Edited by Chris Oliveros, Writers: Fromental, David Mazzucchelli, Jacques Tardi, Maurice Vellekoop
Artist: Jacques Loustal, David Mazzucchelli, Jacques Tardi, Maurice Vellekoop
David Mazzucchelli gives a somber account of an American traveller's unsettling experience in a run-down Paris hotel in "Rates of Exchange" (16 pages, b/w); "The Ghost of Whitechapel" (10 pages, full-color), is Loustal's lavishly-illustrated yarn about debonair semi-sophisticate Morel Cox's adventures in 1940's Europe; A new chapter of "It Was The War of The Trenches" (14 pages, b/w), by Jacques Tardi, is featured here; Separating these stories are two short strips: "More Than Coincidence" (2 pages, b/w), by Maurice Vellekoop and "Eleanor" (1 page, full-color), by Eric Drooker. Covers and endpapers by David Mazzucchelli. 48 pages. First printing.
Pages/Color: 56 black and white (some color)
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Publication date: December 1994.
$ 5.95 U.S.
Reviewed by Matt Madden, “Comics Library,”
The Ghost of Whitechapel Story by Fromental, Art by Loustal An adaptation of the story by Marel Cox, this is a dark little tale of lives gone to desperation. More Than Coincidence?
D&Q Volume 2, #2 builds on the promise of the first issue, offering more Tardi, adding Jacques Loustal, another giant of European comics, and presenting a lengthy new story by David Mazzucchelli. As it so happens, the impact of each piece in the new issue seems to be closely related to its length: Eric Drooker’s one-pager and Maurice Vellekoop’s two-pager are certainly the least impressive works on display. Drooker’s six panel slice-of-life is overburdened by clichéd images of nurturing — the old woman watering plants, feeding cats and birds — which are then bluntly contrasted with the loneliness and horror (the tell-tale tattoo on her arm) of her own existence. While Vellekoop uses an interesting device of having his comic read in two ways — simultaneously as a regular comic narrative and as two parallel storylines — he fails to develop it in any interesting direction, opting instead for random permutations of his usual themes of sex, opera, and camp.
Loustal and Fromental’s “The Ghost of Whitechapel” is a brilliant and sordid tale of decadence set in mid-century Europe. Playboy Morel Cox finds himself ducking into a London toy store late one night while fleeing a bunch of thugs. Once inside, he finds himself being led to a dingy basement projection room, where a grainy amateur porn reel sets into motion a series of devastating revelations. This pure pulp tale of random karma is perfectly matched to Loustal’s sensual line, his full-bodied figures, and his mixture of earth tones and primary colors. Loustal almost manages to tell the story with colors alone: the alluring, overripe, amber glow of the toy store window; the dilapidated brick of the stairs down to the makeshift porn theater; the cool gray-green and black and white of the screening room —suggesting the dingy haze of long-suppressed memories; and finally Cox’s fiery red shock of hair in the last panel.
If the comic has a weakness, it lies in an over-reliance on narration. Madame Topfer’s recounting of her misfortunes is the most static part of the comic. Still, Fromental’s text, as translated by Helge Dascher, is full of wry humor and pulp hyperbole; I think any dime-novel writer would be proud to have penned a line such as the one Mrs. Topfer utters when she describes having fled Europe by boat only to find that “unfortunately evil floats better than mercy!”
Like the best pulp fiction, “The Ghost of Whitechapel” manages to transcend its genre boundaries via the visceral knot in the stomach it provokes through Cox’s unexpected predicament. Behind the sleaziness of the affairs detailed in this comic lies a deeper, existential uneasiness about our helplessness in the face of chance and fate: How often do choices we make at random — being in a certain city on a certain night, entering an inconspicuous toy store — end up having a profound effect on our lives?
Jacques Tardi presents another installment of his World War I series, “It Was the War of the Trenches,” which was drawn throughout the ’80s. Another powerful story from this series kicked off the first issue of Volume 2, and I hope that an English-language paperback edition will be in the works down the road. Though I have not read the original French version, the translation of this story struck me as awkward at times, and at some points the dialogue even seemed to run out of sequence (i.e. page 38).