Comics Time: Fires

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Fires

Lorenzo Mattotti, writer/artist

Penguin, 1991

64 pages

Buy it used from Amazon.com

I’ve had this book for a long long time, acquiring it through Sequential Swap because hey, Lorenzo Mattotti, right? One of the great comics artists in the world! But I’ve put off reading it for just as long because the great comics art inside it is, if I’m being honest, not for me. I don’t see people in Mattotti’s blocky, quasi-cubist painted figures, I see blocks. With its tactile layers of color covering every inch, I have a hard time finding an “in” to any given panel. My eye just bounces right off the surface.

The funny thing is that the story almost overcomes this. It stars one Lieutenant Absinthe, an officer in the navy of a South American archipelagic country whose battleship is sent on a mission to investigate the mysterious island of Saint Agatha, where ships seem to go missing with alarming regularity. In an arc that should be familiar to fans of everything from The Lord of the Flies to Lost to The Shining, Absinthe–heh, here I was going to say “slowly” out of sheer force of habit, but it happens almost overnight–goes native, and ends up helping the supernatural (?) forces present on the island destroy his comrades. On the back cover, a blurb from Mattotti indicates that his inspiration was the films of Tarkovsky and Herzog and the hypnotic power of their environments; in essence, Mattotti’s project was to craft a story that does what his art fails to do with me, which is suck one in. He works so hard at it that he almost pulls it off–the story’s climax in particular is vividly done–and the countless similar stories you’ve read or seen do some of the work for him, but ultimately I keep running into that wall of visual information over and over again and finding no way to join Lieutenant Absinthe as he’s pulled in.