Some Artists You Hear About Again Every Few Months

The Grave Robber’s Daughter

This will be out pretty soon. Actually, I thought it was already out, but now I think I was wrong.

It's the second time in so many months I’ve come across a bookshelf-ready comic that holds itself out as an original, beholden-to-no-series entity on the cover, yet argues in the alternative, in the legal indicia or frontispiece or whatnot, that it can also optionally be taken as the latest installment in a continuing series of comics. Last month there was Ninja, which claimed to be also the newest installment of Brian Chippendale’s Maggots series, and now we have, from Fantagraphics, The Grave Robber’s Daughter, which also holds itself out as issue #14 of writer/artist Richard Sala’s ongoing Evil Eye. It’s like I’m getting a whiff continuing format anxiety, balanced between comics shops and bookstores, though I’d be negligent to omit the fact that this is actually the second issue of Evil Eye to call itself something else - issue #13 was the original graphic novel Peculia and the Groon Grove Vampires.

So it goes with this, a 96-page b&w tome for $9.95. Readers of the old pamphlet-format Evil Eye will recall issues being split between the serialized epic Reflections in a Glass Scorpion (later collected under the title Mad Night) and one-off stories featuring the enigmatic Peculia. The latter heroine got the spotlight in issue #13, so it makes sense that this one focuses exclusively on Judy Drood, girl detective and foul-mouthed obsessive (the term ‘fuck’ or some variant is uttered six times by page seven), heroine of the other half of the series. This is not, however, a layered or complicated mystery, nothing with a particularly large cast or dense backstory, or really much story at all. It’s sleek, fleet, sure-footed horror-flavored amusement that’ll dissolve in your brain with the turn of every new page.

The plot finds Judy stranded near the ominous municipality of Obidiah’s Glen, where there’s seemingly no people beyond hordes of surly teenagers, gangs of scary clowns from the local carnival, and the creepy little girl of the title with her inevitable intimate connection to everything that’s going on. Don’t sweat the details - the point of it all is to enjoy Sala’s obvious talents at crafting spooky-cute-ugly visuals that seem as intuitively composed as one might expect from their own signature. Get ready for head-crushings, pickaxes embedded in foreheads, scenes of flight, knife battles with tentacled beasties, cracking and withered facades, skewerings, sawings, rotten corpses and sexy witches. Above all, movement is key, the action propelled forward without hesitation right up to the deus ex machina ending.

As a result the book seems to breeze by, its potentially clanking story construction -- composed exclusively of Judy wandering around, fighting things, witnessing things fighting, and having events explained to her -- seems a canny vessel for delivering Sala’s pretty girls and vivid monsters and copious gore and excellently expressive cartooning with as little fuss as possible. One does get the feeling Sala could have achieved much the same effect by dispensing with words entirely, although then we’d miss out on the occasional fun bit of dialogue, which does add a bit of pique to the steamrolling force of Sala’s art. You’d do well to check out the artist’s official site, linked above, before making this your first Sala purchase; if you like the way it looks, I can confidently say it finds such cartooning in good form, though know there are denser works available too (at least from my piecemeal readings), like the aforementioned Mad Night, or its predecessor serial The Chuckling Whatsit, from the pages of the late, lamented Zero Zero and collected under its original title.

Still, good fun. Established fans will not want to hesitate.