Pacific Northwest noir

What’s Fear Got To Do With It? 
by Ivana Filipovich

Wolfville: Conundrum Press, 2023
$18.00 CAD / 9781772620887

Reviewed by Zoe McKenna


The term “noir fiction” conjures a certain image, one that is grungy, dingy, bleak. Coquitlam-based Ivana Filipovich captures this essence in both the words and illustrations of her graphic novel, What’s Fear Got To Do With It? For those familiar with Vancouver’s oft-grey skies, the genre seems well-suited to a story set against the backdrop of the Richmond Night Market.

Filipovich was born in what is now Serbia. In 1999, she left home to move to Vancouver, where she took nearly two decades away from her creative pursuits while working at Simon Fraser University. Filipovich’s works, such as her story collection Where Have You Been? (2023 Doug Wright Award winner), focus on storytelling with an interest in the inner workings of the human psyche. In her illustrations, Filipovich leverages both traditional mediums and digital tools while taking inspiration from French and Italian cartoon artists, among other influences.

What’s Fear Got To Do With It? follows Eva, Mia, and their boyfriend, Max. Mia is loud, unabashed, and superficial—much of her dialogue centres around an ostentatious Dolce & Gabbana jacket. Conversely, Eva is quiet, composed, and logical. Their shared boyfriend, Max, is a criminal with a long list of dangerous acquaintances. 

Mia sees herself as a good match to Max’s violence, as they “both really like to hurt people… and each other.” She actively embraces the tumult of the criminal scene, leveraging Max for his connections, money, and gifts. On the other hand, Eva isn’t built for the seedy locales and menacing partnerships that form the foundation of Max’s business. Eva leaves Max for his childhood friend, Martin, partially due to love, and partially, it seems, as a means to leave the dark criminal scene behind.

Readers follow these characters—and those that satellite them—through a journey of violence veiled as love, friendship rooted in competition, and a general lack of earnest relationships. In traditional noir fiction, there might be a rough-around-the-edges detective investigating Max’s crimes. Instead, Filipovich plays detective, crafting a narrative that does not present a central conflict, but rather a core line of questioning: what makes people act the way they do? 

Author Ivana Filipovich

Filipovich does a lot to explore this question in the short 64-page work, though whether there is a clear answer may be up for debate. The story is pessimistic, but not altogether hopeless. Certainly, many of the characters are wicked and brutish, but beneath the story’s harsh exterior is a non-judgemental portrayal of what it looks like for someone to embrace their desires and pursue their goals—be that a life away from crime, or one funded by it.

What’s Fear Got To Do With It? found its first home in Filipovich’s above-mentioned collection, Where Have You Been? The original anthology included a greatly reduced version of the current story. In its first iteration, What’s Fear Got To Do With It? was set in Belgrade, offering a close look at the dubious underbelly of the club scene.  

Over twenty years since its original publication, What’s Fear Got To Do With It? now explores scenes in Vancouver. Having resided in the lower mainland for over two decades, Filipovich translated the original short story into a graphic novel with a quintessential Canadian location. In doing so, she also teleported the story from the 1990s to the present day.

Much has already been written about how Filipovich’s original story portrayed Belgrade. Yet, little has been said about how, despite all odds, the story translates into an authentic and probing exploration of modern-day Vancouver. 

Filipovich’s black-and-white art style is scratchy, harsh, and intriguing. Gone are the bright colours and plump linework of other graphic novels. Heavy vertical hatching creates the impression that it is constantly raining across every page. In this, the Vancouver setting is reinforced—the long pen strokes within Filipovich’s panels are reminiscent of the grey, sideways rain that both locals and visitors alike are liable to see out their Pacific Northwest windows. 

Through her tale, Filipovich puts Vancouver under a microscope, for better or worse. What’s Fear Got To Do With It? portrays violent crime set against the jovial background of the food and games of the Richmond Night Market. The juxtaposition serves to explore how the same city that designs world-renowned tourist events struggles to reckon with the socioeconomic crises that can, in turn, drive discontent and depravity in those forced to suffer them. 

On paper, little connects the former Yugoslavia to contemporary Vancouver, but as What’s Fear Got To Do With It? makes clear, the strange and troubling inner workings of human beings function irrespective of the confines of certain decades or continents. As Filipovich illustrates, the same wants and wishes that motivated characters in 1990s Belgrade—love, money, jealousy, anger—still motivate us now, even if those desires wear a slightly different mask (or, the same cheetah print jacket). 


Zoe McKenna

Zoe McKenna holds a MA from the UVic and a BA from VIU. Her thesis, as well as a great deal of her other reading and writing, focuses on horror writing in Canada, especially that by BIPOC authors. Her previous work has appeared in VIU’s Portal Magazine and Quill & Quire. When not reading, writing, or reviewing, Zoe can be found hiking a local mountain or in front of a movie with her two cats, Florence and Delilah. She is always covered in cat hair and wears almost exclusively dark clothing to prove it. Find her on Twitter. [Editor’s note: Zoe McKenna has reviewed books by Giselle Vriesen, Scott Alexander Howard, S.W. Mayse, Linda Cheng, Paul Cresey, Michelle Min Sterling, Eve Lazarus, David Wallace, David Ly & Daniel ZomparelliSophie Sullivankc dyer, Robyn Harding, and Lindsay Cameron for BCR.]


The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-25: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an online book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

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