(Off the Rails)
by Moa Romanova
reviewed by Darcy Hurford
The night before Moa flies to the States to accompany her friends Åsa and Lina on tour with their band, the Shit Kids, she has a strange dream. Someone from her past – a girl, coloured grey in contrast to the colourfulness of Moa’s messy flat – appears beside her bed. When she wakes up, she feels uneasy. Memories of an event from her teenage years have come back to her.
The aim of her trip seems simple: spend more time on her art projects, and hang out with her friend Åsa. Particularly the latter, of whom Moa says on a FaceTime call to another friend, ‘When she’s away, I feel completely unbalanced, like a cat in a t-shirt’. She arrives in LA, settles in to her accommodation (host: Buzz, friend of Kurt Cobain) and catches up with Åsa and Lina. The past doesn’t let go of Moa though, and a photo of Kurt at Buzz’s house makes her think back to her school friend Sofia, who took her own life. Nor has Moa reckoned with the effect that all the drugs, alcohol and lack of sleep will have on them. Åsa goes AWOL, last seen in the company of her heroine-addicted crush Dylan, re-awakening Sofia’s memory even more powerfully and leaving Moa to just hope history isn’t about to repeat itself.
This is not a text-heavy graphic novel. The dialogue conveys the story in tandem with the images, carrying it along but not dominating the page. The dream sequence that opens the book, for instance, is virtually wordless. På glid is very much a visual experience, narrated by images more than words. As with Romanova’s previous graphic novel (Alltid fucka upp, published in 2018), the colour scheme helps tell the story. Moa’s dreams of Sofia are mostly in grey, with odd details in other colours, while daily life is depicted in a bright sugary palette reminiscent of necklace sweets and My Little Pony.
It’s an aesthetic that combines the ugly and the pretty to great effect. The juxtaposition of girly colours with the grimmer parts of the story are a sizeable part of what makes it so effective. Bodies are given distorted forms: people have massive legs and ears; heads pin-small, eyes enormous. As in Romanova’s debut novel, there’s an eighties influence at work here: grass green, fuchsia pink, pastel colours, and the details of digital clocks, and oddly angular buildings, with colour effects that look like they could have been done with the Paint Spa program. It is most definitely set in the present time, though: there are lots of smartphones and lots of apps in evidence, and the characters spend a considerable amount of time messaging each other. Not that technology makes life simpler. When Moa’s Uber doesn’t turn up, she ends up falling down some steps and lies in a flowerbed for some time, transforming over six images from ‘unconscious’ to ‘Day of the Dead skeleton with a flowerhead in each eye socket’ before eventually being taken ‘home’ to Jeff’s by the police.
There are funny moments too. Romanova is not afraid of the grotesque (there is one particularly gynaecological moment where Åsa’s tampon has ended up sitting sideways and she needs Moa’s help in getting it out) or the daft (on the flight over from Sweden, Moa hallucinates that the people around have turned into characters from Lord of the Rings). There are ample absurd moments: In Austin, Texas, the first stop before LA, they stay with Jeff, Camille and their chihuahua/pitbull cross Boss, a weird looking but indulged dog. Jeff also takes them to a shooting range and a rodeo. På glid is also a moving story; the characters might be obnoxious at times and over-keen on substances… well, pretty much all of the time, but they are also likeable and easy to empathise with.
Fortunately it all ends happily. They finally receive news of Åsa’s whereabouts, and this time the Uber Moa takes to pick Åsa up actually arrives. Eventually they make up and all three return to Sweden. An epilogue describes their lives now, three years later.
Foreign rights: Thomas Olsson, Kaunitz-Olsson förlag
Moa Romanova studied art in Gothenburg and at the Comic Art School in Malmö. Her debut novel, Alltid fucka upp appeared in 2018 and has been translated into eight languages, including English (Goblin Girl, 2020, Fantagraphics, translated by Melissa Bowers), which received an Eisner Award in 2021.