[Outside the Frame] Have you Read Richard Sala’s “Delphine”?

Richard Sala is a prolific artist of the weird and fantastical, with a varied collection of tales that feature detectives, witches, zombies, fairy tales, cat women, and more. Beginning with his 1984 Night Drive, Sala has drawn a new comic title nearly every year. His work has appeared on RAW, BLAB!, and even serialized as an animated cartoon for Liquid Television.  Today, I want to take a look at his series Delphine.

Delphine tells a sort-of Snow White story, told from the perspective of a modern-day Prince Charming, who is wandering the wilderness to find his beloved – a girl he’d liked in college. Serialized by Fantagraphics as a four issue mini-series, it was released once a year from 2006 to 2009. Beautifully put together, the 32 page saddle-stitched books are 8.5″x11″, with black & white interiors and full-color jackets.  (A new Hardcover edition, pictured on the left, will be released in January.)

The first issue establishes the mood of the book: dark duotone inking style, little dialogue, and gothic, shadowy, art. Our hero, a young man wandering a strange town, doesn’t introduce himself or the scene. He moves, silently, down winding streets, past creepy-looking locals, looking for an address written on a piece of paper in his hand.

All images courtesy of Fantagraphics

The first conversation appears on page 6, where we learn that he’s looking for Delphine Penny, and he’s got the wrong end of the street. It all goes down hill from there.

In book two our hero gets himself out of the mess he got into at the end of book one, only to find himself a hostage of another kind.

The slightly shaky (obviously a stylistic choice) text reminds me, along with the art, of Edward Gorey, whose work had crisper fine lines than Sala’s but was similarly dark with a humorous edge. (Note: Sala was nominated for an Eisner in 2012 for his lettering.)

In book two we venture alone into the dark woods, find strange creatures in the trees, and see more running than talking. We also start to see the flashbacks which will tell us the story of how our nameless friend met Delphine at college, how they dated briefly, and how she had to return home to take care of her sick father.

Being abducted, lost, chased by beast, witches, and rats, and – oh yeah – chasing lost loves, aren’t the worst thing that happens to the Prince aka the traveler aka a love-sick college kid.

You can download a 4 page excerpt of book 3 here.

Wicked stepmothers, grasping crones, evil townspeople, and more. Sala concludes his series with the poor Prince in the clutches of those who wish to keep him from Delphine, a twist ending, and a truly sad fate for our hero that I don’t want to give away.

Overall I think that Sala’s retelling of that well-known love story is affectingly tragic. The flashback to waking dream to fever dream structure of the story allows Sala to include magical elements in a modern setting. The horror elements, of which there are many, create a constant level of tension without being overwhelmingly scary.

It is, in a word, creepy.

It’s also now available to pre-order as a 128-page hardcover. You can also download a free 11 page excerpt from the book here. You can also read Sala’s notes on painting the comic here, where he explains that he did it in a blue wash – not the brown tones the books are actually printed with.

Next time: Ursula Vernon’s Hugo-award winning comic, Digger.

Want me to review your work? I’m primarily looking for comics with a speculative fiction element, in keeping with the theme of SF Signal, but if your comic is fantasy, science fiction, horror, weird, magic realism, or some other style of “strange”, let me know! You can reach me at carriecuinn@gmail.com, or leave a comment below.

3 thoughts on “[Outside the Frame] Have you Read Richard Sala’s “Delphine”?”

  1. I have been a fan of Richard Sala’s work for several years now and was excited to see Delphine come out a few years back. Now I’m going to have to re-buy the whole thing in hardback, lol! Not that I’m complaining, I love his work. It is very reminiscent of the work of Edward Gorey. It shares a kinship, that same deliciously creepy spirit as is present in Gorey’s work. I really enjoy Sala’s Peculia series too and recommend checking out all of his other work.

      1. I hope you get a chance to read more of his stuff, he is really a great visual storyteller. Thank you for reviewing this. I don’t often find people talking about Sala’s work and that is a shame.

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