Thursday, January 10, 2013

Van Helsing's Night Off

Top Shelf Month continues with a look at some of the work they publish from international comics creators.

Van Helsing's Night Off is a clever riff on many of the Universal Monsters (e.g. Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Wolfman). Here, they are depicted in a very stylistic manner, distilled into a few distinct shapes, and let to pinball around in panels reminiscent of a daily newspaper comic strip. Though the whole enterprise seems simplistic on face value, the artist packs much playfulness into his wordless drawings. The settings are mundane, such as the Wolfman sitting around the house reading a newspaper and trying to deal with the full moon, but they are deftly humorous both narratively and graphically. Just looking at the Frankenstein monster's hugely clunky clodhoppers, Van Helsing's impressively tall stovepipe hat, and the Bride of Frankenstein's humongous hairdo make me smile.

Austrian comics creator Nicolas Mahler has been prolifically producing comics for various publications and also as stand alone works. His work tends toward the darkly comic, as seen here and in his other works Lone Racer, about a former race car driver, Spam, where he changed spam emails into comics, and the superhero comedy Angelman.  Here is his official site (which is in German). He speaks more about his work and the state of graphic novels in Europe and abroad in this interview with Inkstuds.

I have to admit I was disappointed at first when I got this book because it did not contain a continuous narrative but was won over by its charming drawings, tough-in-cheek treatment of the characters, and expertly executed punchlines. A sense of logic is quickly established through the episodes, and these simple-looking players take on lives and personalities in short order. Other reviews I have read share my positive reaction. Entertainment Weekly's Rachel Lovinger opined that "the dark, campy humor will delight and mystify mature monster fans." Suzie Lackey called it "a wonderful achievement in the medium of graphic novels and comics" that "can be enjoyed around the world without the restrictions of language."

A preview and more is available here from Top Shelf.

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