By Marti Riera (Catalan Communications)
Dick Tracy is one of the most well-known strips in the world and his contributions to the art form are many and indisputable. They occurred over many decades and the medium of graphic narrative grew up with it. Imagine the effect instant exposure – almost over exposure – to such an uncompromising, bombastic, iconic property on the artists of a nation where free-expression and creative autonomy was suppressed for generations.
That’s what happened when the death of General Franco (who held Spain in a fascistic time-warp from his victory in October 1936 until his death in November 1975) instantly opened-up and liberalized all aspects of Spanish life. As Art Spiegelman says in his introduction ‘decades of political and social repression gave way to a glorious eruption of creativity that allowed a full-fledged counterculture to come to life at just about the same time that America’s “Love Generation” gave way to what Tom Wolfe labeled the “Me Generation.”’
How odd yet fitting then that an American symbol of “the Establishment” so enchanted and captivated the young cartoonist Marti Riera that he assimilated every line and nuance to create this dark and angry homage concerning the tribulations of a seedy, desperate taxi-driver trapped in a vanished past and prey to a world at once free and dangerous, ungoverned and chaotic.
Driving the seedy part of town our hero picks up a high-rolling gambler who’s just won big, but his night goes horribly wrong when a knife-wielding thief hijacks the cab and robs his passenger. Luckily the Cabbie can handle himself and he quickly, brutally subdues the thug.
He’s a decent, hard-working man who lives with his ailing mother, humouring her talk of a mysterious inheritance, and allowing her to keep the embalmed cadaver of his father in the spare bedroom, but he’s tragically unaware that his citizen’s arrest will have terrible repercussions for them both.
When the son of the thief he captured is released from prison he immediately begins a grim campaign of retribution against the Cabbie that creates a maelstrom of tragedy, degradation and despair.
This is a harsh and uncompromising tale of escalating crime and uncaring punishments: bleakly cynical and populated with a cast of battered, desolate characters of increasingly degenerate desperation. Even the monsters are victims. But for all that the Cabbie is an incredibly compelling drama with strong allegorical overtones and brutally mesmerizing visuals. Any adult follower of the art form should be conversant with this superb work and hopefully a complete translated edition will emerge one day…
© 1987 Marti Riera. Introduction © 1987 Art Spiegleman. English language edition © 1987 Catalan Communications. All Rights Reserved.