If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then Italian cartoonist Sergio Ponchione is the most flattering guy around, as his late-2018 Fantagraphics book Memorabilia — extrapolated from, and featuring the entire contents of, his 2014 stand-alone (or so we thought at the time) “floppy” DKW – Ditko Kirby Wood — is pure homage, not just to the aforementioned “holy trinity” of Steve, Jack, and Wally, but also to Will Eisner and Richard Corben, all of whom Ponchione is capable of mimicking to the proverbial “T.” Consequently, this not-quite-a-graphic-novel is certainly fun to look at, at times even breathtaking.
And that, as they say, is the good news.
As for the not-so-good-news — ah, shit, where to even begin? Ponchione’s set-up here is simple enough that it could work — starry-eyed young cartoonist visits his hero (Ponchione himself, in case you were wondering), hoping to glean pearls of wisdom and/or critique he can apply to his work, and receives the predictable response of “ya got potential, kid, but let me tell you about the real legends of this business,” at which point the narrative spins off into a theoretically spectacular series of vignettes that offers Cliffs Notes-style career retrospectives of each of the previously-referenced five comics luminaries, delivered in their signature styles, within the framework of the sort of stories they were best-known for crafting. What’s glaringly and frustratingly absent throughout, though, is any emotionally-resonant expression on the part of Ponchione as to why he loves these artists so much.
And love them he must, of course — you don’t spend this much time learning to ape the look and feel of their work if you don’t find it compelling and evocative in the extreme — but we never go beyond the nuts and bolts here. The technical proficiency, the sheer skill, the admirable work ethic each displayed over the years in honing their craft to perfection. These are all worthy of heaping praise on, sure, but each of these cartoonists also imbued their work with something more, that “something more” being a consistent philosophical ethos that expressed a specific and purposeful point of view that shaped, sure, but also transcended “mere” aesthetics and touched something deep within readers.
Any work predicated upon stylistic appropriation — no matter how convincing that appropriation may be — is bound to come up short in terms of conveying the inspiration behind that which it’s referencing, of course, and I don’t fault Ponchione in the least for his inability to channel the inner artistic “souls” of his heroes. What I do fault him for is his absolute inability to communicate any sense of what makes their work so special to him, personally, beyond “they were all really good artists.”
Which, of course, they were — or, in Coben’s case, still are. But their ability is only half of the story — and by zeroing in on it to the exclusion of most everything else, Ponchione delivers only half a book, which is pretty well inexcusable when your publisher is asking a staggering $16.99 for 52 pages. Hang onto your money and use it to buy some Kirby, Ditko, Wood, Eisner, or Corben back issues instead.
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