Richard Sala Returns to the Violent, Gothic World of "Violenzia"

Cartoonist Richard Sala's resume is filled with books that combine elements of fantasy and humor, violence and horror. The acclaimed cartoonist crafted strange gothic worlds in "Delphine," "The Grave Robber's Daughter" and "Cat Burglar Black," so when he released the digital comic "Violenzia" in 2013, it was something of a departure from his previous works. Sure, it contained many of the same elements, but it combined them in different ways, owing more to The Shadow and The Spider and other pulp action tales despite its setting in a gothic, atmospheric world.

In "Violenzia and Other Deadly Amusements," Sala collects that digital comic, along with its sequel. The collection is rounded out by another short story, and 26 drawings with an entertaining theme. Fantagraphics has also produced "Violent Girls," a limited edition portfolio of prints that doubles as an homage to the picture books Sala loved as a child.

CBR News: What is "Violenzia and Other Deadly Amusements?"

Richard Sala: My new book! 144 pages divided into four sections. The contents are "Violenzia," "Forgotten," "Malevolent Reveries" and "Violenzia Returns."

When you released "Violenzia" digitally two years ago, did you have plans to eventually release a print version or revisit the character?

No, I don't think so. I mean, I always have too many ideas and plans, and most of them never happen, due to all the obstacles that arise between one's imagination and the real world. I guess I thought I might put it in a book someday, but the one-shot digital comic book version was a sincere attempt to venture into the digital world and I didn't really have plans beyond that.

I was grateful to Fantagraphics and comiXology for letting me do an original digital comic, which was actually a lot of fun, but some of my readers seemed frustrated by the fact that it wasn't also in print. I was kind of glad to find out firsthand that print wasn't quite dead yet -- at least for my readers. 

Has anything changed for the print edition from the original digital edition? Is the coloring the same? 

Beyond correcting an embarrassing typo that somehow made it into the digital version, everything else is the same. I may have made some small touch-ups, but no major changes from the original story. 

When the story first came out, it was a bit of a departure for you, a different kind of pulp story, faster more action-oriented than much of your work. With some distance, what do you think of it?

Well, I've never hidden my affection for all kinds of old-time pulp and genre stuff, which has always been filtered through my own very personal -- and admittedly neurotic -- point-of-view. But I know what you mean; there's more emphasis on action in "Violenzia." Usually, I try to create an atmosphere of mystery, with sudden bursts of violence or horrific elements. In "Violenzia," the action set pieces are longer and take more of a center stage.

The direct inspiration was a 1968 Gil Kane comic called "His Name Is Savage," which was ridiculously violent for its day. In fact my original title was "Her Name Is Violence." But I was also thinking a lot about Golden Age comics like, say, Plastic Man, as well as the many lesser, more primitive ones. I like that energy. It's the same kind of delirious energy you find in the original Spider pulps, or Republic serials, or even Westerns, where whatever plot there is just acts as a bridge between outbursts of sudden violence, but violence that is stylized and choreographed and a million miles from any actual horrific real life violence. 

I don't want to make it sound like the story is not about anything, though. For me it's definitely about something, but I'll leave that up to readers to decide for themselves.

Why did you decide to return to Violenzia? Did you always plan to?

I always want to write more stories about the characters I've created. I still get asked occasionally for more stories about characters like Peculia or Judy Drood or K from "Cat Burglar Black." I wish I had more time. Doing a book with Violenzia in the lead story gave me an opportunity and a reason to do a second story with her in it as well.

You've written sequels and continuing characters in the past but was this a different experience in any way?

Only in that it gave me the opportunity to add even more mystery to a mysterious character! I do color in her world somewhat, which is our world, but the part of our world no one sees, controlled by ancient forces, all based on a lifetime of reading about secret societies and conspiracies and magic. Like a lot of my characters, she is a loner and an enigma, clever and brave. Although she only has one line in the entire book, I hope that comes across! For her own reasons, she is taking on these ancient evil forces. As always, evil in this world is too big to ever really be destroyed, but you can have small victories, pushing it back. That all sounds overly serious, but above all her stories are intended to be fun and entertaining. Not that anyone has ever taken my work too seriously -- which is fine, because I can just do what I want.

The story ends on a note that suggests you have more planned for the character and this world. Do you?

You want to let readers have the chance to imagine the lives of the characters will continue on after the story ends. It might be the end of this story, but there is certainly more to explore if I decide to. I guess only time will tell.

The second story, "Forgotten," is really interesting. How did you approach that story?

It's a little hard to describe, I guess. I've often done my shorter comics with first person narration, in scenarios that are disorienting or bizarre. They're autobiographical in a way, but the thoughts are the sort of thoughts anyone might have while living in the world and trying to make sense of it all. This one goes in maybe a more introspective and darker direction. Maybe because the world seems harder to make sense of than ever these days.

What is "Alphabetical Exhibition?"

Honestly? It was an excuse to create 26 pieces of art!

Seriously, it can be inspiring and helpful to set certain parameters, if you are someone who draws obsessively. I like doing series. I like to do art with themes that connect them in some way. I love making pictures, and it's fun to see groups of them displayed together. I can post them as exhibits online on my tumblr and blog or whatever. For this exhibit, "Malevolent Reveries," I wanted each piece to be full of detail and enough atmosphere or ambiguity that one might enjoy staring at them, spend time looking at them. I had books like that as a kid, with pictures I could stare at for hours. The alphabetical titles are just a hook to pull you in and allow you to get lost in the drawings and your own imagination. In a way, they're love letters to all the genre stuff I enjoyed as a kid -- all kinds of characters from various horror and mystery stories and so on -- which got me through some rough times, growing up. I wanted to pass that on to my own readers.

You also have another project out from Fantagraphics, "Violent Girls."

"Violent Girls" is an example of what I was talking about above -- a themed series of drawings made over time and displayed on the Internet. With this particular series, I was offered the opportunity to release it as a set. I was torn, though -- I couldn't decide if it should be a small book or a print set. Prints seemed a logical choice, but a set of 44 prints is pretty unusual! So the highly skilled printer came up with the brilliant idea that the set could be produced and shelved as a book, but that pages could be easily removed to display as well. It was exactly what I had hoped for -- that is, it's a book if you want it to be and it's a portfolio of prints if you want that instead. We did an edition of 250, signed and numbered. I was floored when I saw how beautiful the printing was. We may do another one, someday.

"Violenzia and Other Deadly Amusements" and "Violent Girls" are available now.

Clark Kent Joins the Military in Superman: Year One Trailer

More in Comics