By Mattotti (Fantagraphics Books and Coconino Press)
The sixth release (I hesitate to call it a volume, as the format, though bold and wonderful, is far more than a magazine but not quite a book) from the eclectic European publications imprint designated the Ignatz Collection features an uncharacteristic and unforgettable look at the monochrome work of one of the world’s most talented colour artists.
Lorenzo Mattotti was born in Brescia, Italy and studied at the Faculty for Architecture in Venice before beginning a career as a comics storyteller in 1975 in the French magazine Circus. Whether alone or with long-time collaborator Fabrizio Ostani (AKA Jerry Kramsky – they often used the single pen-name “Kleidebistro”) Mattotti’s incredible, nigh-abstract designs and pictorial narratives have won him a huge following, with work appearing in Métal Hurlant, L’Écho des Savanes (France), Rumbo Sur (Spain), Frigidaire, Secondamano and Alter Alter (Italy), Raw (USA) and The Face (UK) among many others.
In 2002 Mattotti and Kramsky produced Docteur Jekyll & Mister Hyde (based on the Robert Louis Stevenson classic) for Casterman, and the English translation won Mattotti an Eisner Award the following year. As an illustrator, Mattotti has worked for Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, Cosmopolitan, Vogue and Le Monde, and has produced a number of startling and beautiful children’s books. His absolute masterpiece thus far is – to my mind at least – Fires (and I think I’ll just add that to my “review real soon” pile).
Behind a deeply unsettling gate-fold wraparound cover, but printed throughout on reassuringly solid cream-coloured card-stock, lurks a startling journey from idyllic cloud-gazing through vaguely erotic musings on gods and giants to the depths of a terrifying and oppressive forested hell. Rendered in a bravura line-and-dry-brush style that ranges from seductive and cajoling, through airy tumult to raw, fierce, bestial rage and horror, Mattotti uses the reader’s eyes to pull the viewer on a chaotic descent reminiscent of Mussorgsky’s “A Night on Bald Mountain” from Walt Disney’s Fantasia, with just a hint of Watership Down thrown in.
Comics aficionados might also recognize a touch of the panning-in technique used by the great André Barbe where small pictorial changes lead to a total transformation, not only to the graphic representations but also to the mental or spiritual state of the object and observer. But where Barbe wanted to languidly surprise and seduce you, Mattotti is here to make you squirm…
Even if the “how” isn’t your major concern, the whole pictorial experience of Chimera is one headlong rush, and a supreme lesson in the power and virtuosity of dark lines against the light. This is probably the only white knuckle ride you can put on a bookshelf… so why don’t you?
Story and art © 2005 Lorenzo Mattotti. Book edition © 2005 Fantagraphics Books and Coconino Press.