19 October 2009

Daily Breakdowns 030 - Delayed Dalliance with Delphine

Delphine #1-4
By Richard Sala
Published by Fantagraphics Books/Coconino Press. $7.95 USD ea.

There's a sense that Richard Sala is a fairly restless creator, going from a twelve issue series, Evil Eye to original graphic novels, children's storybooks, even illustrating an unearthed Jack Kerouac screenplay. Now he's possibly moving into the young adult genre with Cat Burglar Black, but just prior to this he finally completed his four-part Ignatz collection for Fantagraphics, Delphine.

Longtime Sala readers will recognize some familiar tropes right away: strange surroundings, shady characters who seem to hold malevolent secrets. And Sala's art is familiar as well, but taken to a new level -- lovely watercolors on the covers and moody washes on the gray interiors. The creamy paper that's typical of the Ignatz releases lends additional otherworldly, othertimely atmosphere to the story. And the logo itself is so good it deserved to be used for a long-running series.

But it's the story that departs from Sala's work in some major ways. First, we have a male protagonist. With most of Sala's stories, there's a cute, plucky heroine solving some sort of creepy mystery. This story's plenty creepy, but our hero wants to find the girl who got away, Delphine. She went home after college to tend to her sick father, while he took a London fellowship, and when she didn't write he got worried and heartsick and wants to find out what happened to her.

He comes back to her town, and after several forbidding portents he ends up in real trouble, nearly beaten to death at the end of the first chapter, and encountering witches, werewolves and religious zealots. And without giving too much away, his quest is unsuccessful, though the ending, with its use of dreamy, cloudy panel borders, certainly opens up multiple interpretations.

It would be presumptuous, maybe unfair, to see this as a more personal project for Sala just because the protagonist is male. Still, it's intriguing that so many past stories featured variations on a particular female type, of which Delphine fits into in the few glimpses seen here: clever, girl-next-door sexy, but with a edge, and now that Sala girl is absent and the hero can't recover her. The Sala girl always solves her cases, but the guy can't, and is lost and possibly ruined because of it. He encounters the same monsters and secret societies that Judy Drood or Peculia would, but unlike them, he can't overcome them. He's always one step behind, one movement too late, his inability to comprehend the world he's been plunged into and adapt to it becoming his ruin. It's true the ending is going to disappoint many, but the rest is so resonant and unsettling that, even flawed, it has to rank as one of Sala's major works.

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Blogger nilskidoo said...

Great review, very sensible.
And I love Sala's work. I was introduced to his stories through MTV's Liquid Television waaay back when, as well as his contributions to the "Big Books Of..." series from the lamented DC imprint, Paradox Press.
Such a clean, original style.

October 19, 2009 7:13 AM  
Blogger ChristopherAllen said...

Thanks, Nils. I don't get called "sensible" very often!

October 19, 2009 11:58 PM  

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