Grotesquely Celebrate the Living: A Review of Only the Dead by Janne Karlsson and Wolfgang Carstens

Reviewed by Raquel Thorne
Only the Dead Cover

B&W Poetry Comic
Print: 27 pages
artwork by Janne Karlsson
poetry by Wolfgang Carstens
Publisher: Svensk Apache Press (2015)
Available for $7 plus S&H order via:

Janne Karlsson, a Swedish artist, and Wolfgang Carstens, a Canadian poet, team up in Only the Dead to create a simultaneously dark and inspirational comic chapbook. Instead of the typical overtly sentimental verbage of a motivational pamphlet, their conflation is a three part graphic poetic essay about embracing life; “Live Today,” Only the Dead bluntly argues, “Tomorrow Never Comes.”

While not for the faint of heart, with its gritty imagery of death—on one page worms tumble from the mouth of the dead to that of a living—Karlsson’s grotesque and caricatured art lends itself beautifully to the comic format. Alongside Carstens’ simple, straightforward verse, the project becomes chilling. Best expressed in its eponymous piece the dead dance, celebrate, and give thanks, while “the living complain that death devalues life”–Carstens’ and Karlsson’s use of space and tone smartly broadcasts their oddly life-affirming message. The sentiment is reverberated likewise grotesquely in Only the Dead’s other two poems, “life is” and “all”; however, they lack the same delightful mirth.

Although I am not well read in this genre, Only the Dead fondly reminded me of works such as Nightmare Before Christmas, Beetlejuice, and more recently, Paranorman, which don’t mitigate or mollify death being inevitable—it’s quite frank that I will die, that you will die, that we will all die—yet make the dead perversely charming. For those who don’t find such dark humor fun, pass on this chapbook. It’s not for you and you should probably read a Chicken Soup for the Soul book instead. For those who do enjoy dark humor, or know someone who does, at $7, Only the Dead‘s printing, paper quality, and professional binding make this is a good buy.

Mommy CropGo to Janne Karlsson’s “Mommy!”

Janne Karlsson (not pictured) is an insanely productive artist from Sweden. His books are available at amazon and Epic Rites Press. His website is here:
Wolfgang Carstens
is a poet living in Alberta, Canada. He runs Epic Rites Press and may be reached at /








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