Eat all we can, drink all we can, use all we can, do what we can, screw what we can”
I first became aware of Stefano Cardoselli a few years ago, and I instantly fell in love with his insane art, so I try to get everything he does. His stories haven’t always been up to the quality of the art, though, but they’re still fun to read. He’s back with Sweet Downfall, which is colored by Panta Rea, lettered by Bram Meehan, edited by Andrea Lorenzo Molinari, and published by Scout Comics (this is technically a collection, as Scout does that thing where they release one issue in print, the rest digitally, and then collect it for print, but I’m counting it as a graphic novel because I want to, dang it!). It’s certainly something, all right!
Sweet Downfall is a post-apocalyptic love story between a barely-glimpsed mermaid and a generally mute crash test dummy cyborg-turned-hitman. Yep. Jonny, our hero, is a contract killer for Vito Coriaci, the mob boss of the city of Santa Clara, which bobs on the ocean supported only by a relatively thin stalk of metal. At the beginning of this book, Jonny has already broken with Don Vito, to whom he was supposed to deliver his cargo, which is supposed to have healing properties that will cure Vito of the horrible illness ravaging his body. At the beginning of this book, other assassins of Don Vito are already trying to kill Jonny, which does not go well for them. Jonny decides to leave his half-sunken ship home and head out into the ocean to find a safe place to release the mermaid, with whom he’s fallen in love, and Vito sends many hired thugs after him to bring him back. Eventually, of course, he does, and the books ends with a cataclysmic encounter in Santa Clara between Jonny and the Don. There is, perhaps not surprisingly, a copious amount of bloodshed.
Now, you might think there is nothing particularly original about this story. And indeed, you would be right. Except for the fact that the lovers are a crash test dummy cyborg hitman and a mermaid, there’s nothing terribly original about two lovers on the run from a powerful man who wants to possess the woman. A few things do make it noteworthy, though – the fact that Jonny hardly ever speaks (he says only one sentence in the entire epic) and the fact that we only see a little bit of the mermaid. It’s a strange romance, but those choices by Cardoselli make it both stranger and sweeter, as these two outcasts have a connection that is so powerful it’s as if the page can’t contain it, so Cardoselli can’t show all of it. It’s a nifty conceit, and it makes the book, which already feels kind of epic, even more so. Cardoselli has always had a black sense of humor, and that’s on display here, too, as the many thugs Don Vito sends after Jonny aren’t just nameless punks – Cardoselli gives them some lines, some of which are funny and some of which simply reveal that they have lives outside of killing people for a mob boss (of course, they very quickly don’t have lives because Jonny kills them, but still). There’s a nice world-weariness to the hitmen, as if what they’re doing is just a job, and they’d like to get back to their real pursuits. Again, they don’t live long enough to do so, but it’s still nice that Cardoselli imagines that they’re just dudes … who happen to kill people. As with so many stories, it’s not really the plot that counts, but how the writer does interesting things with the plot, and Cardoselli does a good job here.
The big draw of a Cardoselli book is, of course, his artwork, which generally stays on the “insane” side of the spectrum. It’s very good here, as he has sort of a “Geof-Darrow-with-a-thicker-pencil” vibe going on, more so than in his other books, where the art seemed a bit sketchier (not bad, just sketchier). The first thing we see is a beautifully drawn jellyfish, swimming through the ocean around Santa Clara, which shows up on page 2, a wildly clanky, junky, crammed city seemingly defying the laws of physics and sporting an amazing giant statue of a angel and a holy person of some sort (I assume Saint Clare, after whom the city is presumably named). As Cardoselli gets into the city, he stuffs it with cables, wires, vents, fans, and all sorts of broken-down buildings, as well as more insane statues, like the giant metal head on top of Vito’s panini place. When he draws people (or Jonny), he gives them pock marks and scratches and band aids, as they’re clearly beat up by life and are barely holding on. His masterpiece is Vito himself, as the mob boss has disgusting pustules across half his face, which is why he needs the mermaid. Cardoselli draws crazy marine life, like giant sharks and crabs, that show a world that’s a bit out of control. He loves showing things from odd angles and points of view, which adds to the skewed nature of the entire world in which Jonny lives. There’s a terrific full page view of one of Vito’s thugs right after Vito has blown a rather large hole in his head, but that’s just the most fun one. Cardoselli has way too much fun with the violence, as people (and other things) explode with stunning regularity, shooting fountains of blood everywhere. It’s hilarious at times and disturbing at others, but it’s certainly presented in a clever and exciting way. Rea’s colors are terrific, too – lots of browns to indicate the degradation of the world, but really nice blues and greens that stand out well, and the many explosions are riotously done with blurry oranges, reds, and yellows. It’s really a superb book, art-wise.
I tend to like Cardoselli’s work, but I do admit that some of it hasn’t been quite as good as I’d like, mainly because the stories don’t always hold together. That’s not the case here, as the art is up to his usual crazy standard, but the story is well done, focused, and fairly poignant. If you haven’t checked out Cardoselli’s work yet, this is a very good place to start! (It’s also not on Amazon, so I can’t link to it, but I imagine you can find it other places!)
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆