Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Niger #1

Leila Marzocchi

This is a great comic. I haven't heard much about this new Ignatz title from Fantagraphics. It comes from the mind of acclaimed Italian creator Leila Marzocchi and is translated by Kim Thompson. The entire story is told in a woodcut style that reminded me vaguely of Hippolyte's scratchboard illustrations in Dracula, although there's a huge difference, as Hippolyte is very moody and dark, aiming to frighten through a sharp gothic atmosphere, wherea Niger is dark in color, but is a lighthearted children's tale. With a cast of cute cuddly forest creatures, including a barn owl who's constantly turning her head upside down, and a strange animal with man-made wings, the animals (mostly birds) take a strange new creature under their wings and protect it from predators as it grows, communing with a yew tree for guidance in the matter. Marzocchi incorporates red into her black and white illustrations, giving a really beautiful effect of blood-red sunsets and interesting facial features on her amazing animal designs. This is a simple, cutesy story that anyone who has any affection for stories like Owly or Mouse Guard would enjoy, although the art here is by far superior, especially in terms of cartooning. This is one of the most gorgeous books I've ever read, constantly forcing me to admire each page as a work of art in itself. Just flip through the book if you don't believe me, even the first page as the red hues bleed into the clouds in the sky for a really spectacular effect. I don't know much about Marzocchi the creator herself except for what I found at Lambiek, that she began her career in illustration in 1985, has contributed to many magazines, notably manga for Kodansha magazine, and has created children's books, storyboards and a few recent releases in Italy: Bagolino Monogatari and Il Sogno Di Bedo. If Niger is any indication, the more translated the better, and it doesn't surprise me, given the story at hand, that she's worked on children's stories. This is a remarkable American debut for this artist that has gone criminally unnoticed. Indulge me and look for this title, if nothing more than to flip through it to see what I'm talking about. A

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