Heart of the Beast – A Love Story

By Dean Motter, Judith Dupré & Sean Phillips (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-491-6

What is art? Does it have anything to do with creativity? What is its value and what is the cost?

Originally released as an original hardback graphic novel in 1994 as one of the early experimental triumphs of DC’s Vertigo imprint, this evocatively disturbing reworking – or more accurately contemporary sequel – to one of literature’s greatest stories of mystery and gothic imagination features a tragic, doomed love triangle and carefully unravelled mystery.

In August 2014 this remastered 20th Anniversary commemorative hardcover edition was released by Dynamite, re-presenting the tale in all its subtly sinister glory, bolstered with a few textual extras for the inquiring, bonus-hungry minds of post-Millennials.

The first of those is ‘Circa Soho’: an atmospheric mood-enhancing and memory-intensive reminiscence from co-scripter Judith Dupré; now a globally celebrated author, commentator and critic on The Arts, but back then a fully active participant and observer in the scene.

As a self-confessed “Gallerina” making a living amongst the wild creatives and greedy lampreys attached to the arena of contemporary art burgeoning in the former no-go areas of New York City she was the perfect partner for writer, illustrator and designer Dean Motter.

Having worked on Mr. X, The Prisoner: Shattered Visage, Batman: Black and White, Electropolis and many more projects for young and old, Dean Motter is a creator with a singularly unique voice and style. Here his collaboration with Dupré on this striking addendum to a classic literary marvel and social critique of the price of creation adds chilling edges to a fantasy suitably sub-titled “a love story”…

The saga tells of Sandra, who spends a fateful night tending bar at a so-fashionable Gallery opening paid for by the rich but creepy celebrity plastic surgeon Dr. Andrew Wright. Even in the supremely decadent world of the Art Glitterati the surgeon is infamous, with dubious connections to both the high and mighty and the down and dirty. His patronage of bellicose wunderkind Jacob Sistine is fraught with haughty tension, pompous one-upmanship and barely suppressed loathing…

Drowning in the self-serving, pretentious pontificating of this week’s models, Sandra is surprised when she meets beautiful, sensitive Victor, a poetic rose among crass, wealthy thorns. Despite herself, she is drawn to the mysterious paragon who seems so much more than just Dr. Wright’s factotum and dogsbody.

A man of many secrets, Victor is almost the ideal (and – most frustratingly – reluctant and still largely prospective) lover, but his devotion to the shadier side of the doctor’s dealings with gangsters, fame-chasing poseurs and art forgers augers nothing but disaster for their budding relationship. Furthermore, there is some hideous secret Victor is keeping from her – an undisclosed past and unmoving obstacle not even the truest love or most forgiving nature can overcome…

I’ve endeavoured to obscure the originating source work since the unfolding secret is cleverly handled and the growing realisation adds to the dawning horror of the situation. The love-story spirals to its tragic conclusion, helped in no small part by the beguiling painted art of young Sean Phillips evoking the distant past and spotlighting the harsh modern world with equal skill and sensitivity.

In the intervening years the illustrator has risen to a position of revered prominence in the comics business and this collection closes with a fascinating ‘Codex’ with Phillips plundering his files and wracking his memory in an interview and commentary section packed with photos, layouts, roughs and sketches detailing the development of the project, whilst Motter enthusiastically shares his childhood obsession with scary movies and horror tales in a picture-packed Afterword ‘Frankenstein & Me’

This cunning yarn failed to find its proper audience when first released, but is a solid story superbly told for all that and might well be the treat that turns your film freak into a comicbook zombie…
Heart of the Beast – A Love Story © 2014 Dean Motter, Judith Dupré & Sean Phillips. All Rights Reserved.