Books Reviews Richard Sala
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Writer/Artist: Richard Sala
Publisher: Fantagraphics
Release date: January 18, 2013

Delphine presents itself as a fairy tale from cover to cover, with a mood that evokes vines creeping up Sleeping Beauty’s castle. But Richard Sala is up to something more sinister along the lines of Angela Carter, the English writer best known for short stories that reinstate the blood and sex bowdlerized out of “Little Red Riding Hood” and other menacing folklore. Sala’s illustrations and story channel just about every trope the Bros. Grimm made famous: dangerous fruit, wicked stepmothers, witchy ladies, fierce forest beasts, spooky mirrors, and the spider’s web of female sexuality.

As our Prince Charming seeks his college girlfriend gone home to take care of family matters and vanished, he fails continually. Nearly every chapter concludes with him falling or bopped on the head. He doesn’t pay attention to his surroundings or listen to warnings. Don’t accept rides from strangers. Don’t go into the woods. And don’t open the locked door. Spoiler alert: he does. What makes the book different is the way it drops a normal-seeming fellow into this deeply creepy and perilous setting, full of mysterious things that cannot be real but certainly are.

Sala daubs his dialogue with profanity, which adds to the realism, and our hero’s inability to rise to the occasion and act in the way we know he should is both darkly funny and imbued with growing dread. The one time he takes initiative is colored with ambiguity. Has he vanquished a foe or savagely beaten a frail senior citizen? Will the tale resolve itself in a neat little bow? Yes and no. The ending isn’t exactly satisfying and runs counter to the genre’s conventions, yet the story ends as it must under Sala’s rules; like testing gravity by dropping a penny from a building, the coin’s never going to fall up. Delphine is worth reading at least twice. Sala’s spell is strong.