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domenica 13 luglio 2014

Under Dark Weird Fantasy Grounds #1

Various Artists, Hollow Press, Italy, March 2014, 96 pages, black and white, perfect bound, 29,5 x 21 cm, 18 euros.

It comes from Italy but it could come from anywhere in the world. Or maybe Under Dark Weird Fantasy Grounds - the new biannual anthology created and edited by Michele Nitri and published by his Hollow Press in only 700 copies - comes from hell or from the center of the earth, since the comics by Mat Brinkman, Miguel Angel Martin, Ratigher, Tetsunori Tawaraya and Paolo Massagli lead to unknown and terrible lands.
The prologue to this unusual reality is in the six pages by Mat Brinkman, the founding member of Fort Thunder artists' collective and author of Multiforce and Teratoid Heights. Brinkman is a sort of guest star here, since he isn't a prolific cartoonist at the moment. We saw his work last year in the Monster anthology published by Paul Lyons' Hidden Fortress Press and he's contributed to the fifth issue of Weird edited by Noel Freibert. In Cretin Keep On Creepin' Creek he uses a wordless approach to tell the adventures of an animated and monstrous arm tortured by some strange creatures in a basement. The drawings are visceral, apparently raw but with a remarkable visual complexity. The tale also has a greater sense of structure and an extraordinary dynamism compared to other Brinkman's comics: this time the cartoonist guides the eye of the reader, that isn't free to skip between different points of the page as in Multiforce. Brikman's art grows year after year and when small, dense panels make way for a wider view, it's a joy for the eye. As for all the comics in the book, this is a first part, with a follow-up due in the second issue of the anthology.

Miguel Angel Martin and Ratigher share the underground setting with Brinkman. These are two similar stories, in which the characters move in a sort of dungeon, akin to the setting of a role playing game. However, The Emanation Machine and Five Mantles are anything but classical fantasy tales. In the first, Martin's art and storytelling are at their best. A strange creature dies while giving a mysterious object to the two protagonists. It's the key for the emanation machine, "a subhuman fantasy". Actually the main theme, as usual in Martin, is sex: every action or event is a fantasy version of a sexual practice or perversion, creating a sense of claustrophobia present also in Ratigher's contribution. 

In Five Mantles the characters try to find an escape from an infinite series of tunnels. They can't remember why they're underground, but they have two magical mantles that can help them literally to rise from the darkness. This is the piece with more text and a more structured plot. Ratigher's style is significantly influenced by manga, while the real Japanese author in the anthology, Tetsunori Tawaraya, looks more at the tradition of monster movies. In The High Bridge bizarre creatures fight in a marine environment without uttering a word. In most panels the backgrounds are empty and Tawaraya concentrates on the monsters, depicted with amazing skill.

A good thing about UDWFG is that all the comics share a feeling while each author has his own style. This is confirmed by Paolo Massagli, who ends the book with a free-form comic. Hell is a wild trip to the infernal lands, where the pages are filled up with the white skin of the female protagonist, a dead young girl in search of an earth, maybe to escape from hell or maybe to live again. As in Tawaraya's work the attention is all on the bodies and not on the background, but here the focus isn't on wings, horns and tentacles but on breasts, lips, eyes and long eyelashes, giving to the book a touch of sensuality that had been missing until this moment.
It's rare to close a comics anthology with a well-defined feeling. UDWFG, instead, leaves a sense of pain, mystery and wonder. And also the strong desire to read the second issue, due at the end of September.

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