Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Crepax' the Man From Harlem

The Jazz Age masterpiece

The Man From Harlem, by Italian master Guido Crepax, is a tribute to the Jazz Age with it's inspired music, brutal crime and deplorable racism of the time. 

Crepax had a dramatically unique style inspired by the Op Art movement of the early 60's but reminiscent of the Art Nouveau movement with it's organic, flowing lines. 

This early work from Crepax shows his strong interest in the Op Art movement of the 60's.

Here you can see some of the Op Art fashions of the mid 60's that influenced Crepax work. 
Here Crepax is using Art Nouveau architectural elements for the backgrounds. You can see a similar flowing organic sensibility in his page layouts and design work. 
Crepax is most famous for his comic erotica, like Valentina

Crepax wrote about the creation of Valentina. Translated from Italian it says, "Design a different girl. Not Dale Arden! (from Flash Gordon) Or a type with long blonde hair. Forget it! Someone like Louise Brooks with those bangs. Beautiful! Also a little like Luisa (Crepax' wife). Louise, an unanticipated coincidence. There you go. With sad eyes and serious face. Her name? Valentina! Yes, Valentina!"
One of the most striking things about Crepax work is his irregular, organic page layouts. Rather than break his pages down in a 6 panel grid pattern like many comic artists do, he would form his panels into slashing diagonals or big boxes intermixed with many tiny boxes creating a rhythm with the page layouts reminiscent of a Jazz Age composition that he was writing about.

In the Man From Harlem, Crepax starts out with a reference to Charlie Parker's Constellation and the rhythm of the song informs the staccato layouts. These jumpy page layouts also add to the punchiness of the fight scene that is masterfully depicted here. Crepax sets the time and place of the story with this Joe Louise fight who was the World Heavy Weight Champion in the late 30's or early 40's. 

You can compare the page layouts to Charlie Parker's Constellation with this YouTube video.

The Man From Harlem is about Jazz contrabassist Little Johnny Lincoln, who saves a white prostitute from a mobster who was trying to kill her.

To firmly plant the Jazz Age theme of the comic, Crepax throws in the occasional depiction of a Jazz musician playing a famous Jazz standard. There is a kinetic flow to Crepax pages. The angle of the figures and the long lower panels of the upper page add to the feeling of the girl dashing past Lincoln. The next page has the panels at a jarring angle giving us the impression that these characters are still reeling from this dramatic experience. 

Complications set in when Lincoln's mom objects to her being in the house.
Crepax' light textured coloring on top of his scratchy black ink work really add a lot of mood to his artwork. Here the light watercolor effect on the old black woman's face really brings it to life.
Lincoln, crushing on Polly, defies all his friends and relatives to try to save her from eminent death at the hands of the mob at the risk of his own life or that of his family's safety.

Lincoln and Polly eventually get romantically involved.

Lincoln ways his options in this scene where he remembers the autocracies that were committed against his race.

There is an eventual climatic confrontation between Lincoln and the mob.

Here you can see some of Crepax most dynamic work with the pairing of Jazz musicians and the dramatic scene of Lincoln being run down by gangsters. Crepax uses a mix of large and small panels all at angels with the page borders, being really fitting for an exciting action sequence. 

Though the Man From Harlem is short and doesn't give enough space to fill out the characters adequately, it really shows off Crepax strong suit which is creating stunning visual imagery and engrossing story telling. He is a master of the Sequential Arts and really doesn't get enough recognition these days. Crepax is something to behold!

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