American Stories

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It is no surprise that the most highly respected and memorable artists working in comics are often described as being “cinematic” since both the mediums of film and comics intersect aesthetically and historically. This correlation forms the backbone to Fantagraphics’ latest publication in their ongoing series The Complete Crepax. This latest volume, Vol. 5: American Stories, is just as handsomely printed and bound as the four previous installments, and is curated to showcase Guido Crepax’s most explicitly “cinematic” works.

The Magic Lantern story has no dialogue in it at all; the eye simply wanders from panel to panel following the movements of the character Valentina from one surreal scenario to another. Part of what makes this particular tale so visceral is the way Crepax focuses on details; an entire panel just to show a pair of dominatrix’s high heeled shoes. Panel size often fluctuates, going from a large panel of Valentina’s whole body to a smaller panel of just a mouth or hand. It’s the comic book equivalent of shot duration and framing, which, in the case of The Magic Lantern, is responsible for the pace of the reader/spectator’s absorption of the images.

Guido Crepax’s relationship to the cinema on a personal level informs the first section of the book. When Crepax created his signature character, Valentina, he based her on actress Louise Brooks. Their correspondence, illustrated by Crepax, is collected in this volume as well as the original letters themselves. Not surprisingly, Brooks supported Valentina as the continuation of her own public persona of the 1920s and early 1930s. Crepax even illustrates a meeting between the two women, suggesting that Brooks’ legacy is based more on fiction than fact, a notion that the actress herself often maintained. 

Ironically adaptations of Crepax’s work never seem to capture the visual dynamics that can be seen on the page. Corrado Farina’s Baba Yaga (1973) may employ some of Crepax’s framing techniques, but it doesn’t capture the pacing or sexual euphoria of the characters. The Valentina of Baba Yaga is as far from the spirit of Louise Brooks as Dixie Dugan of the 1940s.