Thursday, June 6, 2013

"And so it came to pass" Sharaz-De: Tales of the Arabian Nights review

We live in a time where an embarrassment of comic book riches are available to us, not only the wealth of decades mined from the western world, but also the profit of the international comic book market; although for some time the Europeans distributed only so many translated materials for we English-speakers (ie, Tintin, Asterix, Smurfs), of late the likes of Blacksad have winged their way. Thus it is I find myself looking at Archaia's handsome hardcover book, Sharaz-De: Tales From the Arabian Nights by Sergio Toppi, a collection of Italian comics originally published in the 1970s (Toppi died last year just as this was published).

Drawn from the 1001 Arabian Nights, Sharaz-De adapts the framing sequence from the Arabian Nights featuring Sharaz-De (better known as Scheherazade). Ten stories follow as Sharaz-De herself narrates them to her husband in order to stave off her execution; the stories themselves are frequently tragic and violent, full of sex, the supernatural and divine retribution.

Although most of the stories are black & white, there are two forays into full-colour; one of them is a rare happy story, the tale of the man who outsmarts a djinn (better known as "the Fisherman and the Jinni"). Not only is the beautiful colour a welcome change, but with so many tales of men making foolish errors which lead to punishment, it's nice to find Toppi adapting at least one tale where a common man outsmarts the supernatural.

Archaia's collection features a foreward by Walter Simonson; a great creator, to be sure, but it wasn't until I experienced Sharaz-De that I understood his connection to the material - there's a lot of Toppi in Simonson's style. The first of the tales concerns a hunter and his falcon - one look at the falcon diving for its prey instantly brough to mind how Simonson visualized Odin's ravens during his work on Thor. Toppi's depictions of mystical winds and ornate clothing also bring to mind Simonson's work; every Simonson fan owes to themselves to seek out this tome to better understand his influences. It wouldn't surprise me to learn many other creators in western comics have been influenced by Toppi - I wonder if Toppi's cross-hatching influenced Barry Windsor-Smith?

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