Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is David Mazzucchelli, and the story is “Stop the Hair Nude” in Zero Zero #2, which was published by Fantagraphics and is cover dated May-June 1995. Enjoy! (Oops, I have to break out the Not Safe For Work warning again. You thought I had to retire it because I used it so much when I did Tim Vigil, but it’s a true yeoman, and it’s back out there now to warn you – your boss might not enjoy you checking this out at the office. Note the name of the story, for crying out loud!)
As I spent the Nineties mostly wallowing in Batman and X-Men books (okay, also in Vertigo books and The Spectre and Starman and stuff like that, but you get the idea!), I tended to miss the stuff on the fringes, so I had no idea what Mazzucchelli was up to. It turns out he was turning his back on mainstream work and doing some weird stuff like “Stop the Hair Nude.” I’ll get to what the story is about in good time, fret not! Meanwhile, his art continued to evolve, so let’s check it out!
Ishizaka works at the customs office, where he goes through magazines and uses a marker to black out pubic hair in the naked pictures. Yep. The Japanese, I hear tell, are notoriously weird about pubic hair, so it isn’t terribly surprising that they have someone going through the magazines, although Mazzucchelli implies that blacking out pubic hair looks very much like pubic hair, so is there really a difference? Anyway, he buys a magazine and discovers that someone did NOT black out the pubic hair, which is just scandalous. Mazzucchelli had gotten more abstract in the years since “Year One,” and he also started using heavier lines, which gave his work a rougher look. He still does nice work, naturally, but it’s definitely different than before. Panel 1 is terrific, as he draws long, tentacle-like fingers coming from random and unattached arms (seriously, to whom do those hands on the girl in the right foreground belong?) to grope at the women on the train. Mazzucchelli shows the dispassionate looks on the faces of the men and the upset faces of the women really well, in one panel encapsulating one difference in the world of men and women. The man wearing the mask in the panel is both a reminder that the Japanese wear them because of the air pollution and as foreshadowing, as we’ll see. In the bottom row, Mazzucchelli does something clever, as Ishizaka sees the “hair nude.” Panel 7 seems to show him masturbating onto the page, but in Panel 8, we realize that Ishizaka is vomiting, because he’s far more scandalized by the pubic hair than aroused. It’s quick but clever, and it shows the dark places to which this story is about to go.
Ishizaka freaks out as he realizes that the scourge of pubic hair is spreading throughout the country, and then he looks out the window and sees the woman across the way … with pubic hair! So we get this very weird page, as Ishizaka shaves his pubic hair and then goes on a mission. Mazzucchelli again uses simple lines to draw the woman, with the thick lines of her body making the more delicate lines of her pubic hair stand out a bit more. Panel 5, in which Ishizaka shaves his own hair, is very cartoonish, as it appears Mazzucchelli is “going manga” – it feels very reminiscent of Japanese comics, although it also points the way he was going with his art, as we’ll see tomorrow. The loose lines, the rough strokes to create his hair, and the exaggerated face make the scene even more grotesquely comical than it already is, given that it’s a man shaving off his own pubic hair. Mazzucchelli, of course, still knows how to be precise, as the razor is well drawn, and as it’s about to become a disturbing weapon, it’s probably good that Mazzucchelli made sure it was “normal”-looking. The bottom panel shows Ishizaka starting on his mission, and Mazzucchelli does a nice job with the basic shapes of the woman, which gives us a good idea of her while keeping her abstract, and shows Ishizaka, wearing a mask now to hide his identity but which hearkens back to the man on the train who appeared to be groping the girl. Ishizaka is inked heavily, with nice thick blacks, which shows that he’s hiding in the darkness but also that his mind has taken a dark turn itself.
On the next page, Ishizaka kidnaps that woman and shaves her pubic hair. You know, like you do. Despite the rougher line work, Mazzucchelli still does tremendous work with the details, as he remembers to place a rolled up rug behind the woman so that her hips stick out, which is creepy but something that Ishizaka would likely do. The woman’s face in Panel 6 is well done, too – Mazzucchelli uses thick lines to create the tears, much like he did on the perp in “Year One” that we saw yesterday, while the thick blacks create a terrified expression without him using too much hatching. As I noted above, the razor is key, as Mazzucchelli brings it back here in Panel 7, making it even more terrifying. The ordered vertical lines are in stark contrast to the chaotic inking elsewhere, while the two screws in the base make it look a bit sentient, which is pretty freaky. Mazzucchelli gives Ishizaka pupils in the story only a few times, and this is not one of them, which is good, as the round glasses and the mask make him far less human and helps imbue the razor with the illusion of consciousness, which makes Ishizaka’s horrific act, in his mind, less of one. He’s just a faceless man – it was the razor taking over!
Just when you thought the story couldn’t get any creepier, Mazzucchelli ups the ante. The abduction of the girl is laid out well, as Ishizaka frantically steals her, ties her up, and cuts her underwear off. Mazzucchelli uses smaller panels to focus on small areas, from the actual abduction, the hand-tying, the scissors reflected in Ishizaka’s glasses, and the girl’s terrified face. The pace comes to a sudden halt in Panel 8, where Mazzucchelli gives Ishizaka pupils (or irises, I suppose) for only the second time in the story, both of which come when he’s surprised. Mazzucchelli uses Benday dots on that panel to distinguish it from the others and to highlight Ishizaka’s eyes, as his mission comes to a screeching stop. Mazzucchelli expands the panel size so that we can see clearly the drop of the scissors, and then Ishizaka collapses against the girl, snot-filled tears running down his face. I love that Mazzucchelli draws sweat (or snot, I suppose) dripping off the girl onto Ishizaka, as it could be inferred that she’s spitting on him (this despite the fact that she’s gagged). In Panel 11, Mazzucchelli draws Ishizaka as a baby, remembering to keep the glasses on him so we know it’s only an illusion, as the girl’s pre-pubescence reminds him of his own, baby-like state. The man who never grew up might be a cliché, but Mazzucchelli certainly takes an odd path to get to it. The viewpoint from above them is clever, because it allows us to see Ishizaka from the side, curled up like an actual baby, and it also shows that the girl is looking up, away from the creepy man hugging her and crying after he cut off her panties. Weird stuff indeed!
Mazzucchelli continued to develop this style of art further, and for the final day of his work, we’ll check out the recent apotheosis of it. I’m not sure how I’m going to narrow down what I’m going to show from it, because there’s so much good stuff! And don’t forget that you can find a lot of good stuff in the archives!
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