You probably already know Robert Louis Stevenson's classic horror tale, but you may not be familiar with the work of Lorenzo Mattotti. Ninth Art discovers the ideal introduction in this extraordinary literary adaptation.
16 May 2003

Writers: Lorenzo Mattotti, Jerry Kramsy
Artist: Lorenzo Mattotti
Letterer: Jerry Kramsky
Based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson
Price: $15.95
Publisher: NBM
ISBN: 1-56163-330-5

As a smaller leg of one of Europe's most powerful publishers of graphic albums, NBM Publishing is in the unique position of having a vast amount of proven material to choose from in its continuing efforts to effective market penetration both within the direct market and without.

As an adaptation of an English literary classic, Mattotti and Kramsky's DR JEKYLL & MR HYDE is a release that is no doubt expected to receive a warmer reception in bookstores (where copies of the source material are still occasionally offered for sale) than in the direct market, where resistance to the Euro album's oversized format and cost in relation to page count has proven to be a difficult hurdle to overcome.

If ever there was an artist whose work demanded the indulgence (nay, the insolence!) requisite to stretching a page of comics to an astonishing dimension of 9x12 inches, it is Lorenzo Mattotti. An Italian now living in Paris, Mattotti is a pioneer of a progressive modern strain of bande dessinateurs that present their work as an extension of the fine art tradition as opposed to a rebellion from it.

Beginning his career as a graphic storyteller in Italy the late 1970s, Mattotti's fame spread quickly across Europe's borders, fuelled by high-profile jobs covering notable magazines like Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Presently, there are many editions of his works in print in several languages including LABYRINTHES (1988), THE MAN AT THE WINDOW (1992), and the more recent LE BRUIT DU GIVRE (THE SOUND OF THE FROST), released simultaneously this year in French, Spanish, German, and Dutch editions.

While DR JEKYLL may not represent his most celebrated achievement in Europe, it is an adequate portal to see the wonder that is Mattotti at work. At first glance, his intoxicating blend of thick pastels and fluid lines surprised me with a range and power of expressiveness that effortlessly blends the aesthetic concerns of about half of a dozen or so of my favourite American cartoonists, including heavyweights like Peter Kuper, Jim Woodring, and Dave Cooper.

Mattotti addresses the major thematic concerns of the work itself with considerable skill. His exceptionally dynamic use of colour as signifier of the tumultuous emotional landscape within this tale of polarized good and evil is nearly Fauvist in its intensity, but does not lack for range as the more sombre moments of Hyde's self-reflection dissolve into moody patches of carefully considered greys and browns.

His line, which is occasionally enveloped by thick, pastel crayon, is ever fluid throughout. While a few scenes, especially those requiring clarity of motion, display his mastery of more representational concerns, the joy in taking in his work comes from the moments when all form dissolves and the essence of the panel is carried by abstraction, such as one particularly chilling moment at the climax of Jekyll's most brutal murder.

What shook me even more as I finished my first reading of the book is how quickly my talkative internal conversations about form and style dissolved in the face of a wholly satisfactory adaptation of this strange psychological thriller. While it has been many moons indeed since last I cracked the prose version of JEKYLL, this adaptation at only 64 pages delivered more than enough to fully involve me as the reader in the multiple levels upon which the story works

While it is rarely weighted down by copious amounts of text (a necessary evil for adapting more internally driven efforts like Heuet's REMEMBRENCE OF THINGS PAST), the clarity and punchy style of Stevenson's writing comes through at all the right moments.

I don't envy their task of convincing direct market retailers that the Euro album is a viable format for the suddenly cost-conscious US market, but admiration is due to NBM for their continued efforts to bring material of this calibre across the Atlantic. In the case of Mattotti and Kramsky's adaptation of DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE, the price tag seems more than fitting for a work of comics finery that is not only worthy, but is made more desirable by the added cost in producing work in this format.

Mattotti's reputation as one of the very finest that Euro-comics has to offer has preceded him justly and, based only on what I've seen here, I'm rabid for more.

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