Sunday, January 13, 2013

I Reads You Review: THE HIDDEN

FANTAGRAPHICS BOOKS – @fantagraphics

CARTOONIST: Richard Sala
DESIGN: Richard Sala and Jacob Covey
ISBN: 978-1-60699-386-6; hardcover (2011), 8.25" x 8.25" (dimensions)
136pp, Color, $19.99 U.S.

The Hidden is a 2011 full color, hardcover, original graphic novel from cartoonist and comic book creator, Richard Sala. Sala is known for his comic book series, Evil Eye (Fantagraphics Books), and such works as Cat Burglar Black, Delphine, and The Chuckling Whatsit. Published by Fantagraphics Books, The Hidden follows a group of survivors of a mysterious worldwide catastrophe that seems like it could be an extinction level event for humanity.

The story begins on a day when strange creatures begin an assault on humans, and it seems as if dark forces are at war with nature. An indeterminate amount of time later, the narrative finds civilizations in ruins. We meet two wanderers looking for safe haven or, perhaps, someplace not in ruins. They are a young woman named Colleen and Tom, her boyfriend. The couple finds a middle-aged man asleep in a cave. Although he cannot remember his name, he does remember an old trading post that he claims is a safe place.

Along their journey, the trio meets another couple, Glen and Sally, who claim to have witnessed a horrific and surprising massacre. When the small band finally arrives at the trading post, they find more mystery. Colleen also begins to learn of the terrible conspiracy and dark secrets behind the man who cannot remember his name.

Richard Sala’s Delphine was a modern take slash re-imagination of the fairy tale, “Snow White.” The following is a possible spoiler: Sala’s The Hidden is a modernization of Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), but told in the context of our current times (which are beset by end-of-the-world fears). In fact, The Hidden goes beyond the end of Shelley’s novel, imagining a different fate for man, monster, and humanity. This graphic novel is essentially a parable about ethical-free, morality-light, cutting-edge science. Why do anything? Why play God? The answer to both questions is “because we can.” “Damn the consequences” is The Hidden’s unspoken refrain.

The back cover of The Hidden has a quote about Sala’s work from Publisher’s Weekly, which describes reading Sala as “an experience both jarring and fun.” That is quite true. I tore through The Hidden, flipping pages as if I were reading the latest potboiler, suspense thriller on the prose bestsellers’ list. I couldn’t wait to get to the next shocking and thrilling revelation.

The Hidden is jarring because of the action taken by the characters, both the leading actors and the bit players. Much of Sala’s work has a playful gothic aesthetic, similar to the mischievous macabre of Charles Addams and the lighthearted ghoulishness of Tim Burton. Sala goes past Addams and Burton. His comics contain moments in which the capricious nature of life and the seeming fickleness of existence delivers cruelty. This does not always appear as physical violence; sometimes, the result is a spiritual wound or a gash on the psyche. In The Hidden, the characters don’t do “playful gothic aesthetic.”

The Hidden is what Sala’s work always is, entertaining and bizarre, but it also reveals that Richard Sala isn’t just some guy drawing peculiar cartoons. Sala is a talent like no other. When I think of the comic book creator/hacks that are more famous (and perhaps wealthier) than Sala, it makes me realize that there may be a God, but there ain’t no justice.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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