Saturday, December 20, 2008

sequart #181: Waking Nightmare: Grotesque #2

Reviewed is issue #2 of the Ignatz line's GROTESQUE, by Sergio Ponchionne (Fantagraphics/Coconino Press).

It's unfortunate the the Ignatz line from Fantagraphics has received relatively little critical attention. It's only the best-looking series of periodicals currently being published in comics, it's also responsible for introducing a number of artists to American audiences. In particular, Italian series editor Igort has unleashed a number of his countrymen for wider attention, and Sergio
Ponchione has been one of my favorites in this group. The second issue of his series GROTESQUE continues to be a mash-up of familiar imagery and stories, all given a series of unusual twists.

The first issue was a variation on the dreamer's quest, as mysteries that gnawed at the main characters were brought to the brink of being solved and desires satisfied. Ponchione leaves the three main characters from the first issue hanging, instead focusing on a couple of side-characters and bringing them into a story that blends fairy tales, folklore, noir and religious fever dreams. That blend is stewed and given a classic comics chaser, with rubbery character
design. Characters have bulbous noses and odd anatomy and move in unusual ways, echoing Crumb, Segar, Charles Burns and many others. Ponchione is such an accomplished style mimic that his style transcends any particular influence. He's especially proficient at using the physical properties of ink on a page to create mood and story; I particularly liked his "Spot" character, a sentient ink blot with stick arms and legs.

The plot of issue #2 revolves around Professor Hackensack being sent on a mission by the series' mysterious and potentially sinister keystone Mr. O'Blique to Cryptic City. It's a city whose citizenry is being forced to buy emotions from the corrupt ruling Barons, and Hackensack was supposed to find a way to bring them down. O'Blique had helped set up the Barons' ancestor to
rule by giving him a secret: the meaning of life. Hackensack bounces between allies and enemies, gathering clues and portents, before the issue ends on a cliffhanger. Ponchione specializes in dramatic point-of-view shots; on one page, he pans down from panel to panel as we see the freakish anatomy of one character and the unsettling character design of his tormentor. The story is a waking nightmare, one with images and ideas that are familiar yet warped beyond
recognition, an effect that's both disturbing and hypnotic. I'm curious how long this series is planned to run and if Ponchione will delve into more symbolic imagery or keep it on a more literal (if eerie) level.

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