Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Louche and Insalubrious Escapades of Art D'Ecco

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of The Louche and Insalubrious Escapades of Art D'Ecco (Fantagraphics, 2006).

While I'm not certain I've ever encountered the words "louche" or "insalubrious" prior to this, I know that Roger Langridge is a huge Bookshelf favorite, and I'm always glad to stumble across his work. I found this a couple of months ago at McDonough's quite excellent Bunjee's Comics and spent a couple of days grimacing over 160-odd pages of the most ghastly, teeth-crackingly awful puns you've ever read. The back cover cogently points out that Langridge is a virus from outer space, and it's all downhill from there.

Originally serialized in the late 1980s across two periodical titles and two special editions, the comics in this book were a collaboration between Roger and his brother Andrew, who wrote the material and who perhaps can be blamed for all the lovely puns on every page. The structure is very loose, and each strip is little more than a skeleton to hang ridiculous comic interplay or neat disruptions of accepted panel layout. In one sequence, the story in the panels travels in a spiral around the page. In another, a character reaches outside the frame structure to retrieve an object from himself in another. When the characters are briefly imprisoned - by guards who resemble the Beagle Boys from Scrooge McDuck (and not far from the revelation that Karl Marx, making a quip about putting something on his bill, is actually Karl Barx in disguise) - Art d'Ecco actually grabs the panel borders, transforming the page into a prison cell.

As for the ostensible structure, we meet Mr. Art d'Ecco, a square-jawed oaf who apparently wants to be a 1920s dandy, but is held back more than a little by his idiot roommate, a triangular mess called the Gump. They get embroiled in one hot situation after another as the Langridges cook up ridiculous stories and adventures. Many of the larger details quickly fade into the background because the wild goings-on are so memorable and so odd, and so I can't really tell you what the plot of the sixty-page "La Trahison des Images" is, just that it's full of eyepopping visual gags and crazy wordplay. At one point, a familiar brick gets thrown, and you'll think, "Yeah, this is about as anarchic as Krazy Kat."

Put another way, this is a book where we meet a clean-up-teevee campaigner named Margie de Sade, who was once an actress who starred with Art as a character called Harlot Mascara. If you're with me in thinking that's about the best name for a character in all of fiction, then you need this book. Highly recommended.

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