Pinocchio. But not the one you remember…. not that one at all…..
Oh, this is gorgeous. Even before cracking it open, Knockabout’s production of this massive full colour book hardback is first class, and everything about it, from it’s reassuringly expensive heft to the gorgeous Chris Ware-ish cover design through to the thick matt feel paper that imbues a satisfying tactile feel as you turn each page, all creates an impression of something important, something excellent.
This is no simple retelling of the classic story, not of the Disneyfied feel good tale we all probably know, nor of the darker original by Collodi. This is every bit the dark, twisted fairy tale, with a dash of underground sex and violence and a hint of the giggling imaturrity that goes along with making familiar childhood characters do the vilest of things.
The book opens with the line:
“the following story has been very freely adapted from the eponymous novel by Carlo Collodi”.
Very freely adapted indeed. It takes all the familiar elements of the tale and completely reinvents them; set in some hideous post-industrial, quasi-modern world of Victorian dark, satanic mills, where child labourers are ruled over by heavy set industrialists, and mechanisation runs out of control, we’re down amongst the underclass existing in fetid streets outside the factory, where life is cheap, food is scarce and human decency is almost completely lacking.
There are few, if any, cheery, happy characters in Winshluss’ Pinocchio. Very freely adapted doesn’t really begin to cover it.
(Definitely not the Pinocchio you think you know. From Pinocchio by Winshluss, published by Knockabout)
Winshluss is French comic artist Vincent Paronnaud, and it’s possible that he’s best known for cowriting and codirecting the animated version of Persepolis with Marjane Satrapi. Winshluss’ Pinocchio won the 2009 Angouleme Fauve d’Or prize for the best album – essentially their comic of the year. And upon reading it, that comes as no surprise, the whole thing is quite simply magnificent.
In Winshluss’ version Pinocchio is a creation of down at heel inventor Geppetto still, but Geppetto’s creation is less wooden boy, more perfect little mechanised killing machine and his only wish is to see his invention playing across the fields of war, hardly the loving father:
(As Geppetto pimps his robot boy to the military, Mrs Geppetto finds other uses for those adaptations. From Pinocchio by Winshluss, published by Knockabout)
Losing the extending nose, Winschluss replaces it with a flame-thrower, and that’s what sends this innocent robot boy out into the world, leaving the smoldering wreck of Geppetto’s house and the charred remains of his grotesque, lascivious wife behind. The manner of her passing is not the first depraved act you’ll see in the pages of Pinocchio – Winschluss never falters in his descent into all manner of depravity, and in walking the fine line between shock and titillation he manages (just) to stay the right side.
Geppetto clears up Pinocchio’s accidental homicide, and sets off in pursuit of his creation, whilst Pinocchio spends his time throughout the story wandering; a lost, innocent little boy still, but one whose mere presence causes destruction, brutal murder, rebellion and huge change for all involved. He is the catalyst for so much, even when, halfway through the book, he spends nearly fifty pages dangling from a giant metal candycane whilst the various characters play out their various and fascinating stories.
Jiminy is stil here, although his portrayal, in glorious scratchy ink, as a drunken, philandering, foul-mouthed cockroach who takes up residence in Pinocchio’s metal head, pretty obviously a nod to Winschluss himself, is a far cry from anything even resembling a conscience. Jiminy’s pages are the only words in the book, but Winshluss doesn’t need words, his storytelling is so good you don’t even notice they’re missing until you get to the scenes with Jiminy. And then the words are almost a shock to the senses.
And then there’s the supporting cast; a littany of vile characters, twisted familiars of those we recognise; Monstro is a mutated, radioactive fish, the fox and the cat become drug addled tramps, selling Pinocchio to the factory for the price of a hit. And Winschluss doesn’t limit himself to characters from just one twisted vision of a Disney infused story, he also brings in Snow White and a very depraved, leather clad set of dwarves who see a far more tawdry role for Snow White than just keeping house.
But even with a large cast, absolutely nothing, no minor plot element or character, is wasted. Take Wonder; one of the two tramps, blinded in childhood when a stranger stole away his eyes, played as comic relief for much of the book, a foil for his sighted, drug addicted companion. But his salvation comes from the liberated mechanical eyes of the factory, destroyed, inadvertently (of course) by Pinocchio early on. A sickening union of blind boy and machine leads Wonder to a moment of realisation – God has spoken:
But even here, Winschluss twists the knife. Wonder isn’t allowed peace, his actions become that of a fanatic, he condemns his former companion to the heretic’s death on a burning pyre and moves on, finding a compliant accomplice and ending in the surreal spectacle of Wonder setting a suicide bomber penguin (brought inadvertently by Geppetto from the belly of Monstro) on the path to martyrdom. Just one more connected and ever so strange moment in a book absolutely full of them, right to the very end.
Everyone, no matter how inconsequential they seem at first, has a role to play here. Winschluss keeps a tight rein on his story, a throwaway character may walk in and out of the scene early on, only to have some major role a hundred pages later. Everything and everyone is important, and Winschluss tells so many stories that it’s no surprise, come the conclusion of the book, that there are multiple endings, as the fates of the extensive cast are revealed. I wont be spoiling anything by telling you that few of them have the Disney style happy ending.
And speaking of endings, what of poor Pinocchio, the robot boy who walked through this book, unaware of the depravity and chaos going on around him. Well, he gets perhaps the most chilling of all endings; and I don’t feel I’m doing you wrong by sharing this, he finds his way to a proper family, where the mother, driven insane by a stillbirth, tucks the robot boy into bed, and turns out the light…. and all that’s left is the frankly chilling sight of the robot boy staring blankly, incomprenhendingly, directly out of the page, straight into our eyes. That will stay with you for a long time after you close this book:
(Goodnight and God bless indeed)
Winshluss’ artwork throughout is simply sumptuous, albeit in a very, very nasty style. Or rather, styles. Winshluss mixes it up a treat; from simple, scratchy black and white for Jiminy’s pages, through undergound European, Disney style, and much, much else…. there’s so much going on in Pinocchio, and one imagines Winshluss manically splashing ink about the page, feverish with invention, switching between a hatful of styles and working methods, pen and ink, paint, watercolour, but every single one of them, no matter whether the scratchy line or the lush watercolour has a malevolent, disturbing touch to them.
This really isn’t a wholesome tale at all. And it’s only the dark beauty of Winshluss’ artwork that really keeps it from the tawdry.
But as a book, Pinocchio is a truly great thing, from cover to cover, Winshluss’ control over the page is magnificent, his artwork gorgeous. I don’t think I’d like to live in Winshluss’ world and there will be some for whom his corruption of a childhood tale is a most unforgivable sin. But for my money, it’s a sin well worth experiencing.