The Chuckling Whatsit Review: A Sinister Cocktail
Richard Sala’s The Chuckling Whatsit is a witch’s brew of monsters, sinister grotesques, and noir. It’s also my introduction the (now dead) artist’s prodigious Fantagraphics bibliography.
Richard Sala's The Chuckling Whatsit is a witch's brew of monsters, sinister grotesques, and noir. It's also my introduction to the (now dead) artist's prodigious Fantagraphics bibliography.
The Chuckling Whatsit's plot is probably too complex for its own good. Someone's killing astrologers, and the bodies pile up. There are monster men, insane asylums, and assassins killing informants at night. If there's a criticism of The Chuckling Whatsit, it's that the story defies a casual reading or returning to the book after time away.
But the experience of The Chuckling Whatsit is the draw, not a plot outline. Sala's style relies entirely on black and white, with no color. The pages are usually six panels, sometimes seven, sometimes five. The Chuckling Whatsit is visually clear, even if the story has too many twists.
Fantagraphics printed the now twenty-six-year-old story well in a stately-looking hardcover. My only note is that the front cover (not the dust jacket) looks bland. Maybe that's the style for the rest of their Sala books, though?
One imagines Universal Studios looks at The Chuckling Whatsit approvingly or like a distant relative. If, like museums, there's the best way to view or read The Chuckling Whatsit, it's on Halloween, directly in the middle of a run of gothic monster movies, popcorn close to hand.
The 1997 magnum opus of the late Richard Sala, master of graphic noir, has been out of print for years and is now available in hardcover for the very first time.
Sala weaves the gothic cartooning traditions of Edward Gorey and Charles Addams with a melodramatic murder mystery involving astrology, ghouls, academia, and outsider art. Part noir, part horror, and part comedy, this labyrinthine tale of intrigue follows an unemployed writer named Broom who becomes ensnared unwittingly in a complex plot involving mysterious outsider artist Emile Jarnac, the shadowy machinations of the Ghoul Appreciation Society Headquarters (GASH), and the enigmatic Mr. Ixnay. Sala's deadpan delivery makes this ingeniously layered narrative a roller-coaster ride of darkly pure comic suspense. Sala's drawing style also reveals the influence of everything from Hollywood monster movies and Dick Tracy to German expressionism and Grimm's fairy tales. It's a style that's perfectly suited to the narrative, constantly flirting with Sala's fascination for the grotesque and lending palpable tension to the gruesome riddle of The Chuckling Whatsit.
The Chuckling Whatsit
Richard Sala’s The Chuckling Whatsit is a witch’s brew of monsters, sinister grotesques, and noir. It’s also my introduction to the (now dead) artist’s prodigious Fantagraphics bibliography.
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