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Sharaz-De: Tales from the Arabian Nights
By Sergio Toppi
In his foreword to Sharaz-De, Walt Simonson describes picking up Sergio Toppi comics in their original Italian during the ‘70s. Though Simonson doesn’t read Italian, he was attracted to the art, and it’s easy to see why. Every page invites the reader to stop and study. Toppi is a master at cross-hatching. He gives people, animals, and settings layers and layers of detail through thousands of short lines, all directing the eye to exactly the place he wants it to go. He pulls me in not just panel after panel, but figure after figure. Fortunately, Sharaz-De has large pages with lots of room, and as adept as Toppi is at filling those pages with ink, he’s equally skilled at using negative space to balance out compositions and give the eye a break.
I empathize with Simonson’s being so pulled into this stuff even though he didn’t understand the text. I’ve often been tempted to pick up European comics that I couldn’t read simply because they were beautiful. I’ve always resisted though, because I’m too interested in story to be able to enjoy comics purely for their visuals. That’s why I get excited when publishers like Archaia translate these books for English readers.
I read Toppi’s Sharaz-De back-to-back with another graphic novel, A Flight of Angels by Rebecca Guay and Friends. There’s a line in Guay’s book that was written by Holly Black: “Tricksters tell the truth in a way that makes it lies.” That stuck with me, because I think the opposite is true of great storytellers, who tell lies in a way that makes them truth. That’s an appropriate description of what’s going on in Sharaz-De. It’s not only what Toppi is doing, but his main character as well.