Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #133: Art d'Ecco by Andrew & Roger Langridge

Roger Langridge is a great cartoonist: expressive, funny, with beautiful ink lines and the exceedingly rare ability to put across pantomime, slapstick, and musical numbers on the comics page. His brother Andrew is more of an enigma to me: I know he wrote all of the "Art d'Ecco" stories, which were one of the first things to bring Roger to prominence, but otherwise, he seems to have disappeared from public view.

All of those stories, as far as I can tell, were collected in a 2006 volume, appropriately titled The Louche and Insalubrious Escapades of Art d'Ecco. It's got the original 1990 Art d'Ecco 4-issue series, what I think was the minicomics Art Dekko series before that, a few random strips from anthologies, and a 20-page story up front that just might have been new in 2006. (The book, as is sadly usual in the publishing world that refuses to follow my diktats, explains none of that -- how the stories are organized here, where they first appeared, if anything was in the minicomic and redrawn or other altered for later publication. It just sticks all of the pages together in this particular order, and leaves it up to the reader to make sense of it all.)

Speaking of making sense of it all, that's something the reader has to do a lot of. The main characters may be named Art d'Ecco and Art Nouveau -- and that pyramidal gentleman on the cover, the Gump, who is as dumb as he is simple -- but the watchword for Art d'Ecco is actually "dada." Roger Langridge's later work has wordplay and slapstick and silliness and corny vaudeville jokes and fourth-wall-smashing, all in service of usually conventional plots and situations (though Fred the Clown gets pretty existential). Art d'Ecco has all of those things with the knob turned up to eleven and the plot obscured and cast aside like a gum wrapper.

Art himself is sometimes a writer, of novels or operas or other things. But he's really just The Straight Man, a strong-jawed guy in a tuxedo who exists to be at the center of these stories. Gump is his eternally optimistic and eternally dim-witted sidekick. Nouveau, Art's sometimes nemesis, is a whirling dervish of energetic chaos and self-aggrandizing opportunism -- a foil for Art to bounce off of, or a plotter to drag Art into the edges of his schemes. Other characters are types and stock, straight from Central Casting, utterly on purpose.

And what they all do defies explanation: there are single-page gags, short whimsical strips, and longer epics that would read as satirical if the Langridges allowed them to drift anywhere near the real world for at least a moment. It's exhilarating, bizarre, funny, and baffling in equal measure, like stories imperfectly translated from some little-known hermetic language. This probably is not the place to start with Roger Langridge, but, if you've already loved Fred the Clown, jump in here: it is the deep end, but I think you'll find it bracing.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

No comments:

Post a Comment