Comic Book Classics # 21
As the author of a forthcoming WWII themed vampire novel, I am wholly relaxed with the concept of distorting history for the purposes of fun. Donna Barr’s Desert Peach is a great example of a fine imagination giving the historical record a sound thrashing. The comic book’s central conceit, that Erwin Rommel had a homosexual younger brother commanding a unit in the Afrika Korps during 1940-1943, is a delicious one. The Nazi aesthetic, a fashion that has long entranced and fascinated some (including otherwise laudable individuals like Lemmy off Motorhead), is rendered simply fabuloso. A great way to undercut the attraction of Nazi chic.
It also draws attention to the undercurrent of misogyny and homoeroticism deep within the fascist soul. In his amazing book Male Fantasies, Klaus Theweleit analyses this very subject. Looking into writings of members of the Freikorps (the predecessors of the Nazi party; unofficial armed units who set out to destroy communists, trade unionists and other labour organizations). Using Freudian (and post-Freudian) readings, Theweleit examines their autobiographies and memoirs, to find some very revealing tendencies (For a start these ‘soldiers’ can name almost every single member of their paramilitary band, their servants, aides de camp and officers. All of them described in minute detail. Their wives? Not a single one is given a name).
Back to Donna Barr. Desert Peach, which follows a rather camp SS officer by the name of Manfred Pfirsch Marie Rommel, his boyfriend and a series of misfits in a support unit based in North Africa. Some of the characters and most of the plots have quite a surreal edge and the art style contributes to this. A rather trippy sense of irreality pervades the whole thing. Certainly more to it than German sausage jokes and innuendo (although some of that does make its way in, so to speak).
Barr seems to have nailed aspects of a German (or mittleeuropean) sensibility in the strip. This is more obvious in her fantasy strip Stinz (centaurs in pre-WWI Germany and Austria). Peach is however, her most celebrated work. It has been collected in eight volumes and led to a spin-off novel Desert Swans (2005). The real kick I get from Deser Peach is the sheer audacity of the concept and how Barr stretches such rich narratives from an unreal standpoint.