Adventurous readers looking for a singularly unique comics experience are highly recommended to pick up The Crackle of the Frost by Jorge Zentner & Lorenzo Mattotti, a shoo-in to be nominated for (if not win) international material at the next round of Eisner and Harvey Awards.
The narrative of Frost focuses troubled young man Samuel Darko. Questions like “…how many years of my life…have I spent manufacturing my own blindness?” plague the protagonist’s thoughts as his fears take the form of nightmarish bird-like creatures that are heralded by “the fear” and a buzzing noise that makes concentration impossible. The abuse given by these monsters is completely psychological, but their effect on Samuel couldn’t be more profound: he is a person sleepwalking through life in search of something, anything, to wake him up.
The noise in Samuel’s mind begins early in the book, coinciding with his girlfriend Alice’s desire to have a child with him. The bitter fights that follow soon drive her away. One year later, a letter arrives from Alice that is misinterpreted as an attempt at reconciliation. Samuel’s trip to a small town in Italy to find her becomes a journey of symbolic self-realization from which he may or may not emerge as the person he’s supposed to be.
Frost is a sharply written book that takes the reader deeper into a character’s psyche more than any other comic in recent memory.
Still, as well-written as the book is, what will undoubtedly get people to pick it up is the sensational art by the acclaimed Mattotti. The vibrancy and immediacy of the paintings that span all of Frost’s 120 pages will be astonishing even to those already familiar with this highly acclaimed sequential artist. Though the visual tone of the book remains consistent, the styles of the art can jump from impressionism to expressionism, symbolism to Hopper-esque realism often within the space of just two panels.
Another interesting aspect of the book is that it was originally created for a German newspaper’s Sunday edition in a large 8-panel tabloid format (subsequent editions, such as the English one discussed here, are formatted at two panels per page). It’s a prime example of the respect afforded to comics abroad which is largely missing here in the States. That a project of such a high artistic caliber can appear in a European Sunday paper while the American comic strip page is arguably at its lowest point ever is very telling of the cultural divide between the international and domestic markets when it comes to sequential art.
To say that the visual dynamics and sharp storytelling in Frost is a rarity in today’s comics would be a vast understatement. The Crackle of the Frost, now published in its first American edition by Fantagraphics, should be at the top of every thinking comics reader’s list.