Kate Allen thanks the Museum of Natural History on the inside cover of her comic Milk Teeth. This may lead you to believe that the comic might be a little earnest, a little boring. Don’t worry; even if you could avoid the skinless unicorn on the facing page, the eyes blooming from the art nouveau roses framing the acknowledgements should be a clue that something this book is going to be weird. But, wait, let’s back up a page. The cover, which shows a mermaid breastfeeding a baby unicorn in a shitty, rundown kitchen, is a great transitional image—it moves the reader from whatever mundane environment they are in to a fantasy world that, however shrouded in myth, emanates menace.
Each of the five stories opens with an anatomical drawing of one of the creatures featured, providing glimpses of the thorax, ascending colon and lesser coverts. The details provided give some depth to the creatures that populate the stories, from the aforementioned mermaids and unicorns to flying cherub heads that shit out of their rosy bow mouths and are preyed on by bloodthirsty angels.
In the first story, a morose Renaissance noblewoman communes with tamed nature in a royal garden. A pheasant struts by but it does nothing to relieve her sadness. Like most femininity across time, she is surveiled; in this story, her watchers are two dudes who look like they stepped off of a set of erotic playing cards for lovers of pale, pouty boys. When it looks like there will be nothing to see, the lady’s paramour appears and gives the watchers an unexpected and disturbing thrill.
Most of the thrills in Milk Teeth are of the unexpected and disturbing variety. The longest story in the book, and also the only one with dialogue, is about mermaids. Instead of the kindly, sexy version, Allen’s mermaids are predators of the sea, scouring the ocean floor for manta rays to chomp on. But, even their majesty and killing power can’t save the mermaids from human appetites. Remind you of another story about mermaids?
Though I usually like bright, saturated colors, I think the muted palette does the important job of removing the stories from this reality and forcing the reader to pay more attention to the details. Only black and white and the shades of two colors to bring the title-less story to life. Using the texture of the originals’ paper adds depth to the backgrounds, especially skyscapes.
It almost feels like Milk Teeth is a pamphlet of addendums that fell out of a mysterious book of fairytales and fluttered down to rest on the comic shelf. Though I know that lots of folks have picked this book up, it still feels like these creepy stories were written just for me. I hope you’ll feel that way too.