Saturday, March 15, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #73: The Ghastly Ones and Other Fiendish Frolics by Richard Sala

Richard Sala is sui generis, but his graphic novels do tend to have the same elements over and over again: the plucky young girl, barefoot and inquisitive; her hapless young man, destined for a sad end; various fiends in almost-human form; dark and creepy towns, far away from the main roads, with crooked houses and sinister secrets. Those are wonderful elements, particularly in Sala's hands, but it can make his books difficult to differentiate quickly.

The Ghastly Ones & Other Fiendish Frolics, though, is not a collection of Sala's comics: it collects four illustrated stories in verse, and came out very early in his career (1995, soon after Black Cat Crossing). So it has some of those elements -- more of the creeps than the girls, more of the frights than the stories -- but it's much more obviously inspired by Charles Addams than his mature work.

So there are four stories here -- tales or poems is probably the more appropriate word, since they're vignettes or collections of moments in verse -- each about various kinds of nastiness. The title piece, which is nearly half the length of the whole book, anatomizes a series of murderers and worse, while "The Morbid Musings of Malcolm de Mulch" describes one nervous young man worried about which way he will die. "The Skulkers" is another sequence, with a portrait on one page and a descriptive couplet on the other: these folks might not necessarily all be murderers and criminals. And lastly is "Beware, Beware," the warning given by an old lady to a man who possibly is her grandson.

They're all short and amusing, light-hearted in Sala's dark and morbid way. This book is long out of print, which is a pity: it's a great gateway from Addams (or, perhaps, from Gahan Wilson) to Sala, which is a natural progression. I'll admit this is minor Sala, but even in the mid-90s his grotesques were magnificent, full of unique faces and garishly twisted bodies. This is worth looking at just for Sala's lovely, horrible art, leaving everything else aside.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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