If you’ve never read Richard Sala’s comics, then it sucks to be you, or maybe you’re lucky to be you because you haven’t yet spent any time in the delightfully rich worlds he creates, followed any of his light-footed, labyrinthine plots, explored the disarming darkness that Sala explores with his superbly strange cartooning style.
Sala’s latest is In a Glass Grotesquely and it’s a complete delight from cover to cover. The main story in this half-sized, 140-page book is a deliriously wonderful story called “Super-Enigmatrix”, the story of a fiendishly cruel villain who isn’t evil as much as he’s misguided or misunderstood. He’s a bit like a Bond villain, with his crew of beautiful female henchwomen, but he’s also a bit like a horror villain as he rains hell upon America’s elected leaders and their families – and in one memorable scene, enacts a scene of terrible bloody havoc in a very strange greenhouse.
But Super-Enigmatix, who once was known as Zoltan, sees himself as a crusader for good and for moving the world back to its previous glory. Oh, and of course there’s a beautiful girl in the middle of the plot and some strange monsters and the police and Richard Sala’s usual stream of long-haired, large-breasted barefoot girls who are victims in some scenes, black widows in others, and powerless henchmen in other scenes.
There’s a whole book to be written about the subtexts and obsessions of Richard Sala’s stories, but there’s also a chapter to be written about his storytelling approach in this book, an ever-accruing pile of details that always threaten to collapse, Jenga-style, but instead wobble in the most delightful and charming ways. Sala is a master at throwing one scene after the next into his stories that build reader empathy and interest in the characters and events that he portrays, causing us to care about even minor characters through clever bits of small characterization or behavior.
And as this story tumbles and rumbles towards its ending, we are delighted with the way that Sala constructs his images in the book. As always with Richard Sala, the vistas are nightmarish and charming, more Nightmare Before Christmas than Edgar Allan Poe; he’s brilliant at treading the fine line between cute and scary and frequently seems to be dancing right on that edge in this book. The effect is thrilling, especially in an extended sequence in which one of our protagonist is seduced and drugged by an evil woman. The scene builds slowly as the pair start talking, but as she strips off her boots (major symbolism there), she lays back on the couch, showing just a bit of inner thigh before her victim grows pale and sweaty and begins imagining clocks with assaulting hands, ravens eating eyes, and giant disembodied wolves ready to eat him alive. All colored in a rich palette of rich purples and reds and drawn at akimbo angles, the scene feels like both modern storytelling and classic noir. It’s a deliciously Sala style mix: old and new, attractive frightening woman and innocent, young, handsome man; secret imagined worlds and unknown agendas.
In a Glass Grotesquely is a classic Sala style delight that brings new treats on every page, a work that would almost real like a greatest hits package if it wasn’t so brightly and delightfully created. As soon as I finished this book, I had to open it up again for a second read because I didn’t want it to end.