cover image The Squirrel Machine

The Squirrel Machine

, . . Fantagraphics, $18.99 (179pp) ISBN 978-1-60699-301-9

This darkly disturbing, brilliantly drawn story is the first major publication from cartoonist Rickheit, whose earlier works garnered him a Xeric award and a cult following. Brothers William and Edward are odd-ball inventors who raise the ire of New England townspeople when they make elaborate and stomach-turning musical instruments using animal carcasses. B&w pen and ink drawings elucidate complex machines and Victorian-era architecture in baroque detail, while surrealist imaginings take turns for the truly repugnant. Sexual perversion, putrefaction and serial-killer style artworks are all ornately portrayed, as are the buildings, shops, horse-drawn carriages and crumbling mansions of a 19th-century small town. The story, while told primarily in pictures, includes a stilted and formal dialogue that only adds to the perversity. A character called the Pig Lady, who lives, sleeps and does other horrific things with pigs, speaks in a Latinate crypto-language that is eventually adopted by one of the brothers, whose fate is bound up with her odd eating habits. Though not for the faint of heart, this obscure tale will offer rich rewards to the right kind of reader, one who appreciates grotesque horror, angry mobs and the creative explosion of a repressed Victorian sexuality. (Oct.)