cover image Cinema Panopticum

Cinema Panopticum

Thomas Ott. Fantagraphics Books, $18.95 (104pp) ISBN 978-1-56097-649-3

Comics are popularly defined as a combination of words and pictures, but words are no more necessary to the comics than sound is to cinema. Swiss cartoonist Ott employs neither dialogue nor captions in his stories; words appear rarely, usually as chapter titles or signs in the background. Appropriately, Ott uses the early silent cinema as a motif. In the framing sequences, a morose little girl wanders through an old-fashioned amusement park and finds herself alone in the ""Cinema Panopticon,"" which holds coin-operated machines showing silent films. Each film recounts a macabre tale which overturns the laws of reality, leading to a twist ending reminiscent of The Twilight Zone. A man enters a hotel but cannot leave; a masked wrestler battles Death; a patient finds a grotesque cure for his failing vision; a homeless man discovers signs of approaching Apocalypse. In keeping with the silent movie motif, Ott uses black, white and grays, enveloping his realistically drawn characters and settings in an expressionistic mood. The characters initially display understated emotions, and their situations seem familiar. Ott's storytelling moves at a slow but steady pace, making his protagonists' extreme reactions more believable when they, and the readers, are caught in Ott's imaginatively conceived, masterfully executed traps.