Images © Michael Zulli.
Artist Michael Zulli has been working on this personal project, which he wrote and illustrated, for quite a few years, and thanks to fundraising efforts on Kickstarter it has finally seen print in a beautifully-crafted 200-page oversized hardcover. Thus far it’s only available through comics shops, though Michael tells me it will eventually be sold directly from the publisher, Eidolon Fine Arts. The cover price is $27.99.
When I say this is a personal project, I mean that on every level. It’s the comics equivalent of a one-man show (with important support from designer/letterer Ryan Graff). The story is episodic and somewhat dreamlike, the main character or characters are all visually Michael at different ages I think, with some supporting entities: gods, demons, harpies, angels, and others of a fantastic nature hard to describe. Though he takes pains to explain why he used himself as the main model in his afterword, having the artist as character reinforces the one-man show feel, and Michael the character is quite a good actor in his various roles from infant to oldster, very theatrical, just as the real person is. While there are action sequences, mainly involving Michael fleeing from tormenters of several kinds, this is really an internal story as Zulli explores themes and ideas from deep inside himself. There are not a lot of explanations, and plenty of room is left for the reader’s interpretation (intentionally, Michael says). The dreamlike quality of the tale is at times full of unearthly beauty, at others the stuff of nightmares. Then things take a more down-to-earth tone at other times, becoming a series of monologues or conversations that I found even more interesting than the fantasy bits.
The other half of the show is, of course, the art, and it’s truly breathtakingly gorgeous at times, as above. At others it captures a wide range of emotions and subtleties as well as rough, raw energy in the action sequences. The entire interior is in black and white on duotone paper, adding rich gray shading options, which Michael is expert at employing. The book itself is well-printed on great paper, and the large size makes every detail shine. For the lettering, everything is in caption form, even spoken dialogue, with different type styles for each character. Some of those work better than others, a few are hard to read, and at times it was not clear who was meant to be speaking, but that didn’t bother me enough to impede my enjoyment of the reading experience. And, after all, every voice here is the author’s.
I came away from this book feeling uplifted and enriched, though there are plenty of dark moments and self-destructive impulses within. I felt they were overcome by the sheer scope and beauty of the entire package. I also felt as if I had been invited into the mind and personal world of an artist worth visiting in such a way, a complex man of talent. In short, applause, bravo, well done, Michael. Hope it leads to more!