Friday, January 19, 2007

Thomas Ott: My current favorite horror illustrator?

As the name of the post reveals, I wanted to take a minute and write about Swiss cartoonist Thomas Ott (billed on his books as simply T. Ott). Ott's books have been released stateside by Fantagraphics, and he is one of the too-small handful of European comic artists with books released/translated in the U.S. (although :01 and others have been changing this lately, thankfully).

Do people dig his stuff? Are you over it already? Here come the cliches my geeky-alter ago uses to describe Ott's comics: Channeling the dead ghosts of silent cinema (ooh!). Macabre morality plays with contemporary settings and repercussions (oooh!). Short yarns reminiscint of The Twilight Zone blended with the hard knocks zingers of EC's horror comics (ooooh!). BANG BANG BANG-- that shit is all true!

Some of the books that should be on your shelves:

I kept running into his stuff in really odd places in 2006, and I wish I knew more about him and his earlier work (ahem, European readers of this blog--a little help?). From what I gathered, he lives in France, and used to front a band called The Playboys. His work is getting more widely distributed, it seems, and I came across this awesome shirt from a Spencer Gifts-meets-Hot Topic style shop in Berlin, below a records store where I got early Malaria! and DAF records:

Don't pretend that you don't want this t-shirt

It was 25 Euro, but STILL--- why didn't I buy it?

In addition to this, some genius at Penguin tapped Ott to do one of the covers for their Graphic Classics editions-- a series of luxury reprints coupled with covers by indie cartoonists. Radical ones include Akutagawa's Rashomon and other stories, translated by Japanese PopLit all-star Jay Rubin and illustrated by my main man, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, and Charles Burns' nasty meat slab cover for The Jungle, and Kerouac's Dharma Bums with a cover by Jason.

But the best, most-inspired edition is T. Ott illustrating the cover of Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, with an introduction by the SF-turned-literary, Philip K. Dick-evangelizing author, Mr. Jonathan Lethem. Could you ask for a better team? Shirley Jackson is one of my favorite authors (she wrote a score of creepy stories, including The Lottery, along with claustrophic novels like The Haunting of Hill House) and this is one of her best (and surprisingly hard to track down) books. When I saw the mock-up for this cover back in June 2006, at Penguin's BookExpo America booth, my response was "NO FUCKING WAY!" Check it out:

And that is my squeeling lovefest. Long live the Swiss! Any Europeans have more info on him they want to send our way?


Lisa said...

Funny, I run into his stuff in weird places too. I found a bunch of those books in the Kyoto Manga Museum last weekend, just sitting on a shelf that said "please read".

Great blog, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Oh man, this guy rules. PLEASE do another post or update when you find out more about him :)

Chris Mautner said...

If you can find it, you should track down T.O.T.T., which is a hardbound collection of his illustrations and assorted emphemera.

Ryan said...

FOLORE: Thanks for the comment :) I've only been to Europe once, but it does seem that what is popular there (and what European stuff that is popular in Japan) is different than what is working in the US. Basically, the cooler stuff is out in Japan than here, and vice versa .

Awesome blog, by the way-- I see you're studying at Ritsumeikan right now. I studied in Kyoto for 3 months, and lived in Osaka for 3 months after that, so i definitely share your love for the Kansai area :)

BRENDAN: Seriously rulez-- T.Ott is really spectacular. I have a feeling that he'll go the way of illustration work for other things (like weekly magazines, new yorker one day?, etc in the next year or so in the US). I'm hoping european readers like my friend Ben will post more info on him here soon.

Chris: Oh, yes! I saw the T.O.T.T. book at Reproduckt's booth in Frankfurt, but it was wrapped in plastic and very expensive-looking. Is it like the Maruograph of T.Ott-dom? My birthday is coming up in 4 months, *ahem ahem*. Thanks for the comment!


Anonymous said...

yo ryan and evan, I just started reading Korean news in English and I came across this article in the Chosun Ilbo and thought you might enjoy it:

Twisted Fairy Tales Titillate Teens

The Chosun Ilbo is a renowned conservative paper, but according to my mom, editorials from all Korean papers are like this

Angelo said...

I hate T. Ott and his illustration/comics.
I did'nt knew him until one month ago, but it's almost two years that everybody, looking at my drawings, says: Oh, great! you're a big Ott's fan, aren't you?

I hate him

Ryan S said...

@Angelo: Um... okay. I would say that T. Ott's not even close to beginning the first scratch board illustrator working in that style (which has been used in Children's books and spot illustrations for many, many years), but he is a pretty excellent practitioner of the style and medium.

I can imagine that'd be annoying to be compared to him a lot, but as a contemporary artist you want to be in touch with folks doing interesting stuff in your medium of choice, no?