Today, partly because of Jeet Heer's encouragement and partly because it's the last cloudy day Los Angeles is going to play host to for what will probably be a solid four or five months, I'm reading Dino Buzzati's phenomenal, transcendent graphic novel Poem Strip. I'll write a real review soon enough (in the mean time you should grab a copy somewhere, because this thing is amazing), but I wanted to remark on something real fast.
The book is a loose, modernized restatement of the Orpheus myth, in which the musician hero descends into the land of the dead to rescue his becalmed love. When Orfi, Buzzati's Dylanesque version of the character, first passes through the gates to the spirit world, he's confronted with this...
...which reminded me immediately and forcefully of this.
That second sequence is from Grant Morrison and Jon J. Muth's DC/Vertigo graphic novel The Mystery Play, which is definitely in the top rank of least-discussed Morrison works. Having basically given up in disenchantment on that guy's superhero comics work, The Mystery Play is the comic of his I return to for the writing most often (I just look at the pictures in the Frank Quitely collaborations). It's as far as Morrison has ever gotten from the action-comics idiom, and it carries none of the conceptual weight or amphetamine energy that counterbalance each other in his poppier comics. The Mystery Play is Morrison utterly sober, not just sublimating non-narrative concerns to tell the story first, but seemingly not even bringing any to the table. It's a book that says what it as to say quietly and then leaves, which is a refreshing change of pace from a usually bombastic writer. Rather than the technicolor, screaming-future tone of most Morrison, it feels more like a European art film, a Harold Pinter or Samuel Beckett play, a slightly avant-garde novella. It isn't the most successful comic in the world, but it doesn't really feel like it needs to be -- it's just a story that got produced in comics form. Its aims are quite small, almost hermetic. It feels like "serious art".
That's the same way Poem Strip feels (though Buzzati gets visually expansive in a way I've never really seen anyone else get), and the strength of the similarity between the two sequences above got me wondering whether Morrison might not have encountered Poem Strip at some point and incorporated its tone and a bit of its content into his own artsy metaphysical graphic novel. Seems like a reasonable enough hypothesis, except for the fact that the book was originally published in Italian in the '60s, and didn't have an English-language version until two years ago. My sole point of contact with it before then was seeing two excerpted panels of it in Graphis. I have absolutely no idea as to Morrison's facility with the Italian language but it seems less likely that he would have read Buzzati's book back in the early '90s than like, a Ninja Turtles comic. I'd be super impressed if it turned out Morrison had read Poem Strip before it came out in its current edition. And if the similarity between those sequences is just a coincidence, it's a powerful one. I'm unaware of any broader occult significance to the image of a coat on a hanger, but that could just be my own ignorance. Whether Morrison was drawing from Buzzati or they were both drawing from some mysterious, unknown source, it seemed interesting enough to bring to your attention.