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?

Knife Throwing

December 30, 2008


When I was a boy, I was very proud of my collection of paperback books, mostly classics.  They were packed tightly on a bookshelf.  I was also fond of building plastic models of cars and planes, and so had a collection of X-acto knives that I used to trim parts.  One day I discovered the joys of knife throwing!  I would hurl the blades across the room at the books, and they would penetrate the flat spines of the classics with a satisfying “thunk” while the blade and handle would vibrate…”doinnnng….”  (I also enjoyed setting fires with a large magnifying glass, and setting off mini-explosions with accumulated gunpowder from caps.)

Yes, well, so I was taken by the knife throwing scene on Jahsonic’s blog from “Girl on the Bridge.”  A conjunction of those two old favorites:  sex & death.   My montage is below, but you can see the original scene of the first stage act at his site.

This film is an enjoyable, wacky fairy tale with an intense and strange thread of eroticism running through it, but the relationship of the two main characters is not…well…physical.  There’s nothing like a near-death experience to make a nice girl feel really alive!  If I had only known what gets a girl going, maybe I’d have thrown my knives in a different direction!  Of course, as the Richard Sala image up top shows, accidents do happen.  (In this movie too, to hilarious effect, if you can believe it.)

As I mused on the theme of Platonic love in this movie, I thought of another favorite of mine, “Intimate Strangers,” and was amused to learn that they are both by Patrice Leconte.  I should have made the connection.   Such a theme isn’t exactly common in movies these days.

trop intimesThe original title is “Confidences Trop Intimes,and I think the translation would be more accurate but less felicitous as “Inapproprate Confidences.”  A troubled woman on a first visit to a therapist, opens the wrong door, sits down, and starts spilling her guts.  The man is an accountant – people tell him their secrets all the time, for tax purposes – but he figures out pretty quickly la femme nikitawhat’s going on.  She’s so beautiful and helpless though, he cannot bring himself to tell her the truth.  And so it goes on…Eventually, their relationship is broken off, then reinstated, but on a basis of honesty and full disclosure.  They both crave the friendship of a good listener.  Sandra Bonnaire is lovely – another skinny, boney, French actress with high cheek bones – and the uncredited supporting actor is the cigarette.  If you think smoking can only be seen as a foul habit, this film might change your mind.

Jim Woodring and …

October 18, 2008

Jim Woodring is the latest comics artist to come to my enthusiastic attention.  Though he no longer does comic strips, he is legendary for his color and black and white stories about Jim – autobiographical I guess – and Frank, a humanoid figure who wordlessly moves through a landscape that exceeds the bounds of  the surreal.  In fact, to use that term, “surreal,” to describe him is to sink to cliche.  His stories of Frank are dreamlike and terrifying, but in a way that lacks the self-conscious arti-ness of so much surrealism, while being no less powerful.  I’d say, his images smack more of what I have experienced in my rare spells of delirium, but his stories all make sense, often moral sense.

The color page below will give you an idea of the eerie weirdness and humor that “Frank” brings to the world.  You can visit this link to see a faithful animation of his Frank character, but I think I like the regular old ink-on-page comics better.

The black and white page is from an issue of his “Jim” comics, and as usual, it is more structured along the lines of a wordy narrative…but of course, there is that giant talking frog!  I love this story for its wit, subtlety, irony, and sly philosophy.  It reminds me a lot of Italo Calvino’s story, “The Aquatic Uncle.”  The mastery of tone in this page, keeping to a steady highminded satire while portraying a sexy “girl-form,” a pompous and sensitive frog…prince? philosopher? demon?…and a tense socratic dialog on fear and human potential is amazing.  BRAVO!

…and gore…

Yes, somewhere there is a graduate student laboring on a Ph.D. dissertation on the comparative treatment of gore in Richard Sala, Tony Millionaire (two other of my favorites) and Woodring.  Consider first, Richard Sala:

His “noir”, Edgar A. Poe-esque adventure stories are filled with hacking, stabbing, decapitation, skull crushing violence.  Still, it evinces a laugh because he works within a genre and its anti-universe, always keeping it at a considerable emotional distance from us.  When I see those knives flashing, or helter-skelter piles of semi-clothed dead maidens…I chuckle or leer.

Tony Millionaire goes for the grand guignol, with a devilishly funny twist.  He’s not trying to scare us out of our seats.  More likely, he’d like to get us up and running to the can to vomit in disgust,


even as we nearly choke for laughing.  When I look at his sliced up bodies (Everything always seems to grow back fine for the next page!) and buckets of throw-up, I grimace with disgust and chortle.

Then there’s Jim Woodring.  His violence is cool, often wordless and soundless.  Sometimes we don’t even know what is devouring or mutilating what.  Sometimes, however, it’s just straight out barbarity, but with no visual change in tone from the other actions.  Consider below:  Manhog observes Frank having a picnic with his dolls and grows distraught at his exclusion from the fun.  He rushes in and upends Frank’s picnic spread and runs off.

Later, Frank walks alone, despondent, but he happens on the debauched Manhog sleeping.  Watch him take revenge!

Is there any more clinical depiction of the savagery of human violence?  It is truly disturbing, distilled to its terrible essence by the magic of the strange, ridiculous incongruity of the cartoon format.

Les Chics

April 6, 2008

I just purchased the page from Richard Sala’s “Chuckling Whatsit” on which this panel is found. I love the two hip, NYC-type art collectors out looking for “finds” in the junkstores of the hinterland. Sala is a genius.

Epistemic Solipsism of the Present Moment

February 17, 2008


The philosophic point of view that nothing can be known to exist (and perhaps nothing does exist) beyond the “sense impressions” we are having right now… Reading this page… And who are we? Are we only thought balloons of somebody else’s mentality? Am I sleeping on the operating table of the evil Doctor Galvani, dreaming you dreaming me? Am I a brain-in-a-vat?

Richard Sala, “My Father’s Brain”

And how do I know that you are not all robots, cleverly mimicking the patterns of human behavior. Give you a Turing Test?! After all, some people seem to be barely human. Perhaps we need to cut open some people to find out. Or peer into their heads/brains/minds.

Nothing exists, but the clear mirror of mind, reflecting…nothing.

And then there’s Philonus, of course, the one chatting with Hylas in the dialog by George Berkeley (and nattering on about drainage). You know, the philosophical conversation that proves that “to be is to be perceived.” Nothing exists when we don’t see it or hear it (trees falling in the forest and all that) but for the mind of God, who is eternally watching. As Bertrand Russell relates in his History of Western Philosophy:

There was a young man who said “God”
Must think it exceedingly odd
If he finds that this tree
Continues to be
When there’s no one about in the Quad.”


Dear Sir:
Your astonishment’s odd:
I am always about in the Quad,
And that’s why the tree
Will continue to be,
Since observed byYours faithfully,GOD.

Berkeley intended his philosophic works to be a refutation of atheism and of materialist science. He was particularly annoyed at the glorious reception given to Newton’s theories, especially that of universal gravitation, which was, after all, an occult force, or a force acting at a distance. (How in heaven’s name could one object ever act upon another without any physical contact!!?) No one had ever seen it! No one knew how it worked! They just believed in it because it made so many things simpler.

Did George Berkeley have the last laugh? The university was named for him, and Hume, another man with some wonderfully subversive ideas, did say of his work that it admitted of no refutation…but, alas, carried no conviction. There’s a backhanded complement for you. As for Samuel Johnson, he kicked a dirt clod and pronounced, “I refute him thusly.” Just so do the running dog lackeys of the empiricist scourge support their simpleminded theories of the nature of the world.

Black and White

December 18, 2007


The drawing above is by the artist Heinrich Kley, an academic painter who turned satirist. I owe my rediscovery of him – I’ve seen some of his images before – to Richard Sala, who like me, enjoys his drawings and mentioned them in an interview. (He also intimates that his heroine Peculia is inspired by Louise Brooks.)

Kley’s drawings can be grotesque, bizarre, and hilarious. (Here is a site with a nice gallery: The Art of Heinrich Kley). The tension and sinuosity of his line – so typical of Art Nouveau – is fascinating. Click on this thumbnail to see a short animated tribute to him that I created from some of his drawings, a sequence that may have inspired some animators at Disney.


There’s no end to the wonders of black and white drawings, woodcuts, and engravings from this period, some of them a source of rich inspiration for comic artists today, as well as others of course. I find the work of Frans Masereel particularly arresting. Both he and the American Lynd Ward, created early forms of what some now call the “graphic novel.”


Richard Sala Comics

December 4, 2007


How nice to talk about an artist who hasn’t been dead for two centuries. Well, I see no reason to apologize for my taste, and if you read my recent post “On Paper,” you know that Richard Sala is my favorite comics artist now. This black and white piece from “The Grave Robber’s Daughter” illustrates other aspects of his work that I love: comic gore galore; black humor; great sound “effects” (does he practice stabbing people to get it right?); sexy, tough, profane female characters; and femme fatales, dead and alive.

The heroine above is Judy Drood, a dark alter-ego of Nancy Drew. She slugs and swears like a sailor. The image below is his fetching heroine, Peculia, to be found in his series Evil Eye, and elsewhere. You don’t want to mess with her either. How does he make them so sexy with such simple elements? Too bad Peculia isn’t real…she wouldn’t like me anyway…I’m reading these things too much!


I was not always a comics fan. As a boy, I read a bit of Superman and Batman. After college, I enjoyed reading Zap and Anarchy comics briefly. I always liked Edgar Allen Poe, however, and clearly, so does Sala! It was James Gillray, of course, that reawakened my joy in the pure entertainment of graphic images. The sheer delight I get from Gillray’s wild and vicious satires is matched by the giddy pleasure of Sala’s hilarious, dark, absurd, noir-world. It’s pure entertainment of a very special kind. See for yourself —-> Richard Sala’s Page.

On Paper…

November 29, 2007

Pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, on paper…create a world of meaning – where? In our minds.

In the book/film, Black Robe, the story of French Jesuit missionaries in Canada in the early 17th century, there is a passage in which one of the priests demonstrates the power of writing to the Algonquins. They have no equivalent tool in their culture. He takes aside one tribe member and asks him to whisper his name into his ear. He writes the name on a piece of paper and then hands it to another missionary who is standing some distance away. The second man speaks the name of the Algonquin and all the tribesmen are amazed. How did the name travel across space? There was no sound, no hand signs. Somehow, the name was captured in the scratches of black on the piece of paper!

Works on paper take the ideas and images of the creator and capture them for us to see, so that we can digest them in our minds. I have always thought about this a lot, this is what art is (and not just on paper) but lately I’ve been thinking about it on paper because of my preoccupation with James Gillray and comics. If you doubt that last connection, click on this thumbnail and examine this work from 1800 by Gillray: “Democracy: or a Sketch of the Life of [Napoleon] Buonaparte.”

Could not this have been produced, just this year, by Gary Trudeau of Doonesbury fame? (Many versions of the image were hand colored.)

For a superb social history of the English satirical print in the time of Gillray, I recommend the immensely enjoyable and beautifully produced book, City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in 18th Century London by Vic Gatrell. You will even get a history of laughter!


The history of comics, and its relationship to art and ideas is wonderfully presented by Scott McCloud in his book, Understanding Comics.


Of course, the title is a nod to Marshall McCluhan’s Understanding Media, which is the inspiration for his text, although I think McCloud is better at explaining his more clear and sensible ideas than was McCluhan. Perhaps too, McCloud is a fan of the book that I never tire of promoting,


Prints and Visual Communication, by William Ivins. This book delves into the fundamental philosophical issues of just what reproduced images, i.e., prints, are, and what they do to us and for us. It tells us how they became ubiquitous – the movement towards mass reproduction of photographs in periodicals is the epic challenge motivating the ‘plot’ of the book – and lets us imagine what the world would have been like before this earthshaking change.

Meanwhile, these panels are from the comic tale, “One of the Wonders of the World,” by Richard Sala. This is, perhaps, my all-time favorite. I hope to post more on comics, with more examples, later.