The Top 5 things I didn’t get to in 2013
New Year’s is a time for reflection and aspiration, but these are fueled by fruitful regret! Over the next week or so, we’ll be looking back longingly at art, comics, books and music I should have paid more public attention to in the 12 months just past — and pledging to make all our cultural appreciation immediate and immortal!
Europe is America’s alternate dimension, the Old World we base the euphoric and treacherous arcadia of elvin fantasy on, the future that never arrived for us in stylish 1960s sci-fi and romance movies, the contemporary land where we’re always appreciated more than our culture accepts itself.
Italy especially assumes this mantle of mass myth-marketing, an artistic mecca that has seismically radiated styles and sensibilities since the Renaissance and draws the world’s attention while stirring in all its creative fruits. The best Westerns were shot by Sergio Leone (in the Spanish desert) in the 1960s; the vocabulary of vampires and superheroes and fashion icons is most fluent in this cultural cosmos.
One of its most insistent emissaries in 2013 was comic artist Matteo Scalera, his spattered, serrated style the essence of bravura midcentury art-gesture while being the definition of graphic eloquence.
Scalera’s frame traveled centuries and continents and dimensions; Black Science (Image Comics) was about such explorers themselves, caught in a kind of cosmic iPod shuffle after a reality-crossing experiment mishap; but Scalera was in the nosecone and supremely confident of each crash-landing. Writer Rick Remender has mapped an odyssey across every landscape we know better than the lives we escape from, dropping his characters with vivid believability not into the most reflexive worlds of wish-fulfillment but through all the most garish of pulp and B-movie terrain, from evil laboratory to treacherous swamp to wicked castle to high-tech, primitive battlefield, all with parallel-world roulette spins (deranged regal frog-kings, a united archaic Europe beset by space-age Indigenous colonizers, etc.) and Scalera visualizes an atlas of what never was, in careening widescreen canvasses of sanity-straining surreal sensation.
Plummeting from an American-pulp concept of the future and stars to America’s founding myth of frontier courage, Scalera staged an eternal drama of desert survival struggle, with inhuman criminals and vengeful lawmen playing out the primal conflicts of classic Westerns in the trappings of our more recent legend, the 1970s gangster saga, for Dead Body Road — his Tarrantino-esque graphics conjuring the sun-blasted blank slate of the endless highway and the angular edges of old-school muscle cars puncturing the elegant swirls of Black Science’s hallucinatory surfaces. Scalera choreographed a ballet of wreckage, both emotional and mechanical, and the unblinking brutality from writer Justin Jordan was matched to a very clear-eyed morality, for the most horrifyingly mesmerizing and meaningful comic crime drama since Darwyn Cooke’s Parker graphic novels.
Scalera always benefits from the blessings of strong and visionary colorists; the baking hues and dank shadows of Moreno Dinisio in Dead Body Road animate Scalera’s savage stark linework and black edges, while the otherworldly surfaces and substance of Dean White’s painting in Black Science push Scalera to a reality-breaching sense of possibility (as the alien illuminations and slashing clarity of Val Staples complement Scalera’s grinding, muscular composition on Indestructible Hulk over at company-owned Marvel).
Scalera speaks our own mythology back to us, in ways that always take us farther than we knew possible, and keep the real world safe for imaginative grace.