The Collector follows an 1880's rogue and dandy as he travels in search of treasures

See sample images from this book at Wink.

The Collector

by Sergio Toppi


2014, 252 pages, 8.5 x 11 x 1 inches

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I was delighted to discover this terrific collection of comics by Italian artist Sergio Toppi. Although I'd never seen his work before, it instantly got my attention and seemed familiar. It combines a flat graphic art style, a swashbuckling sensibility and witty writing that I found irresistible.

Sergio Toppi (1932-2012) was an artist and illustrator from Italy, whose books have been published for decades in Europe but only recently translated and available in the U.S. through Archaia, a division of Boom Entertainment. The Collector won the Soleil D'Or prize for Best Series at the Soliès-Ville Festival. It's easy to see why.

The book follows the exciting exploits of an 1880's rogue and dandy, known as "The Collector," as he travels the globe in search of treasures. Not a seeker of gold or jewels, he collects only artifacts with historical significance. This sets the stage for adventures featuring Hopi Indians in the American Southwest, camel-riding Ethiopians, Mongol tribesmen, warring Irish clans, Maori chieftains and more. Although the artwork is in black and white, it's most highly folkloric and historically colorful. The separate wide-ranging episodes and characters are knitted back together into a satisfying finale.

Each page is laid out in dramatic fashion with bold layouts. Some pages have conventional multiple comic panels, while others feature free-wheeling compositions, along with other full-page designs, more fine line illustration than comic book. Toppi is a master of drawing the human figure and the characters are richly rendered in various cultures' costumes and in far-flung settings. That, combined with his inventive crosshatching, splatters, scratches and bold use of solid blacks, reminds me of two of my favorites: Bernie Fuchs and Mike Mignola.

I enjoyed the cinematic approach of the staging and the clever use of scale. Tiny figures draw you into a wider landscape, then are immediately juxtaposed against a close-up portrait, all within one page's layout. If you remember that scene from the film Lawrence of Arabia where a nearly infinitesimally tiny camel–riding Peter O'Toole is boldly placed into a Cinerama desertscape, you'll know what I mean – wow! I'm looking forward to reading another translated Toppi book: Sharaz De: Tales from the Arabian Nights.

– Bob Knetzger