Saturday, August 23, 2008

Waking Nightmare

Grotesque #2 reviewed by Rob Clough, from Sequart...

"It's unfortunate the the Ignatz line from Fantagraphics has received relatively little critical attention. It's only the best-looking series of periodicals currently being published in comics, it's also responsible for introducing a number of artists to American audiences. In particular, Italian series editor Igort has unleashed a number of his countrymen for wider attention, and Sergio Ponchione has been one of my favorites in this group. The second issue of his series GROTESQUE continues to be a mash-up of familiar imagery and stories, all given a series of unusual twists.

The first issue was a variation on the dreamer's quest, as mysteries that gnawed at the main characters were brought to the brink of being solved and desires satisfied. Ponchione leaves the three main characters from the first issue hanging, instead focusing on a couple of side-characters and bringing them into a story that blends fairy tales, folklore, noir and religious fever dreams. That blend is stewed and given a classic comics chaser, with rubbery character design. Characters have bulbous noses and odd anatomy and move in unusual ways, echoing Crumb, Segar, Charles Burns and many others. Ponchione is such an accomplished style mimic that his style transcends any particular influence. He's especially proficient at using the physical properties of ink on a page to create mood and story; I especially liked his "Spot" character, a sentient ink blot with stick arms and legs.

The plot of issue #2 revolves around Professor Hackensack being sent on a mission by the series' mysterious and potentially sinister keystone Mr. O'Blique to Cryptic City. It's a city whose citizenry is being forced to buy emotions from the corrupt ruling Barons, and Hackensack was supposed to find a way to bring them down. O'Blique had helped set up the Barons' ancestor to rule by giving him a secret: the meaning of life. Hackensack bounces between allies and enemies, gathering clues and portents, before the issue ends on a cliffhanger. Ponchione specializes in dramatic point-of-view shots; on one page, he pans down from panel to panel as we see the freakish anatomy of one character and the unsettling character design of his tormentor. The story is a waking nightmare, one with images and ideas that are familiar yet warped beyond recognition, an effect that's both disturbing and hypnotic. I'm curious how long this series is planned to run and if Ponchione will delve into more symbolic imagery or keep it on a more literal (if eerie) level"

...and by Dick Hyacinth

"This, however, was significantly better than the first issue, and I liked the first issue a lot. Ponchione's art is even better than in the previous issue, just bursting with life, a real joy to behold. The story is a bit more straightforward, but doesn't exactly seem to line up with the previous issue. The characters in this issue, however, are much better realized, and perhaps better suited to Ponchione's strengths as a cartoonist. Very impressive; maybe the most underrated comic of 2008 so far"