cover image The Chuckling Whatsit

The Chuckling Whatsit

Richard Sala, . . Fantagraphics, $16.95 (200pp) ISBN 978-1-56097-281-5

Pulp fiction lives (or at least lurches about entertainingly) in this lurid melodrama that features a swarm of characters in manic pursuit of the eponymous Whatsit, a leather doll that laughs when shaken and may be made from flayed human skin. Unlike The Maltese Falcon , there's no smart, unsentimental Sam Spade on hand to sort things out. Instead, intrepid but rather dense reporter Broom wanders through a tangled plot, bumping repeatedly into assassins, femme fatales, dangerous servants, obsessed doll collectors and a lunatic, leather-masked serial killer. Even though almost everyone dies along the way, the mystery persists through the final bloodbath. The considerable fun is in watching the action slosh further and further over the top. Sala's black and white art is appropriately grotesque, looking like a comics version of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari : buildings tilt ominously around misshapen characters whose noses point in multiple directions and whose feet only sometimes touch the ground. The wildly imaginative storytelling and sly pastiche of lurid pulp material make an appealing mix. (Nov.)