Friday, October 10, 2014

The Chuckling Whatsit

As I am reviewing spooky graphic novels during this month, I would be negligent if I did not include a work by one of the most prolific and macabre artists of the past few decades. Richard Sala has created a number of impressively creepy, funny, and suspenseful comics for a wide range of readers. He can make quick, violent, colorful confections like this past year's e-comic Violenzia, or suspenseful and fun children's fare like Cat Burglar Black. He is a master of combining various gothic elements in narrative and visual form. His art style is very distinctive, an amalgamation of Mad magazine details and Expressionism as well as elements of Charles Addams and Edward Gorey throughout. He is excellent at creating tone and conveying a punchy story, as you can see from the first couple pages of a story originally serialized in Zero Zero, The Chuckling Whatsit:
The plot of The Chuckling Whatsit is layered like an onion, partly about the search for a creepy set of dolls made from human body parts, a slack-about writer looking for work, a lost folk artist, a serial murderer who targets horoscope authors, and a secret society of villains and assassins. There are many excellent, surprising details in the backgrounds as well as visually striking characters, from the masked female burglar who is always carrying a rose to the hulking, lurking henchman who has a huge scar across his forehead and carries a sack that barks orders at him. Not only does Sala deliver an excellent plot and mystery, dropping hints and information like bread crumbs, he also provides a motley and memorable cast of players.
Among Sala's other works are his story collection Mad Night, Peculia and the Groon Grove Vampires, Delphine, Black Cat Crossing, The Hidden, and his most recent work, In a Glass Grotesquely. He speaks more about his many works and career in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read of this classic book have been very positive. Publishers Weekly wrote that "The wildly imaginative storytelling and sly pastiche of lurid pulp material make an appealing mix." The Onion A.V. Club's Stephen Thompson opined, "Although its ornate lettering and perfect crosshatching are great to look at, the truly admirable quality of The Chuckling Whatsit lies in its labyrinthine plot."

The Chuckling Whatsit was published by Fantagraphics Books, who provide a preview and much more here.


  1. "... an amalgamation of Mad magazine details with art deco geometry and design..."

    Maybe more Expressionist than Deco... :-)

  2. I can see a lot of Expressionism, but those geometric structures are what strike me. Dare I say it has all three styles going on?