Comic Book Classics -9-
Italian comics are a bit like their cars. You can enjoy the top-of-the-range artistry of a Ferrari, Maserati or Lamborghini, but you might just enjoy the ordinary joys of a Fiat Cinqueccento. To best clothe this analogy, substitute Ferrari’s for Ranx Xerox and Fiats for Tex Willer or Dick Fulmine. Rarely you will discover that most precious of amalgams: something that appeals to the mass consumer as well as the cognoscenti. Dylan Dog is such a vehicle.
The brain-child of Tiziano Scalvi and artist Claudio Villa (who modelled the main character on Rupert Everett), Dylan Dog holds all kinds of records for sales and popularity. Launched in 1986, it soon became a huge money-spinner for the legendary comic-book publisher, Sergio Bonelli. The formula that Dylan Dog pioneered by Scalvi and the many artists he employed (Villa and Angelo Stano being the most influential early ones), involved the plundering of all manner of popular culture (films and TV especially) to construct their narratives and characters.
Dylan Dog is a paranormal investigator living in London (a mythical London more at home in the swinging 60s than modern day). The aesthetic thus resembles that of the surreal 60s British TV shows like The Avengers, Adam Adamant and The Prisoner and Hammer films such as The Devil Rides Out. It is Britain as foreigners imagine it to be. A strange and wonderful place.
Dylan Dog, the dark, brooding hero, lives and works from his flat at 7 Craven Road. He travels in a VW Beetle (registration DYD 666). His live-in butler/assistant is Groucho Marx (yes THE Groucho Marx) adds a surreal humorous twist to proceedings, particularly during the darker and more unsettling paranormal investigations. Poor old Dylan Dog is also afflicted with a number of phobias (heights and bats), suffers from car-sickness and is in alcoholic recovery. That a mind with such a high quotient of neuroses should have chosen to fight the monsters of the paranormal is odd, but he seems to cope with his afflictions quite well.
Again, the monsters he fights are scavenged from the realms of film culture. In one adventure he will battle a Jewish Golem assassin that looks and talks just like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, in the next he will go after demon-creatures bearing an uncanny resemblance to the alien in Alien.
At heart, Dylan is an incurable romantic. He tends to get the girl (and lose her) in the course of every adventure. Sometimes the women he sleeps with will turn out to be vampires or witches or succubi or something just as nasty and he will be forced to kill them. If not, they will abandon him to brood. His attempts to charm the ladies or brood at their departure are usually undercut by Groucho’s pithy remarks and jibes at his employer’s expense. It adds light relief to the most doom-laden of scenarios, rendering them, in some cases, quite poignant.
Of all the comics I go back to, DD is the most charming. Its retro vision of London, the mash-up of disparate film and TV influences, the flawed, vulnerable and wounded hero. Above all a narrative that really knows how to move from light to dark and back again. One of the rumours I heard emerging from Comicon in San Diego (I didn’t go. It’s just the Angouleme festival for retards) is that a Hollywood film version is in the offing. A horrible thought. For now, comfort yourself with the appearance of the original DD in a Dark Horse edition. Well worth a go, if you ask me.