August 8th, 2011

half shadow

Review: Celluloid

Celluloid by Dave McKean. Fantagraphics, $35.00 (hardcover)

Reviewed by Gayle C. Straun

Woman comes home from work. She calls up Man to see when he might make it there, but he’s tied up in business, so she takes a bath and then, to amuse herself, starts up a small projector in a room decorated with various erotic artworks. The movie is likewise erotic, and as she watches, she also begins playing with herself, at least until the film breaks. But left upon the wall that served as the screen is a faint doorway which opens up into a world of bronzes and greens, a town square where ghostly couples grapple each other in naked abandon. Here, too, is another projector, one which plays the same film, which opens a portal into yet another world of sensuality. And on it goes…

Thus begins Celluoid, an erotic graphic novel by Dave McKean, who is probably best known to the world for his collaborations with writer Neil Gaiman–from Sandman and Mr. Punch to the motion picture Mirrormask–though he certainly warrants being acknowledged as a storyteller in his own right. The story conveyed in Celluloid is done so without words–neither captions nor conversations, and thus lacking also character names–but we recognize it immediately being as one of humanity’s oldest stories, following the pattern of the Egyptian and Tibetan books of the dead, or maybe Dante’s Inferno; for there is a Satan lurking at the back of the book, a mammothly endowed but empty-eyed creature rendered all in red. Indeed, Celluloid is the Inferno turned inside-out–lust is not condemned but is rather the prerequisite for further enlightenment, further progression along the path.

At each stage, McKean–renowned for combining original art with photography and found objects, and digitally tinkering with the admixture–adopts a different style, a different palate, frequently evoking the likes of Pablo Picasso, Gustav Klimt, or Salvador Dali, as well as throwing in a few visual puns relating to the comic book medium. (Or, at least, I think they were intended. After all, a whole page, or a two-page spread, devoted entirely to a single image is called a “splash,” seems perfectly appropriate for the two-page image of Satan’s ejaculation.) Herein dwell a fourteen-breasted woman whose hair is bunch of green grapes, eager gamahuchers shaped more like puzzle pieces than real men, ghostly hands which reach out from the movie screen, and much more. Wordless, Celluloid can be skimmed quickly, but that brief taste of it will not be enough, and the reader will find herself picking it up again and again, either to linger lovingly over each exquisite panel and page, or to explore more in greater depth the story those pages tell, to probe more intimately the wonders of consciousness and of lust that have been humanity’s preoccupation from our earliest days until the present.

Mirrored from Circlet Press: Welcome to Circlet 2.0.