This one use to pop up on my Amazon feed from time to time and from the cover alone it seemed interesting, as usual I had no idea what it was about or who the writer was. The main reason that it really intrigued me was that almost every time I looked at it, it was sold out. It seemed to be this mysterious book that was hard to find and rare, so of course I had to have it. I watched it from time to time and as soon as it became available again I purchased it.
Sergio Toppi was in Italian artist born in Milan, Italy. He first got his start working on Italian newspapers then eventually made the transition to comics. Most of his work has not made it to the US, but from what I can tell he is quite the famous artist and comic creator overseas. I could not find out much more information out there about him, other than he has some cool books out there. Sadly he is no longer with us, he passed away in August of 2012.
The story opens up with a reporter traveling to rural Missouri during the mid-1800’s to interview a very mysterious man. The man is known only as The Collector has been in the US for a while and is looking for something, a somewhat mysterious and legendary artifact. He tells the interviewer that he is looking for a pipe, but not just any pipe a pip that shows the future in its smoke. As the story continues The Collector travels the world looking for other very mysterious and very enchanted items of legend. All of which seem to posses some sort of power or grant their owner power. Essentially he travels to all corners of the world, South East Asia, Africa, the United States, all while searching for these artifacts to add to his ever growing collection.
I liked this book it was very interesting and entertaining and very different from a graphic novel standpoint. To me it had somewhat of a Indiana Jones feel to it but still different, the Collector is not as rugged as Jones, he is more refined and polished, more of an English gentleman if you will. Yet he was still ready to throw down at a moment’s notice if need be. I also liked the fact that the Collector seemed to always be in control, even when everything was against him in every way, he was always calm, cool, and collected. Nothing seemed to ruffle his feathers not matter how dire the situation was he would calmly weight his options and figure a way out. I have always liked characters like this, they seem to possess other worldly calmness or that they have always known something that no one else does and can easily see a way out. Sometimes these characters seem cliché but I always like them in a story.
Another reason I liked this story is that I always enjoy the mixing of ancient legends, artifacts, and the addition of real life history. That is my long winded sentence for historical fiction or historical supernatural fiction, as the artifacts the Collector seeks seem to possess certain powers and or mystical attributes. I have always thought these type of stories are really cool which is why I am such a big Indiana Jones fan. I just think ancient legends and historical mysteries are so fascinating. It is like something that time forgot, so for that reason it could have been true, but has been lost in time and perhaps buried deep in the jungle waiting to be rediscovered. Which believe it or not does happen from time to time. In the 1800’s I believe an archeologist found the real city of Troy, which was long believed to be just a city from legend from the famous epic by Homer.
My only complaint about the book has to do with the story. I don’t want to give away the plot, so I you want to skip this paragraph then proceed to the next one. Maybe some SPOILERS AHEAD! My complaint is that throughout the book The Collector, collects all these rare and somewhat mystical artifacts but it never says what he is going to do with them. I found this disappointing, as I thought there was another motive behind his collecting, but it appears that he was just collecting for the sake of collecting. To me that seems quite silly as he put his life in danger on more than on occasion to obtain the item he was after. I could not imagine doing that for a comic that I was after haha. This is a small complaint but I was expecting something at the end of the story to explain why or what he was going to use these mystical items for. I felt that Toppi might have missed an opportunity to expand the story and take it to another level, but as always what do I know.
This book is very interesting and I think very mysterious in and of itself. I found that it was first published in 1984, I would assume in either French or Italian, and recently it was finally translated to English to be rereleased in the U.S. by Archaia. Other than that I do not know much else about the story other than this is a foreign made comic by a very famous comic artist. This is probably only the second foreign originated comic that I have read, Attack on Titan being the other, but because that was a Manga style I am not sure that one counts. What I find somewhat fascinating and interesting is that this book is over 30 years old but has been somewhat hidden from the spot light, at least in the U.S., which is a very large comic market. Archaia does have another title out there by Toppi, which I also have but have not read yet. From a purely financial standpoint I think this is a genius move on Archaia’s part because they are basically taking a very popular story and artist that not many know about in the U.S. and have the rights to publish his work here for basically the first time, pretty smart from a business stand point.
Toppi has one of the most unique art styles I have seen and because of that it is near impossible to describe. It is a stylized form but still has some traditional undertones, although just barley. What makes his style so unique is his shading technique and his use of detail. (I am using these terms as someone who knows nothing in depth about artwork, so keep that in mind.) In certain occasions where most artist would just use dark spots or just shade areas to add details and shadows, Toppi uses these opportunities to put in strange designs and odd patterns, while still adding detail. When you view the whole picture it looks somewhat normal, but when you start to focus on this shading technique you can see that intricate detail work and how neat it looks. It kind of reminds me of a hologram card that when you move it from side to side the image on the card appears to move, but if you look closely at the surface of the card it had raised ridges. I think these ridges are similar to what Toppi has done. What I am trying to say is that you can enjoy and appreciate his work on two levels, the surface, and the intricate shading detail work. It is really cool and I like this style. Or a possibly better description is that of an oil painting which when you get very close to it all you see is a miss match of colors and globs of paint. But when you stand back a bit all is revealed and a beautiful landscape was right in front of you the whole time.
My only, very very small, complaint is that the book is not in color. However, this in no way hinders the artwork as the uniqueness of the artwork is fine in and of itself. I will also say that the page layouts are really awesome. There are some great full page splashes that truly show how talented Toppi was with this artwork. Even with simple black and white you can imagine what this world would look like and in my imagination it is amazing.
The book itself is also not your normal comic size, which also helps with the full page splashes, it is literally quite massive not only in size but also in page count about 250 pages. Sometimes when a comic is this long it really is hit or miss, either the extra pages are not needed and the story is drug out, or the oversized issue is just a gimmick to help hinder a poorly done aspect of the book, usually the story. But on rare occasions the length is totally worth it and that is certainly the case here. I also wanted to add that when this book was first released in the U.S. a few years ago I came across it on my Amazon feed and was enamored as to what it was about, but the price of it, about $35 or more, gave me some pause. However I think now that printing has caught up the price is considerably lower, simple supply and demand, which is awesome. It still sells for about $20 but that is not a bad price for a hardcover oversized comic that is both huge in actual size and page count.
I highly recommend this book, it is certainly one of the more interesting books that I have read. There is some really neat artwork and a great story to accompany it, along with some great scenery. An all-around great read, and one that has certainly put Toppi on my list of writers that I greatly admire for his work and creativity. Check this one out if you get a chance.