European comics rarely ever seem to get any kind of translation over here in the States, which is a shame because European comics, particularly French and Italian books have an entirely different vibe about them that distinguishes them from their American cousins. Because they’re so different, with a hangup on villains and anti-heroes, evident in books like Kriminal, Fantomas and Diabolik, I am totally fascinated by them. What is it about European standards and expectations that the protagonists of comic books are often brutal criminals?
Dylan Dog isn’t that kind of book, actually. The eponymous hero of the book is, in fact, quite heroic but he’s so wildly off beat that you’d be hard pressed to find a book on American shores with a character as wildly eccentric as Dylan Dog. In spite of his heroic status, Dylan Dog is very European. With the upcoming adaptation of the Italian comics sensation, Dead Of Night, Dark Horse Comics seized the opportunity to remind us all that ten years ago they brought Dylan Dog to the United States in a series of digest sized translations with some minor modifications and outstanding covers by Hellboy creator, Mike Mignola. Now available on comic shop and book store shelves all over the country is a single-volume reissue of those digests called The Dylan Dog Case Files.
Dylan Dog is a self-styled “Nightmare Investigator”, a private investigator who takes on supernatural cases that the police can’t or won’t take. The book collects seven of these cases that cover a collection of established horror tropes. Partnered with his buddy Felix (Groucho Marx with the moustache removed) he takes on zombies, black gloved giallo killers and ghosts. The series is a consistently mature affair that will appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman. All seven stories collected weave a morbid story of horror and tragedy among a narrative that is often whimsical and just a little goofy. The Dylan character is often portrayed as moody and disconnected, prone to quickly fall in love with the women who manage to find their way to his office yet he never seems to grasp the weight of his cases, almost lucking his way through each encounter with the paranormal. It makes for a unique character in a unique world that looks an awful lot like modern day London. Only a London where vampires and werewolves stalk the streets.
Created in 1986, Dylan Dog has gone on to become one of Italy’s best selling books, topping sales of 1 million on a monthly basis. Series creator Tiziano Sclavi drenches each issue with horror movie references and does his best to tell each story in the same fashion as the horror movies that have influenced him. The series initially kicked off with the thin line stylings of Claudio Villa, a style often associated with European comic artists, but has gone through many writers and artists over the years. Many of them are represented in this volume. The art and writing is always solid, maintaining the Sclavi tone throughout the run but the art is inconsistent in style from one story to the next. It’s not as though the art sucks. Hardly. The Dylan Dog Case Files is more or less a greatest hits volume of the series for Americans so the art and writing represents the best of the entire run. Sometimes it has the signature euro look, while other times it looks like classic John Buscema or Bernie Wrightson.
In a nutshell, Dylan Dog is Tales From The Crypt by way of David Lynch. It’s a surreal, mature and often horrifying adventure with a touch of the absurd in each issue. The Dylan Dog Case Files makes these issues available for the first time in ten years but there’s a problem. The book, such a massive success overseas, offers American readers, many of whom will be discovering this character for the first time, no context whatsoever. This book is a bona fide gem and fans of horror comics absolutely must own this, but without any sort of foreward of afterward to explain the origins and cultural significance of the character it seems like just another weird-ass indie book. Dark Horse is probably the finest company out there when it comes to horror comics and I would have expected a little more from them in this case since these books have been available individually in the past. But it looks like this is all you get.
It’s a great presentation and like other single volume collections like the Marvel Essentials line, this makes nearly 700 pages of comics available to you in one fell swoop for the paltry sum of $25. You just cannot go wrong in this instance.