresh, draws a thick, black line between our desires and our nightmares. From a Freudian perspective, it functions as a psychic apparatus, reflecting the Id’s cascading Raman noodles of unrestrained hammer bashing, all the while constrained and sweating condensation in the white Styrofoam take out package of the Super Ego. To further the metaphor, Shen’s cartooning is the Ego balancing the two desires, making sense of the chaos, translating foreign matters into a pidgin-English lexicon you can “easily fit a grown man inside”.
Is this a love story gone wrong – some sort of Shakespearean case-of-mistaken-identity comedy staged by Antonin Artaud as Theater of Cruelty? Or is it an exploration of our inherent desire to escape the inanity of the mundanity of our slogging day-to-day, a world where products like “The Rocket Plug” and “Blood Away” make as much sense in terms of escapism, as does a diet designed to “achieve the gaunt and chiseled dark lord body of your dreams”?
Whatever the intent, Keep Fresh provides us with a take-out menu of a media saturated world restaurant where love and justice and child-rearing all require a certain blood letting. It describes a place where our desires run counter to the formality of expectations because that’s what we’ve become, that what we deserve. Shen draws us into an atmosphere where savagery is wrapped nicely in a polypropylene glycol bag that has a Smiley Face emoticon emblazoned on its front. The Face stares blankly at us, its Smile more of a “Come-at-me-bro” than an exhortation to celebrate.