Delphine

Delphine, Richard Sala, 128 pgs, Fantagraphics Books, Fantagraphics.com, $24.99

A modern-day couple fall in love at university, then lose touch under mysterious circumstances, after she, the titular Delphine, returns home to care for a dying father. In what is billed as a dark, kitsch-free reimagining of Snow White, our unnamed Prince Charming figure (in truth neither princely nor particularly charming; one of the book’s main contemporizing notes is his great reliance on the word ‘fuck’) travels by train to her village — part Wild West frontier town and part Eastern European shtetl.

Instead of relationship-confirming reconciliation, what he finds is a bizarre menagerie of grotesques who punt him along a through-the-funhouse-mirror odyssey where almost every classic fairytale trope — brave huntsman, mysterious woods, obstreperous frog, grasping stepmother — is made virulent, assaultive and threatening. Delphine remains elusive, while his only progress is down a rabbit hole of fear, bad juju, and — possibly — insanity.

As he puts our boy through his hectic paces, author Richard Sala also subjects him to flashbacks, dreams and fevered hallucinations that further upset the narrative applecart: is he a little skeevier, she a little weirder, their relationship a little shakier than the archetypes would have us believe? The art, mainly rendered in a sepia-tinged duotone, tends to reinforce this disequilibrium. The style here is a kind of funky goth, with occasional streaks of a playful, almost Tintin-like giddiness that, along with the idiosyncratically sloppy lettering, can both undercut and torque up the eeriness.

As we approach the end of the quest-cum-breakdown, Sala works up a masterfully propulsive sense of onrushing dread, though he withholds the kind of unambiguous closure that will satisfy the pat-ending crowd. Still, few will be unmoved by the throughline of unrequited love and abandonment, or by the discomfiting final moral that pure fairytale love is, well, pretty much a fairytale. (Paul Duder)

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