Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Phantoms in the Attic by Richard Sala

Don't come to this book expecting comics, despite my tag. Oh, there are two short strips at the end, because Richard Sala was a cartoonist at heart and had material that would fit, but that's not the point of the book.

Phantoms in the Attic is an art book, mostly collecting a bunch of full-page images. Some are monochrome, a few are black-and-white, but most are in Sala's usual softly creepy watercolors. I think the physical book is in a fairly small format, but I read it digitally: so, for me, it was exactly the size of my device, like every other book I read that way. (Reading digitally is excellent in some ways, but turns into a procrustean bed for anything heavily designed or full of art.)

As usual with Sala, it's all horror-tinged, with familiar monsters menacing very Sala-esque young ladies. Some of the monsters are creatures: vampires and werewolves and swamp monsters, ghosts and devils and mummies. But just as many are arguably human: maniacal children, slavering serial killers, depraved and deformed maniacs. What they have in common is that urge to attack and destroy cute barefoot girls - it's the core theme of Sala.

I say "girls" because Sala's female characters all skew young, and it seems deliberate. His men are sometimes young (and usually clueless) and sometimes old (and usually fiendish), but his women, evil or good, are all fresh-faced and clean-limbed and perky, in the first flush of youth. The man had a type, or at least his comics did.

Phantoms has nearly a hundred pieces of art like that. They're individual illustrations, so they're more static than Sala's comics pages: even the ones that depict a moment of action look more posed, and most of them are either montages or vignettes or just quieter moments.

You will recognize, I hope, most of the major characters - Sherlocks and Santa Clauses, monsters from this old horror movie or that one, various folkloric beasties - as they menace their particular girls, or cavort in their own image-spaces. If you're someone who would not recognize any of those creatures, Sala is very much not a cartoonist for you.

And, of course, Phantoms is an art book by a cartoonist, so it's audience will be a bit more limited than other Sala books. It doesn't tell a story: it just collects a bunch of unconnected pictures. They're all very nice pictures, and they're all exceptionally fun and Sala-esque, but you need to be a Sala fan to begin with to want this much unconnected Sala.

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