cover image Von Spatz

Von Spatz

Anna Haifisch. Drawn & Quarterly, $16.95 (68p) ISBN 978-1-77046-312-7

A group therapy session at Von Spatz Rehab Center for artists provides the opening scene of this offbeat, loosely plotted graphic novel. The patients, who include Tomi Ungerer, Saul Steinberg, and Walt Disney, all figured with the heads of different animals, are questioned by bird-headed therapists, as Walt recalls his mental breakdown caused by overwork (“Is destruction an emotion?”). Pages follow with dead-pan visual jokes of the artists going through the center’s daily routine, including a four-panel visualization of each of their minds on Prozac. Von Spatz patients have access to surreal grounds including an art supply store, a hot dog stand, a pool full of penguins they are encouraged to care for, and personal studios. Near the end of Walt’s stay, the group members put on an exhibition of their work attended by donors to the center. When Saul accidentally shatters a sculpture and Tomi hits on the guests, head psychiatrist Margarete von Spatz begins to despair. Are her treatments aiding any of these tortured souls? Drawn with a rough, unvaried line and painted in blocks of digital color, the pages have a deceptively simple look. Dreams and hallucinations bleed into the depictions of recovery. With jokes aimed at art-comics insiders, this tongue-in-cheek experimental mishmash asks: are visionaries crazy because they make art, or do they make art to keep the craziness at bay? (Mar.)