The Bun Field
By Amanda Vahamaki
Drawn & Quarterly
Sometimes the value of a piece isn’t contained in the tangible elements of the work so much as the aura it leaves behind. By that measure, The Bun Field is a powerful book. By most others it is a strange one, a mix of childhood fantasy and ethereal dreaminess held together by suitably naïve artwork—smudge pencil lines on dirty paper, partially erased early figure sketches lingering behind like ghostly specters.
There’s little in the way of story guidelines, here, save perhaps for the first page, the least subtle stroke in an otherwise largely free-form plot—if it can be called that—wherein a little girl’s dreams of Disney ducks meeting the business end of a brontosaurus quickly turn into something far more abstract and ominous.
It’s as though the book’s author, Amanda Vahamaki feels a certain sense of obligation to gently nudge her readers into the dream state that will soon take hold, only intensifying when the little girl at the book’s center awakes startled from one nightmare, only stumble into one even longer and more terrifying—a sense of terror that can only arise from the knowledge that there are some dreams from which we cannot wake.
The rest of the story unspools far more organically. Vahamaki lets her little girl loose in her fantasy world, encountering its absurdities almost immediately in the form of a shapeless blob of a houseguest. But though the little girl is immersed in the mounting onslaught of strangeness, she never really occupies the role of the outsider. If the world is a Wonderland of shorts, she’s never relegated to the role of Alice, and even when the universe turns violent and bloody, she never plays the victim.
Rather she is a passenger in Vahamaki’s dream landscape—or perhaps more precisely, a participant. As a child, the world still holds some surprises for her. Though she is seemingly unphased by the prospect of hitching a ride from a driving bear, the titular bun field does seemingly catch her by surprise. And, much like a dream, the world of The Bun Field has an ever-shifting sense of reality—where a talking bear driving a car in one moment represents a perfectly acceptable method of transportation, a moment later that same bear turns to his passenger and announces, “I can’t drive, I’m an animal.”
So too do things in this world transform as our little protagonist draws closer to them. It is in this fashion that we discover the bun field, two-thirds of the way into the course of this short book. It appears first as a simple field of vegetables, soon revealing row of sentient being cropping up from the soil. When, at the behest of a barmaid, the girl is forced to plow the field in a tractor, thereby killing the vegetables, Vahamaki abstract dreamy symbolism hits an apex, which crashes down in the breakdown of the little girl at its center.
What Vahamaki offers us at the end is something resembling a resolution, itself wrapped up in an acknowledgement that, for better or worse, in the dream world, nothing ever really ends. A final panel teases us—things seemingly changed for our protagonist, but ultimately we end up right where we started. After all, progress in a dream world is never much more than an illusion itself. As ethereal is it might be, however, what it does offer is something small to take along with us on our next journey into the waking world.