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Richard Sala, Maniac Killer Strikes Again!

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To anyone who stayed up past one in the days before VCRs to catch an airing of Murders in the Zoo (and can actually tell the difference between Lionel Atwell and George Zucco), who has more than a passing acquaintance with Philo Vance and the Spider or who wishes Edward Gorey were a trace less High Tea – Richard Sala is The Man.

Maniac Killer Strikes Again! (Fantagraphics) is the newest collection of Sala’s generously anachronistic comics work: stories packed with grim conspiracies, cloaked killers, vats full of acid or ravenous piranhas, seedy nightclubs and guitar strumming gorillamen. Rendered in Sala’s trademark Caligari-esque style, full of crazed angles and architecture, blank-faced blonds and sinister shadows, these stories evoke the grand guignol poetry of Franju’s Eyes Without A Face and the poverty row plotting of Monogram Pictures. Toss in a narrative style that at times reads as campily redundant as a Golden Age comic (“Before he can be observed, Mr. Murmur melts quickly & soundlessly into the shadows. . .”) and you’ve got graphic quirk at its more diverting.
The tales in this collection (what, no bibliography?) date from 1985-94 and have been reformatted (not always smoothly) to fit an 8×8″ paperback format. Generally speaking, Sala is at his best with an extended storyline – where he’s allowed to let his encyclopedic art-pulp mind sprout all over the gothic landscape. “Thirteen O’Clock,” a five-part series, and “Diabolical Dr. Q” are the highlights here (as the book’s back cover notes, the former is of a piece with Sala’s delightful animated MTV serial, “Invisible Hands”). Crammed full of dark ideas, dubious contrivances, text-heavy word balloons and splendid visuals, they’re ideal comics for jittery, caffeine-soaked after-midnight reading. Paranoid perfect entertainment for those who can view Bela Lugosi in all twelve chapters of The Phantom Creeps without once snickering condescendingly – and also for those who can’t. . .

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.