THE ARTIST RICHARD SALA'S WORK first debuted in Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly's comics anthology, Raw (the "comics magazine for damned intellectuals"), and he has since drawn for publications ranging from The New York Times to Playboy to Nickelodeon Magazine. He has made his mark on the genre of horror comics, particularly the Evil Eye series, with its heroines Peculia, the mysterious black-haired waif, and Judy Drood, girl detective. Well-known for his love of pulp fiction and the macabre — dark alleys and archetypal villains, exotic locales and lurid plots — Sala's work is often compared to that of Edward Gorey and Charles Addams, both for its investment in dark humor and its mastery of translating the more bizarre vagaries of the human (and humanoid) form.read more
Sala's new book, The Hidden, does not wholly depart from the campy fascination with the morbid that marks his previous work, but is even darker in tone, despite the vibrant watercolor work. The visual markers of Sala's humor are present — the affected font, the twisted faces — but there is arguably something more serious and disturbing at play here.
In many ways, The Hidden is a modern retelling of Mary Shelley's classic horror storyFrankenstein. A scientist named Dr. Victor discovers the secret to life itself and, hoping to bear a race "better and nobler" than humanity, creates a giant man through nefarious processes. The creature is "born" intelligent but a little too corpse-like, ultimately horrifying his creator. Sala is serious about his Frankenstein references, even naming Dr. Victor's mentor after the 17th-century alchemist and theologian Johann Konrad Dippel, who lived at the real-life Castle Frankenstein and dedicated his time to trying to reanimate stolen cadavers with the fabled elixir of life.
In The Hidden, as in Frankenstein, the scientist abandons his creature, which then seeks to take its revenge on all of humanity. "I will revenge my injuries," says Shelley's monster. "If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear." But Dr. Victor's monster, rather than having to convince his maker to construct him a big-haired bride, indulges mad scientist tendencies of his own. He reanimates bodies that resemble enormous and creepy rag dolls, which in turn are born with an innate desire to propagate the new species. "This is the world of the new people now," the monster tells his creator. "Many are now always being born in laboratory over all the world." Besides a penchant for off-kilter syntax, the new people share a master-race mentality: They want to kill off Sala's trademark leggy and buxom young ladies — "ones who can be carry new life" — and use their corpses as spare parts for the superior "new people."
Constructed from materials cast-off (grave-robbed) or appropriated (the supple limbs of Sala's cuties), stitched together and green with decay and malice, the new people possess an intelligence resembling that of children and megalomaniac dictators. Like their monster-creator, who wears a top hat and what appears to be a cravat, they are obsessed with dressing well in order to gain respect, possibly from the masses they are dismembering. Despite Dr. Victor's early attempts at instruction, the new people operate on a sensibility perverse to human mores and values. It is not the parchment-like skin or dull eyes that horrify ...