North and South
For Tripwire some words about the latest reissue of Judge Dredd: America, the thirty-year-old story that’s become its own cottage industry; the most recent reissue of it before this one was a whole twenty seven days previously. The publisher Rebellion remains happy to push it as the best place to start with the character—ignoring the reasonable marketing objection that telling new readers they should start with 1990 isn’t an automatically attractive tactic—and as the quintessential anti-fascist Dredd story, which involves overlooking the fact that a lot of writers and hence a lot of stories don’t share John Wagner’s emphatic hitting of hammer on nail. Treating America like both the monkey’s paw and the golden goose, Rebellion’s nostalgia machine rumbles on. A genuine selling point this time is the inclusion of Wagner’s original scripts, which confirm that scholars assessing his titanic contribution to British comics will have a job on their hands. When Wagner eventually bequeaths his archives to the University of Dundee, he’ll be able to take them round in the boot of his car.
An anti-fascist comic emerging from the fog of actual fascism, and so less inclined to be ironically detached about it, Perramus is the latest reprint in the Fantagraphics archival series of Alberto Breccia comics, in this case collecting the whole seven-year story in one place between hard covers so that you have to haul the book into position before boarding. Breccia and Juan Sasturain started the story in 1982 while the Argentinian junta was still carting people off in the middle of the night, and finished it in 1989 when Argentina was having its second general election, and the story witnesses a shift from strangled night-terrors to a painfully fragile optimism. But fragile might not be the word for the book’s hulking heavyweight atmosphere, storylines so thick with allegory and sideways implications that they feel like something pumped with insulating foam. Somewhere between the Marxist circus clowns and the various versions of Jorge Luis Borges, the story becomes almost entirely about its own dense nature; a fair response to terrifying oppression—as if the book itself was shivering nervously under a street light—but a tricky reading experience. It’s also distinctly sexist, if that matters in this context. There are some bonkers coincidences: nine years ago the Álex de la Iglesia film The Last Circus, another Spanish-language anti-fascist fever dream, not only featured more allegorical circus clowns but also at one point seized on the cultural shadow of Telly Savalas as Kojak. When Perramus arrives on an island run by a dodgy Henry Kissinger lookalike, the TV station censors his words by overdubbing Kojak’s voice. This, shortly before the island disappears under an endless cascade of bird shit.
The art is another matter again. Mort Cinder, the previous Fantagraphics Breccia book, showed how the artist was happy for ink smudges and fingerprints and pen smears to form part of the art style; Perramus pushes things far further through watercolour and ink wash, to the point where caricatures and distortions akin to those of Gerald Scarfe peer out of nocturnal brush work like aquatic creatures. Robert Hughes on watercolours:
Watercolour is tricky stuff, a virtuoso’s medium. One slip and the vale of atmosphere turns into a mud puddle. The stuff favours broad effects. Nothing proclaims the amateur more clearly than niggling and over correction.
Breccia’s art, driven deliberately towards mud puddle before veering (sometimes) back from the brink and filled with effects bordering on chance encounters, is as virtuoso as it gets.
In another coincidence: the 2000AD strip Stickleback, recently returned after several years at rest, finds artist D’Israeli now emphatically deploying broad effects of his own, textures and swabs and patterns from the digital tool box, ending up in a parallel if much less organic neighbourhood by distinctly less feverish routes.