And here you will stay…

August 26, 2009


How did I not know that Richard Sala’s Delphine No. 4, the final issue in his reworking of the Snow White story, had been published?  I just happened to wander into Forbidden Planet, and there it was, with some looking, on the shelf!

The story is sort of like Snow White from the Prince’s point of view, and it’s dark, gothic, and a downer.  Did you think there would be a happy ending?  (That’s as much as I’ll give away.)  No, Sala is into the rich soil of the real stories behind the Disney fairy tales.  They are not that hard to find – just go to Brothers Grimm.  You may be surprised at how goth they are!  (And for a wonderful essay on fairy tales in the raw, check out Robert Darnton’s book, The Great Cat Massacre.)

Sala’s style here is at its most muted, more “realistic,” less far-out weird than his stuff has been in the past – this suits the tone and pace of the story.  His art in Delphine is like a subtle basso continuo that sets off the hysterical, shrieking, hilarious weirdness of earlier pieces like One of the Wonders of the World. It’s  one long tone-poem on obsession, frustration, longing, illusion, fear, and some other not too pleasant topics.

One reviewer commented:

He is a sorely under-appreciated storyteller and I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps because his influences are decidedly anachronistic, out of pace with current pop culture in spite of the work being deeply entrenched in popular culture’s folklore

I hope he’s getting the attention he deserves, but I don’t keep tabs on the comics business world.  The reviewer makes a fine point when he touches on the paradox that Sala is out of sync with todays pop culture (explicit sex, vulgarity, explosions, violence, knowing irony and sarcasm…am I a crank?) while his work is “deeply entrenched in popular culture’s folklore.”

Sala doesn’t make “references” or “allusions” to “pop icons.”  There’s nothing knowing or arch about him.  He has absorbed vast realms of imagery and literature, and he writes and draws what he loves – in this sense, completely “in genre.”  (What is his genre, though?)  I see him as an exemplar of the personal mythologist, and as it happens, his myths are very sympatico with mine!  A very brief and incomplete list of “influences” that I detect in reading him:

Judex, Dante’s Inferno, Dashell Hammet, Film Noir, Grimm Brothers, Surrealism, Max Ernst, literary grotesque (depictions of monstrous transformations) and Gothic, Louise Brooks, Poe, Kafka…

The Mole's destinyAnd speaking of Kafka, at his new site, Sala has an old story, Herman, the Human Mole, that brings to mind that author’s story, The Hunger Artist. (Also Nightmare Alley).

This story is in my favorite Sala vein and style, and has now supplanted Wonder of the World as my all-time favorite.   It features a variation on this character from 13 O’Clock, another favorite.  Outcast, Peter Lorre-, sensitive-type.

Reading this story is like diving into a maelstrom of genre-moods:  noir, geek stories, tortured adolescent, loser kid, crazy misunderstood artist, mama-fixated psycho, I-was-framed-for-murder, culminating in a sick and hilarious reprise of the feral-child cum geek.  Is this what artists are?  Is this a self-portrait?