Posts Tagged ‘Richard Sala’

Schizophrenia: or, Five Unrelated Links


Thursday, September 9, 2010

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1. New Richard Sala site.

2. The kind of readers who frequent this site have probably already seen this, but if not, you really should check out Daniel Raeburn’s website. Last week, he posted free pdfs of all four issues of The Imp, which includes an unfairly large proportion of the best and most insightful comics criticism of the last fifteen years. This is essential reading.

3. New Matthew Thurber site.

4. David Bordwell delivers a typically meaty essay on the downsides of episodic, serialized entertainment, focusing mainly on the prime delivery method for the highest grade junk of this type: television.

Having been lured by intriguing people more or less like us, you keep watching. Once you’re committed, however, there is trouble on the horizon. There are two possible outcomes. The series keeps up its quality and maintains your loyalty and offers you years of enjoyment. Then it is canceled. This is outrageous. You have lost some friends. Alternatively, the series declines in quality, and this makes you unhappy. You may drift away. Either way, your devotion has been spit upon.

It’s true that there is a third possibility. You might die before the series ends. How comforting is that?

With film you’re in and you’re out and you go on with your life. TV is like a long relationship that ends abruptly or wistfully. One way or another, TV will break your heart.

Incidentally, along the way, he quotes the late, great Gilbert Seldes (best known to funny-page aficionados for his seminal essay on Krazy Kat).

But the main interest here for comics readers, or course, is that, at least here in America, their medium of choice is the second most popular purveyor of long-lived serial entertainment. Though with comics the heart-breaking potential is even greater. From Blondie and Gasoline Alley to Batman and Spider-Man, a surprising number of ancient titles are still around, potentially offering a lifetime of fiction featuring the exact same characters. (That the recent cancellations of strips such as Cathy and Little Orphan Annie have received so much attention is testament to how rarely such cash cows are allowed to expire.)

It is sometimes fun to wonder what it might be like if television was run like the comics industry — would The Beverly Hillbillies still be on the air, with its fifth cast, rei-magined to exude a “grim and gritty” atmosphere? I guess Dallas was sort of like that… And then there’s Star Trek. And 90210. Ah, maybe this isn’t so much fun to think about after all. The Bordwell essay’s still worthwhile.

5. Finally, I like it when Sammy Harkham writes about comics. He does it too rarely. Last month, he published a short but sweet post on artist and beermonger Ron Regé. This led to an interesting exchange in the comments about the practice of constructing comics stories out of a collection of smaller, interconnected strips (e.g. Ice Haven, much of David Heatley’s work, Wimbledon Green). One particular anonymous commenter was very much against the practice, considering it a trendy cheat, doomed to appear as dated in the future as ’90s-era CGI “morphing” does today (my analogy, not his/hers).

Derik Badman draws attention to two previous posts worth reading on the subject, written by Charles Hatfield and Craig Fischer.

I end up on the boring but correctly neutral side of another anonymous commenter in that thread—”Who cares if it is a trendo or a gimmick?”—but I really do enjoy the effect of this kind of comics “mosaic” when it’s done right. And generally, even when an artistic technique is considered newfangled, gimmicky, or showoffy, there’s a good chance it has actually been around for a long time. (See Steven Moore’s recent The Novel: An Alternate History, for an entertaining recounting of a few millennia worth of examples of literary postmodernism, all somehow predating capital-M Modernism by centuries.) And this same phenomenon seems to be true in this discussion as well. One name in particular that doesn’t seem to be coming up yet (unless I missed it) is John Stanley. In fact, a big part of the enjoyment for me of reading his Melvin Monster and (especially) Thirteen Going on Eighteen books has come from the inventive and surprising ways in which he builds his issues through combining standalone stories. I am sure there are many more (and better) examples of pre-’90s and ’00s cartoonists doing this kind of thing, but my main point is simply that nothing new exists under the sun, a clichéd insight that’s been repeated by about a million morons like myself, probably since well before it appeared in Ecclesiastes. Let me say it once more for old time’s sake.

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Delphine review


Saturday, August 8, 2009

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Delphine, issues 1-4, by Richard Sala, published by Coconino Press, Fantagraphics.

The fourth and final volume of this series was published recently, so I thought it would be an appropriate time to pull out the other issues and review the whole thing. There are some “spoilers” at the end, so beware.

A young man (who’s name is never revealed) meets a young woman named Delphine. We’re introduced to these two in a flashback while the young man is looking for her in a strange town. The couple had met at school, spent time together, and then at the beginning of the summer break, the girl had to go visit her sick father. Delphine asks the young man not to forget her. She doesn’t come back, so the nameless young man goes looking for her.

Flash-forward back to the present. The young man inquires about Delphine at 13-31 Hood street, the address he has for her. He’s told by the old woman there that he has the wrong address. An old man offers the young man a ride to the correct address across town. The young man accepts and this is where the adventure truly begins.

They take a detour to pick up the old man’s mother. They then go to a “meeting” in a graveyard that turns out to be a funeral attended by a dozen wrinkly old women. The young man is left behind by his ride. He gets another ride from a different old man and shares the back seat with three scary looking old ladies. They stop to stretch their legs after taking a short-cut through a dark, wooded area. The young man is then promptly beaten to a pulp by the old ladies who wield big tree branches. He saved by yet another old man with a beard who wields a knife and chases off the young man’s attackers.

Got it? Good. That’s the first issue in a nut shell. And the set-up for what’s to come. It reads like a some kind of familiar ghost story. It’s all paced out, lay’d out perfectly. Sala deftly strings these sequences together and each scene works on me like a symbol. The dark woods, the old women, the lost love: They all act like symbols and build on each other to further the narrative. More importantly, these symbols rhyme with my own feelings about the symbols themselves. So, in this way Sala plays with genre conventions in a fashion that I find very enjoyable as a reader. There are certain plot points that feel like references to classical mythology such as the three headed dog or “sleeping beauty.” Yet, they don’t come off as ham-fisted injections or seem like they are attempts at making the story “weird” for the sake of atmosphere.
The story surrounded me and carried me away to a very real world. It’s a cartooned, exaggerated world, but a real world nonetheless. In addition, Sala marries a sort of slapstick physical humor with real horror. What I mean is, sometimes a truly frightening moment is amplified because the scene leading up to it is funny. It’s something that threw me off balance as a reader (in a good way). One minute I’m laughing at the absurdity of the situation and the way that a scary looking witch of an old lady is drawn—and then I’m actually really scared on the next page because this seemingly harmless (drawing of an) old lady is beating the shit out the main character.

Sala’s drawing style in this work is also well suited to the narrative. Black containment lines and umber-y washes create a stark mood. There isn’t much “feathering” of the lines, it’s less of a baroque ornamental style than I’ve seen from him in the past. The layouts are impeccable: very clear and superbly paced. Sometimes it’s like watching dominoes drop. Scene to scene, symbol to symbol, Sala adjusts his style to best suit the story. There were times when I wished that some of the “monsters” were drawn scarier than they appeared but then it would all sort of balance out because the truly frightening passage would come on the following page. I’d go back and look at the funny looking scary monster and think to myself that it was actually drawn perfectly for that scene.

Another aspect of the presentation of the story that I find intriguing is how the covers and endpaper flaps (in color) add to my understanding of the story even though the scenes depicted do not necessarily reflect something we see happen in the story. The front covers all illustrate particular story points (each show the young man) but the endpapers and back covers are more symbolic. The back covers are all images of Delphine that are loaded with symbolism: Delphine combing her hair before a mirror, Delphine standing beneath a haunted tree, walking on a lonely path; being offered an apple by an old woman. It’s a clever choice and a powerful addition to the overall narrative.
The young man continues his search for Delphine through issues two and three, spending all of issue three fumbling through the dark woods until he comes upon a castle. There he finds Delphine’s stepmother, a gaunt old queen of a woman, gazing into a mirror. Again, the symbols here take over. I know I’m reading THIS particular narrative but I can’t help but think of other, similar stories that utilize the same symbols. So something happens in my brain, and the story WIDENS somehow in a way that is difficult to describe. I noticed that the story GREW in my mind when I took breaks from reading, allowing me to immerse myself in the story like a dream.

When the young man awakes in a house, not in a castle, the address is, of course, 13-31. He’s finally found the correct address. He thinks he’s finally figured it out. He finds his beloved Delphine at last but she’s asleep, a prisoner of the step-mother. But who’s really trapped Delphine, or the young man? Trapped by his own desire, he falls into a sleep of his own. Who has forgotten who? Has the young man forgotten himself? The end is in the beginning.

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Holiday Reading


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

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Here’s a few Halloween reading suggestions.

1. Floyd Gottfredson‘s “Mickey Mouse and the Seven Ghosts”

2. Greg Irons and Tom Veitch‘s “Legion of Charlies”

3. Jack Kirby’s The Demon

4. Hideshi Hino’s Hell Baby

5. Richard Sala‘s The Chuckling Whatsit

Bonus: Kelly Link recommends Lynda Barry‘s Cruddy for the holiday, a book I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read, even though my wife recommended it to me years ago when we first started dating. I might give it a try tonight. Why am I more willing to take advice from a stranger on the Internet than from someone whose tastes I know and trust? That is a recurring thing with me, and it is seriously messed up.

Not recommended: The Nightmare Factory, a new collection of comics based on the work of horror writer Thomas Ligotti. Most of the art here is seriously ugly (and not in a good way). This recent interview with Ligotti is somewhat alarming Halloween reading, though. I think he needs to watch some Laurel & Hardy movies or something.

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Recent Comics Reading


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

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We haven’t done this in a while.

Jack Kirby‘s Fourth World Omnibus, Volume 1
Everything went right with this book, which collects the early issues of Kirby’s “Fourth World” comics for DC (Jimmy Olsen, Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle), with the stories printed in order of their original publication. Some have complained about the paper stock, which is superficially reminiscent of newsprint (I’ve heard this “choice” came down to a production mistake, though that may just be rumor), but it works very well, in my opinion. The coloring is as good as it gets for this kind of archival treatment. In terms of story, this is pretty close to the deep end for pure Kirby weirdness, and those who haven’t read much by him might be better off starting with his ’60s Marvel work. Or maybe not. The ’70s period finds Kirby’s art and bizarre ideas as close to “art comics” as he would ever get.

This has been one of the most widely reviewed comics collections of the year (deservedly so), so I won’t go on too much longer, but I do want to say that I really enjoy how Kirby throws in subplots and imagery with incredibly disturbing implications (the underground government cloning facility, the fact that the very first person they decided to clone was Superman (an incredibly incautious choice, I’d think)) in an almost offhand manner, barely commented upon by the characters. There are a lot more levels to these stories than might seem initially apparent.

Richard Sala‘s Delphine #1-2
I’m also really enjoying this new series from Sala, which is part of Fantagraphics’s Ignatz line. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t really get Sala’s work in time to follow The Chuckling Whatsit and Mad Night in their original serialized form, so it’s great to get another chance with this new series, which seems to be loosely based on the Snow White story. Sala’s done some great work with short pieces, but these Judex-like serials are where he really excels. One panel in the first issue actually made me jump (well, not really jump—I was sitting down—but the sedentary equivalent of jumping, anyway). Good stuff.

Rick Geary‘s Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Borden Tragedy
For some reason, Rick Geary’s drawing style has never really appealed to me—it seems too twee or something, I guess—but enough people whose taste I trust have recommended him to me over the years that I finally decided to give him a try. I’m glad I did. This narrative reconstruction of the infamous Lizzie Borden trial and the murders that led up to it is masterfully done, and a pretty obvious riposte to my ignorant lament that not enough comics were taking advantage of the form’s natural strengths for exploring historical topics. Geary uses a tremendous amount of innovative layouts and formal techniques (pretty much everything I imagined earlier, as well as others I hadn’t anticipated) to great effect, and this is a compelling true crime tale. In the end, it may seem like not much more than a well-executed genre piece, but when considered with the other titles in this series (which I definitely plan on sampling), that judgment may prove too harsh. And there’s certainly a place for good genre work, anyway. I’m still not the biggest fan of Geary’s drawings, but they do what he wants them to, which is what counts. (I’m sometimes repelled by Steve Ditko‘s art, for that matter, and he’s one of my favorites.)

Josh Simmons‘s House
I’ve enjoyed a few of Josh Simmons’s mini-comics over the years, but this is a real step up, and a very promising book-length debut. This short, atmospheric horror story follows three young people exploring a strange, abandoned house, and the first half of the book is filled with surprising and even exhilarating moments. I don’t want to give the plot away, but after being so pleased by the beginning of the book, I was a little disappointed by the ending, which felt too protracted and schematic for my taste. The author pretty clearly intended that effect, though, so maybe I’ll be more receptive after a few re-readings. In any case, Simmons displays an original voice, and this is inexpensive and impressive enough for me to recommend it to anyone interested in horror or wordless comics. I am excited to see what Simmons comes up with next.

Minetaro Mochizuki’s Dragon Head, Vols. 1-4
What is wrong with me? Everyone else in the world, from Dan to seemingly every comics reviewer on the Internet, is raving about this manga, but four volumes in, I’m still indifferent. So far, the story follows two high-school students trapped in a train tunnel after some kind of apocalyptic incident, and their struggle to survive and escape. It’s all put together extremely well, but follows the J-horror/apocayptic fiction formulas so closely that I’ve never once felt surprised. I’ve been assured by others that the series gets better as it goes, but I’m about ready to give up. This feels a lot like any number of “good” television shows (Lost, Heroes) that I don’t feel like I have the time to follow, and I don’t think the fact that these characters are drawn is going to keep me going. I am probably wrong about this series.

Finally, in the so far, so good files:

Osamu Tezuka‘s Apollo’s Song
I haven’t finished this yet, but I’m loving it, and I’m really glad that Vertical is putting out these relatively obscure Tezuka titles. When the Phoenix volumes came out, I wasn’t really ready for them. The bizarre and wonderful storytelling in this, Ode to Kirohito, and Buddha has given me new eyes.

Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman‘s Golden Age Doctor Fate Archives
This book is too expensive if you can’t find a deal somewhere, but so far, this is nothing but great, brainless, golden-age fun. I can’t read too many of these stories at once, but it’s terrific in small portions.

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