The Dracula Annual

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A comment by Modzilla in last month’s post about psychedelic comic book Saga de Xam is responsible for this recent book purchase. Dracula was a full-colour large-format comic book from notorious pulp imprint New English Library (later to be distributors for my colleagues at Savoy Books) that repackaged Spanish horror strips for a British audience. The comic ran for 12 issues in the early 1970s; the pages shown here are from the hardback annual that gathered all the issues into a single volume. I remember this being around in secondhand shops for years but I never paid it any attention at all so the artwork has been a revelation.

NEL’s Dracula isn’t much of a horror comic, despite its title; Dracula himself only appears in one story, and that’s a jokey throwaway piece. The two main episodic strips are Wolff, a Conan clone searching for his lost wife in a world ravaged by witches, werewolves and other supernatural threats; and Agar-Agar, a deliriously psychedelic picaresque concerning a hyper-sexual “sprite” (or a hippyish young woman with blue hair and magic powers) from the planet Xanadu. Everything in the book is redolent of the early 1970s when strains of psychedelia were still percolating through pop culture. Watered-down psychedelia used to bore me because I wanted the authentic stuff but forty years on this kind of work is much more attractive.

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Wolff is the work of Esteban Maroto whose splash pages and inventive layouts give Barry Windsor-Smith’s Conan the Barbarian (which was running at this time) some serious competition. Wolff is very much in the Conan mould—he even shouts “Crom!” at crucial moments—a pawn of supernatural forces he often fails to comprehend. The artwork in Smith’s Conan was often praised for its details and decor but the Art Nouveau influence in Maroto’s work is much more overt. Maroto’s flame-haired witches are like Alphonse Mucha sirens—one panel even borrows from Mucha’s Salammbô—and he’s no slouch with the Frazetta-like demons either. The scripting is perfunctory but I don’t mind that when it turns up pages like these. There’s also a brief nod to Lovecraft when “R’Lyeh” is mentioned.

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Saga de Xam revisited

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Back in December I was thrilled to discover that Nicolas Devil’s large-format psychedelic/erotic comic book, Saga de Xam, had been scanned and uploaded to Scribd. The book was published by Éric Losfeld in 1967 in an edition of 5000 which quickly sold out, and has remained out of print ever since. Losfeld died in 1979 but it was always his intention that the book would remain scarce (although a second edition did appear after his death) with the result that copies today command high prices.

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Six of the seven chapters had been uploaded to Scribd in December but the seventh and final episode of the time-travelling Saga’s adventures was frustratingly absent. So I’m pleased to report that the final chapter is now available for reading or downloading, prompted in part by the interest my earlier post generated. The seventh chapter sees Saga arrive in the present day (ie: 1967) where she encounters more human conflict in the form of the US military and marauding Hells Angels. The chapter ends with several Exquisite Corpse pages which had Philippe Druillet among their contributors; it was the appearance of three of these pages in the Musée d’Orsay’s Art Nouveau Revival catalogue in 2010 that first brought the book to my attention. The very end of the book has a key to the alphabets used on some of the pages. I’d love to see Fantagraphics reprint this volume in a translated edition but those alphabets would create some difficulties. For the moment the PDFs at Scribd are the only place you can read this unique publication.

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Philippe Caza covers

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As usual, one thing leads to another. Research for yesterday’s post turned up a Caza book cover I’d not seen before. Les Miférables was published by Éric Losfeld in 1971, a year after producing Caza’s eyeball-searing psychedelic comic book Kris Kool. The author sounds like a character, a friend of André Breton who wrote a handful of novels inspired by his peyote experiences. As should be evident from the cover, Duits’ novel for Losfeld is more concerned with sex, described by this page (which is also the source of the cover art) as being “a kind of mixture of Eastern spirituality and unrestrained pornography”.

Caza’s art is often concerned with sex even if the subjects are the inhabitants of other planets. Many of the French comic artists of the 1970s produced covers for books and magazines but Caza alone seems to have been very popular as an artist for SF paperbacks. Noosfere has many examples from which I’ve chosen a small selection. (I’ve also had to hunt around for larger copies.) I wouldn’t mind seeing a collection of this artwork without the unsympathetic typography that spoils so many French novels.

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Saga de Xam by Nicolas Devil

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Saga de Xam, a large-format comic book published by Éric Losfeld in 1967, is another example of French erotic psychedelia that remained off my radar until I got my hands on the exhibition catalogue for the Musée d’Orsay’s Art Nouveau Revival show in 2010. The glorious drawing below was used as the background for the exhibition poster, and appeared inside the catalogue with two more pages from this rare and sought-after book, described in the catalogue as “the best and most precocious example of French BD directly inspired by American psychedelia”.

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Éric Losfeld is a fascinating character, a kind of pop-culture equivalent of Maurice Girodias, the founder of Olympia Press. Both men published erotic novels, and both had problems with the authorities as a result; but Losfeld also found a niche in art and graphics, producing albums of erotic comic strips—Jean-Claude Forest’s Barbarella, Guy Peellaert’s Jodelle and Pravda, Guido Crepax’s Valentina, Philippe Caza’s Kris Kool—and lavish portfolios from the weirder end of the erotic art spectrum, showcasing work by Raymond Bertrand, Jean-Marie Poumeyrol and others. It’s common for Brits to consider France a more enlightened nation where sex and comic-art is concerned but in the 1960s comics in France were considered an unsuitable medium for sexual material. Many of Losfeld’s comic-books of the late 60s and early 70s endured the kind of censure that was occurring in Britain and elsewhere. An early non-erotic title was Lone Sloane: Mystère des Abîmes in 1966, the first Lone Sloane story by Philippe Druillet. This no doubt explains Druillet’s involvement with Saga de Xam a year later.

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Saga de Xam: les créateurs.

The comics by Forest, Peellaert and Crepax all featured attractive (often naked) woman as their lead characters. Saga de Xam continued the trend, a story in seven chapters that reads like an amalgam of all the comics Losfeld had published up to that point, Druillet included. The book is credited to Nicolas Devil, and based on a scenario by film director Jean Rollin. (Druillet would later design some posters for Rollin’s vampire films.) Devil, aka Nicolas Deville, was one of Rollin’s art directors who also worked for a time as a comic artist and illustrator. For Saga de Xam Devil was the principal artist in the first six chapters, and wrote most of the text and dialogue. In the final chapter other hands are involved: Jim Tiroff, an actor from Julian Beck’s Living Theatre, provided a poem in English, while the artwork is an unusual exercise in the Surrealist “Exquisite Corpse” technique with Devil, Druillet and several other artists—Barbara Girard, Merri, Nicolas Kapnist—collaborating on a series of improvised splash pages. The final chapter also features arrangements of text that resemble layouts from avant-garde art magazines. Druillet’s contributions are easy to identify since they resemble invasions from his Lone Sloane series, even including references to the Necronomicon.

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Druillet’s vampires

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Le Viol du Vampire (1968) or Rape of the Vampire (stay classy, Jean!); re-titled Queen of the Vampires for the Anglophone world.

We’re so inundated these days with vampires and—worse—fucking zombies, that I’ll be perfectly happy if I never see another bloodsucker or shambling corpse again. But let’s overlook the degrading of horror staples for a moment to consider Philippe Druillet‘s excursions into the art of the cinema poster.

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La Vampire Nue (1969).

These pieces are for Jean Rollin‘s first three films, additions to the groovy-lesbian-vampire-with-false-eyelashes-and-bare-boobs sub-genre made at a time—the late 60s—when all the European film studios, Hammer included, were pushing the erotic content of their films more than had previously been dared. Rollin’s erotic comic strip from 1967, Saga de Xam, featured art contributions from Druillet, among others, which no doubt explains the choice of artist. As with David Palladini’s fantastic design for Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), these are further examples of how unique and distinctive film posters once were in a way they rarely are today. (Druillet, incidentally, produced his own adaptation of Nosferatu in 1989.)

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Le Frisson des Vampires (1970).

Pages from the fabulously rare Saga de Xam feature in the Art Nouveau catalogue that was the subject of yesterday’s post. So too does Druillet’s poster for Le Frisson des Vampires although any of these pieces would have made suitable inclusions. Even more than in his comic strips Druillet’s work here shows the overt influence of Alphonse Mucha.

Most of Rollin’s films seem to be available on DVD should you be desperate for some fangs and boobs. I’d much rather see Saga de Xam be reissued; it’s been out of print since 1967 and the copies available go for upwards of £200. This site has samples of the pages and there’s a post about the book (in French) here. For more about Jean Rollin, see Fascination: the Jean Rollin Experience.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Art Nouveau dance goes on forever
Salammbô illustrated
Druillet meets Hodgson
The music of Igor Wakhévitch
Nosferatu