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Peculia
By Richard Sala
Published by Fantagraphics Books; $12.95 USD

Peculia is the story of a girl named Peculia. This is just the beginning, however.

Peculia has what can only be described as adventures, whilst being pursued by (amongst others) Justine, agent of the mysterious and powerful Obscurus. Peculia is ably assisted by her loyal Jeeves-like factotum, Ambrose. Oddly enough, this just about sums up Peculia, whilst at the same time in no way hinting at the richness and complexity of this wonderful book.

I have always enjoyed the feel of Richard Sala's books, the tactility that he can bring to his work, and Peculia is no exception. Sala has created an atmosphere which is more than the sum of the parts of words and pictures: "silky" is how sitting down with this book feels...or maybe like llama wool on a crisp autumnal day. "To wound the autumnal city..." -- the words come unbidden to the mind...

One settles into a Peculia story the way one settles into an absinthe buzz or a pipe full of the best. (Indeed, a glass of absinthe and a pipe are not at all inappropriate accompaniments to reading Peculia!) Each chapter of Peculia is more than just a story, they are moods.

Sala's attention to detail is obvious on every page. The faces that surround Peculia in her quarters are brilliant...they evoke a Lewis-Carrol like atmosphere tinged with an ab initio eroticism that for Carroll was in absentia, or at best in potentia.

Sala's work often seems to involve eyes peering from aound corners or through holes in a wall. His stories are full of secret manipulators, caped and masked figures of mystery and anonymous secret societies. There certainly is a voyeuristic element to Sala's art, which is however in keeping with his medium. The reader is peering down into the comic book, becoming just one more link in the great chain of observations...

Obscurus is in a sense the epitome of this. He is the ultimate observer, the most obscure of manipulators to all but himself, the eye in the triangle who witnesses reality and thus creates it...or at least, justifies it.

In Peculia, Peculia is watched constantly: watched by Obscurus, watched by Justine, watched over by Ambrose...she is even watched by her clocks, by her potted plants, by her vases. At the same time she is being watched, Peculia is herself watching, observing all around her the mad carnival that is our life on this weird little sphere, sometimes intervening...

There are mythic and folklore elements throughout Peculia, from "The Three Sisters" who share a heart to the unlooked for gratitude of the unexpected helper in the story "Nightcrawler." Sala is telling a sophisticated story in a deceptively simple and straightforward way.

Richard Sala definitely knows what he is doing and where he is going. He is very much in control of what is happening in pages of Peculia. Perhaps Obscurus is only the penultimate manipulator, and Sala himself should be seen as the true secret chief of Peculia's world!

There is a grace, a flow and a smoothness to Peculia which tells its own story, the result in part I think from the words and images helping each other so well in conveying the single vision of the artist/writer on multiple levels. Peculia's unity of words and pictures help both to become synthesized into superior sequential art.

This graceful ease of storytelling is what comics should be. Richard Sala is certainly helping sequential art to live up to its potentials. Grade: 4/5

-- Marshall O'Keeffe



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