Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pompeii by Frank Santoro - Book of the year

This, for me, was the comic of the year.  Published by Picturebox, which will be shuttering its doors at the end of this month and is currently holding a 50% off everything sale (codeword: sale), this serves well as a culmination of a publishing collaboration between Santoro and Dan Nadel, who runs PBox.  (though one can hope they will work together at some point in the future, sooner rather than later, and yes, I am well aware they are both at

My first introduction to Santoro's work was Cold Heat - Nadel gave me the first four issues, along with the first couple 1-800-Mice, at MoCCa fest 2007, when I was just starting out as a "comics journalist" - and, upon my first glance through the comics, I was nonplussed by the art.  When I finally read those comics, though, I discovered my first assumption was completely and utterly wrong.  This was an engaging book that spoke directly to me, and I had to have more.  Pompeii is no different.  

Santoro works in a very "simplistic" style, choosing not to define his characters with incessant cross-hatching or photoshopped color effects.  Instead, he focuses on the core of his characters, using the bare minimum of lines to delineate his images.  And with Pompeii he went even further, utilizing thin pencil lines with occasional ink wash, as well as keeping in some of the initial linework that can act as a shadow of movement for a given figure.  This spare use of lines and dearth of detail imbues the story with a rough quality that propels readers through the story and reflects the mood of a given scene, while also reaffirming one of the themes of the book - that of artists and their relationships with their artistic creations. 

Pompeii also tackles the broad theme of love, offering varying interpretations of that word, and Santoro manages to introduce the complexity of such a topic through these various relationships, showcasing myriad facets of what we call love through the interactions of the characters.  Under the pencil and brush of Santoro, we get very real, and some very tender, moments that all too often are ignored in popular entertainment, whether that be comics or books, television or film, and it elevates Pompeii to a wholly different level, to my mind.  

Dash Shaw made a very astute observation about Santoro's work in Pompeii.  He noted that "[t]he characters' faces are all 100% real and expressive in a way that's absent in nearly every other comic I've ever read.  Most cartoon characters' faces are made out of cardboard.  The people in Pompeii actually seem to have a soul behind their eyes."  I had forgotten about this quote until I finally got a chance to read the book.  And halfway through, I realized I was noticing a similar thing and remembered Shaw's remark.  He nails one of the things that speaks to me in Santoro's art - there is a soul behind his characters' eyes, and it is that, among so many other aspects of his work, that really tugs at my heart when I read a Frank Santoro comic.  Pompeii is no different.  COMIC OF THE YEAR, in my humble opinion.  Either get it through Copacetic Comics, where you can get a copy of Santoro's Blast Furnace Funnies as well, or go to Picturebox and get it for half off.  You will not be disappointed.

- chris