Rafael Grampa, writer/artist
Normally saying something like “his art is varyingly reminiscent of Geof Darrow, Al Columbia, John Kricfalusi, and Dave Cooper” would be hyperbolic to the point of absurdity or even insanity, but hoo boy, Rafael Grampa. Visually he may be the most accomplished new cartoonist of the past two or three years. Best of all, he’s no slouch as a storyteller, either. I don’t mean in terms of legibility, because there are plenty of talented illustrators whose beautiful comics are easy to follow. I mean in terms of having a story worth telling, a spectacle but not an empty spectacle. On the surface it’s just a gorgeous, ultraviolent fight comic, the kind of thing you see plenty of anymore, but it’s different. For one thing, it’s creepy and uncomfortable, as much so as the similar opening sequence in Natural Born Killers. It’s as raw and blackly humorous and confrontational, and at times edgily sexual, a work of gore as Darrow and Frank Miller’s Hard Boiled. It subverts expecations, creating a “hey look at that big guy, I bet he’s usually pretty calm until you rile him at which point he’s invincible and badass” brick-type figure and then flipping your premature belief in his competence on its ear. It contains out-of-nowhere visual flourishes: A smartly laid-out “commercial break,” a slavering devil lurking underground like something out of a medieval engraving. The lettering–Rafa Coutinho gets this credit, though sometimes the words are so integral to a particular panel that it’s tough to see how someone other than Grampa did it–addresses music and whimpering with inventive, tactile flair. The colors, selected by Grampa and deployed by Marcus Penna, somehow take that green/brown Vertigo palette and makes it gooey rather than acidic. Everything looks dirty. The narrative flashes back unexpectedly and intelligently. The English-language dialogue, provided by Ivan Brandon, is tight. (“Be very discreet.” “When have I not been?” “No time I know of, but I’m in charge and if I don’t tell you how things are, I have nothing else to do.”) This is some comic book.