Review by Frank Plowright
Lorenzo Mattotti has enjoyed a glittering career, littered with awards and exhibitions prompted by his audacious visual imagination. He’s created his own fantasies and adapted those of others, but Garlandia is unlike any previous work.
To begin with, instead of being densely painted, it’s constructed from simply drawn black line on white paper, and the understanding of Garlandia comes from the opening dedications to the worlds of Moebius, Moomins and Fred (whose work remains unavailable in English). The bearded Gars inhabit the serene and beautiful land of Garlandia, where everything is provided for them, and they’ve maintained the same traditions for centuries, although it’s not a place without dangers. Hippolytes is concerned that his wife has been missing for days. In searching for her he transgresses, and the result is devastation from a malign god.
Mattotti and Jerry Kramsky plot Garlandia together, and Kramsky provides the script, which is sparse and to the point, a narrative voice explaining what occurs to accompany Mattotti’s imaginative drawings. An early scene introduces dancing smoke creatures that turn into trees, that then deliver fish to pollinate flowers that transform into butterflies. Similarly mind-expanding sequences occur throughout. Part of the reason for this being by far Mattotti’s longest work at over 350 pages is his dwelling on atmospheric events and featuring chases extending over several pages at a time. Also responsible is the dreamlike nature, which allows for Hippolytes to be led from one strange environment to the next.
However, while the simple life evokes the Moomins as intended, the more disturbing elements of destruction and feral nature have more in common with the unsettling fantasy worlds of Jim Woodring. Because Hippolytes has a family endangered by upheaval there’s a focus for the reader’s sympathy, but however accomplished the art is, Garlandia just meanders for far too long with little purpose. All Mattotti’s projects are indulgent to a greater or lesser degree, but there’s not enough connection here. At a push Hippolytes’ journey to rectify his mistake could be likened to that of Odysseus, striving for a purpose, but obstacles constantly preventing it being achieved, with a dream sequence bringing the Lotus Eaters to mind. However, it can also read as if Mattotti has used Hippolytes to connect visual concepts that he’s not been able to adapt for other projects.
It’s unlikely anyone unfamiliar with Mattotti’s reputation will take a punt on a beautifully produced $40 book, but it’s debatable that they’ll discover the same beauty as anyone entranced by his work.