NeMLA 2018

In the 80s, while Frank Miller and Alan Moore were exploring the comics medium to convey a new sense of temporality, the Italian cartoonist Sergio Toppi was similarly experimenting new reading and compositional strategies in his works, and particularly in his graphic novel Sharaz-De (1984), inspired by the Arabian Nights. This paper investigates Toppi’s approach to exotic, fairy-tale quality, and spatial-temporal indefiniteness of the original text. Toppi’s pages show a complex layout which only occasionally corresponds to a regular composition, and most often breaks the panel grid and builds a visual narrative where the shape of the images indicates the direction of the sequence. Unlike traditional Western reading strategies, which proceed from left to right and top to bottom, Toppi’s compositions convey a sense of simultaneity and visual freedom. Only after having perceived the page as a whole, the reader can find a possible spatial-temporal direction. Toppi achieves this effect by breaking up every image and then reassembling it with an almost cubistic approach. Even the white areas of the page are turned into something tangible and subjected to fragmentation. To study Toppi’s rendering of continuity and simultaneity, this paper will focus on selected pages which highlight both the author’s narrative style and his managing of the comics page. The paper will discuss the techniques Toppi employs to represent a mythical, suspended, and ahistorical world of wonder and magic. Analyzing Toppi’s mastering of the comics medium will allow us to appreciate the author’s contributions to the development of original ways to create visual storytelling.

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