Rod’s musings – Danny Hellman’s Typhon

Published On July 23, 2008 | By Joe Gordon | Comics, Reviews

In Greek mythology, Typhon was all superlatives; he was the largest, the most powerful, and the most grotesque of all creatures that ever lived.  His head, covered with a hundred hissing, spitting, serpents, scraped the skies and touched the very stars themselves.  Venom dripped from his evil eyes, and red-hot lava poured from his gaping mouths.  In short, he was a bit of a lad and it took Zeus himself to bring him to heel.

Danny Hellman’s Typhon is equally deserving of a handful of superlatives; it is very big, and very colourful, often mesmerising, and very thick, crammed as it is with almost 200 pages of, at times, dizzying talent.

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(the cover to Typhon, published and (c) Dirty Danny Press)

Hellman says, in the introduction to this excellent collection for Mature Readers, that whilst he wanted to publish another anthology, he didn’t want it to be connected with the infamous Rall v. Hellman lawsuit, as his previous anthologies Legal Action Comics 1 and 2 had been, so the proposed Legal Action 3 became the mighty Typhon.

There is good reason to believe, I think, that Hellman does indeed want to move on and put the past behind him and that this big full-colour book represents that break with the past. Edited and published by the man himself, it is a much more confident, mature, and polished publication.  It is also a very generous book, because Danny Hellman is himself an accomplished and talented illustrator, whose work has appeared in some of the world’s most prestigious publications, but he makes no attempt to hog the limelight here.  His one story opens the anthology and sets the scene with a modern take on the Typhon legend, but from then on he exhibits a light editorial touch; whilst still managing to succeed in creating a book that is a good read, is well-balanced, harmonious even, and which also showcases the talents of the team of contributors he has assembled.

The question of balance is important in an anthology like this, because to some contributors ‘mature content’ will mean sex and nudity, to others it will mean addressing politics and social issues in a more direct fashion than usual, and to others it will mean experimenting with form and shape or story telling or all of these elements.  Without a sure editorial hand and a clear vision of how the collection will work as a whole, any anthology can come across as a real muddle – leaving the reader alienated enough to put the book down after nothing more than a quick flick-through.  There is a feeling then, that this anthology has been created with the reader in mind, and there is a sense that the editor has carefully considered how all the elements of the book, the drawing styles, the colouring techniques, the flow of the stories, will be perceived by the reader – which does not, believe me, happen as often as one might like it to.

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So what we have in Typhon, is a book that successfully blends the disparate styles and talents of all the contributors in a way that is never less than entertaining, and is at times exhilarating.  We move from Hellman’s own steady, Line Clear, drawings, in the opening story, The Terror in Peep Booth Five, all the way through to the hacked and scratched Mummies Curse, by Jeff Roysdon (coloured by Hellman and Paul Hernandez) passing on the way the amazingly intricate, and hugely enjoyable, Strings by Pshaw, the startlingly modern colour work of Motohiko Tokuta’s Signal, and Bald Eagle’s utterly astonishing visceral biro-pen work on Nocturnal Omissions.

As you might expect with an anthology this thick, I have my favourites.  I have been a fan of Hellman’s work for a few years now and loved what he did with Aquaman in DC Comics Bizarro 1.  I like looking at the way he creates depth in his uniform-lined drawings by a clever use of perspective, rather than by using line thickness.  It is a way of drawing that can look deceptively easy and is difficult to master.

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That’s what I like about anthologies, you can have favourites.  You can enjoy one or two or three or ten stories, and working your way through to your favourites will almost inevitably lead you to spot something new, perhaps by someone you had never previously heard of, that you can add to your reading list.  One way or another, over a period, your list of ‘favourites’ will grow to include everything in the collection and there is an impressive cast of contributors in Typhon to pick and choose from:  Ken Avidor, Derek Ballard, Gregory Benton, Rupert Bottenberg, DJ Bryant, Mark Campos, David Chelsea, Chris Cilla, Max Clotfelter, Patrick Dean, Bald Eagles, Chance Fiveash, Richard Gagnon, Nicholas Gazin, Robert Goodin, Glenn Head, Danny Hellman, Hugo, Hawk Krall, Tim Lane, Jeff LeBlanc, Pat Moriarty, Cliff Mott, David Paleo, Lorenz Peter, Grant Reynolds, Hans Rickheit, Pshaw, R. Sikoryak, Doug Skinner, Fiona Smyth, Steak Mtn., Takeshi Tadatsu, Tobias Tak, Eric Theriault, Matthew Thurber, Motohiko Tokuta, Rich Tommaso, Rick Trembles, Henriette Valium, Dalton Webb, & Chris Wright.

Tobias Tak is a favourite of mine.  His work reminds me of the old German TV show, ‘Tales from Europe’, and of Rupert the Bear, and of the work of the Brothers Grimm, but funnier and darker, and a lot more fun.  It is at once traditional looking and strange and new.

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Another favourite of mine is Hans Rickheit, of Chrome Fetus fame.  But in order to get to his second story in this meaty volume, I had to plough through the work of some cartoonists and writers who were new to me, one of the delights of anthologies I mentioned earlier, and they have now also been added to my list of favourites.  So in addition to being introduced to, and enjoying the work of Derek Ballard, Fiona Smith, Pshaw, Lorenz Peter, Chance Fiveash, Motohiko Takuta, Henrietta Valium, I will now look up other work by theses artists.

I don’t know what it is about Fiona Smith’s work I enjoy so much.  It is, I suspect, elemental, something to do with the colours and the symbolism.  I didn’t even read the story, treating the black word balloons as part of the art.

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This is what a good anthology does; it introduces you to new and varied work.  That is why I have described this anthology as ‘generous’, I can tell by the constant delights and surprises on almost every page, that every contributor deserves to be here – or at least that’s the impression I get.  I don’t feel I have been short-changed because the editor or the editor’s agent has angled to get someone into the collection.

The work of Pshaw made a particular impression on me.  When I first picked up the book, I read Strings twice.  The first time was a sort of scan where I just delighted in looking at the drawings, the second was a more measured and studious look, where I followed the intricate patterns of the work, studying the way the artist changed styles on every page of this eight page contribution.  And then I set about reading the words and enjoying the drawings at the same time.  Not consciously, you understand, it just worked out that way.  I’ve read those same eight pages several times since.

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I’ll be honest with you, I like the idea of anthologies, in principle, but I often find them disappointing because I almost always find more stories in them that I dislike, than I like.  Recently, I’m come to the conclusion that this is often because of the influence of agents and commissioning editors ‘placing’ clients and/or friends who do not merit inclusion in the work.  I’ve also been annoyed with so-called anthologies that appear to be nothing more than a collection of ‘part-works’ designed solely to promote other work by the contributors.  It doesn’t work.  It doesn’t work because the anthologies themselves don’t work.  Anthologies like Typhon on the other hand, created as a real project, with a real philosophy and aesthetic, and with the reader in mind, do work that way, but it’s a by-product.  The primary aim of an anthology like Typhon is to entertain the reader, and it certainly succeeds in that respect.

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Lorenz Peter’s hopelessly inadequate vampire, Gregory Spalding, is hugely enjoyable.  It isn’t very sophisticated and it’s episodic, and it’s silly, but it’s funny, and the vampire squirrels are a great touch.

But now I feel I’m short-changing you, I want to show you drawings from Chance Fiveashes’s charming Robot, from Gregory Benton’s deeply red and bloody and funny Deep as the Ocean Goes, from Into Pieces by Grant Reynolds from Satan’s Slaves by Rich Tommaso.  I want to show you drawings from Hans Rikheit’s Cochlea & Eustachia and I want you to see the marvellous drawings of Henrietta Valium’s The Mask.  But I just can’t show you all of these drawings, there simply isn’t enough space.

What I hope is coming across loud and clear here, is that this very thick, very big, very colourful anthology has something for everyone, and then some.  It has, thankfully, more very good stories than disappointing ones and it has more than its fair share of absolute gems which could be down to chance or down to there being a good crop of cartoonists around, or it could be down to the good eye of the editor – which is my choice of the possibilities.  This anthology has come as both a surprise and a delight to me, and I’ll be reading it for some time, beginning with my ever-growing list of favourites and then spreading to every story from cover to cover.  I’ll also be puzzling over exactly how Motohiko Tokuta achieves the colour effects in Signal – I may be gone for some time.

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All Typhon artwork is copyright, ©, 2008, Dirty Danny Press. You can find further details about Typhon on Danny’s blog here, and you can find out about signed, limited edition silkscreen prints by Danny Hellman here (I love his crucifixion scene of a certain troubled pop star myself – Joe).

Rod has a regularly updated blog which you can check out, and for more information and a glimpse at some of his many works visit Rodtoons and enjoy browsing the gallery.

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About The Author

Joe Gordon

Joe Gordon is ForbiddenPlanet.co.uk’s chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.

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