by Walter Simonson
Back in the mid-1970's, there were comics conventions held in New York City once or twice a year. I was a young professional then and since I was living in New York, I attended the conventions regularly. Most of the material for sale in the dealer's room was stuff I already had, didn't need, or couldn't afford. Old American comic books, a selection of original artwork, tables filled with Big Little Books, occasional tin toys, and other odds and ends. Mostly, such conventions were a place to socialize, to see old friends who'd come to town, and to meet professionals I didn't know whose work I admired.
But there was the rare table--actually there was only one or maybe two such tables--where one could find graphic novels. Not just graphic novels but European graphic novels. It was work I knew very little about back then and almost never had a chance to see. The table was filled with books drawn by artists I'd never heard of, imagery I'd never imagined. And one of the first books that caught my eye was a volume entitle "L'homme des Marais" by some guy named Sergio Toppi. I didn't know the name but he was clearly major. Really major! I was blown away by the work! The exquisite draftsmanship, the focused concentration on the human face, the attention to detail in the costuming and atmosphere of the period story, the compositions of both panels and pages, the extensive use of textures within the drawings, the powerful play of negative space throughout the work, the combination and continuity of images, and the visual storytelling dancing across the pages...and my French is lousy! But I knew instantly I was in the presence of the work of a superb picture maker and story teller. And I've spent the last 25 years finding and looking at his work, studying it, and trying to incorporate a touch of his extraordinary vision into my own efforts.
Toppi's gifts as an artist are too extensive to list here comprehensively. Besides, no words can really capture the art of any artist. At best, words can point the way and then it's up to the viewer to let the art carry him or her off to those places where words fail. That is why a show such as this one is invaluable. It strips away, as much as it is possible to do so, the interface between artist and audience and puts them together where, for a brief moment, they can become one.
I've never met the artist. But I'd like to. I like to meet Sergio Toppi and shake his hand in the hopes that some his spectacular talent would rub off onto me and into my own drawings!
All my best, Sergio. May your pens and brushes never run dry!