Cartoonist Richard Sala passed away over the weekend, cause of death unknown. He was 61. The news was announced in a post by Fantagraphics:
It is with great sadness that we share the news that our dear friend, the cartoonist Richard Sala, has passed away at the age of 61. We are still processing, and will say more soon, but our hearts are with his close friends and family who are grieving this insurmountable loss. pic.twitter.com/19p2GuUUn6
— Fantagraphics Books (@fantagraphics) May 9, 2020
Sala was a one of a kind cartoonist, taking aspects of Edward Gorey, Charles Addams and Victorian whodunnits and throwing in creepy mummies, sinister plots and, always, beautiful young women. His stories were elegant and unsettling, limned in bright colors yet always set in the dead of night. I would rank him right up there as a horror cartoonist with anyone. If you wanted to try one of his works, I would suggest Delphine, a reversed version of Snow White that is just spectacular and sinister.
Sala got his start in various comics anthologies such as RAW and Blab. In the 90s his “Invisible Hands” story was animated as part of Liquid TV, a showcase for avant garde animation that aired on MTV. That was about as cool as you could get in the pre-internet 90s. He would later turn to graphic novels, in recent years serialized on the web for collections. Among them: Night Drive, The Hidden, The Bloody Cardinal, Violenzia and Other Deadly Amusements, The Chuckling Whatsit, The Grave Robber’s Daughter, and many others.
On his uncomfortably named blog, Here Lies Richard Sala, his last post, on April 18th announced a new webcomic, Carlotta Havoc Vs Everyone. Working right to the end.
Richard Sala, whose tongue-in-cheek mystery/thriller comics — including The Chuckling Whatsit, Cat Burglar Black and Evil Eye — were like nothing else and everything else in popular culture, was found dead in his Berkeley, California, home last week. Sala was 65. No cause of death was announced and no information was available as to how long Sala had been dead before his body was discovered. His last Tumblr post was April 29: the beginning of a new serialized webcomic called Carlotta Havoc Versus Everybody. The webcomic had been announced on an Apr. 18 post at Sala’s blog, called Here Lies Richard Sala.
Readers always knew from the first panel of a Richard Sala comic that they were about to be taken for a ride full of shocking twists and turns, familiar genre set-pieces, matter-of-fact melodrama and dark-humored camp. His comics are as simple and iconographically propulsive as a 1940s Saturday-morning adventure serial or pulp magazine of the 1930s, but with the symbolic depth and labyrinthine dream logic of a Hitchcock or Bunuel film. They are above all the work of a fan, one of us, who learned to absorb the pop-cultural images that those of us of a certain age loved and use them to wallpaper hidden chambers of our shared unconscious. They are fun, funny, even exhilarating, but also full of glimpses into something darker that is never resolved and never entirely goes away. The fiendish masterminds are forever escaping.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Sala was a favorite here at The Beat, and I often linked to his new works, or showcased him around Halloween. Back in the day we hung out often, mostly at WonderCon, his local. He was sweet, smart and incredibly talented. I think we talked about him doing something for Disney Adventures when I worked there, but that was probably a little too adventurous for the kids of the time. I hadn’t seen him in years (WonderCon isn’t in Northern California any more) but followed his online works with pleasure.
I would often think of Sala as part of a non-defined group of cartoonists who were a little too genre-focused to move into the art sphere, but way too personal and unique to be mainstream. I’m guessing that he paid many bills with illustration, but also turned out a healthy body of work that will occupy a small but vibrant space on any shelf. I feel hopeful that these books will live on beyond him.
Some of his art: