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Artist's vision lives

Dame Darcy turns a new page with her stylized graphic novel, 'Frightful Fairytales.'

November 21, 2002|Jessica Hundley | Special to The Times

Dame Darcy looks remarkably like one of her comic book heroines: pixie-eared and lithe, with pale gold locks and the kind of alabaster skin found on High Victorian ladies and little-girl ghosts. Making tea in her Echo Park home, dressed in pink flounces and ruffled skirts, she moves through the roar of the modern day like an enchanted Alice just returned from Wonderland.

Drawing since the age of 2, the artist, musician and animator grew up in rural Idaho, in a creative household that encouraged playing fanciful flights of the imagination. With her newest release, "Frightful Fairytales" (Ten Speed Press), Darcy has chosen to abandon traditional sequential structure in favor of the stylized graphic novel, thus extending her unique aesthetic outside the limitations of the comic book frame. The result is a sometimes gruesome, sometimes winsome collection of short stories, embellished with Darcy's elegantly spidery illustrations.

"My father was an artist and he taught me early on about line and color and perspective," says Darcy, 31. "I feel in some ways that my life was sort of predestined for me. Which is a good thing. A lot of people don't know what they want to do because they're good at many things. I, however, am incredibly bad at pretty much anything except for the arts."

Darcy studied film at the San Francisco Art Institute and at 18 began to self-publish comic books. "I'm really an advocate for self-publishing," she says. "You have a vision ... and you work as best you can to make that idea into a reality."

This theory has worked well for Darcy, whose hand-copied zines eventually gained a cult following and a contract with Fantagraphics, which publishes her popular comic book "Meatcake."

With "Meatcake" and her subsequent animations and illustrations, Darcy has created a childlike, otherworldly realm, a land that hovers in the twilight space between the whimsical and the macabre. Ghosts and goblins, foul-tempered stepmothers, lovesick mermaids and charmed forests are all rendered in Darcy's distinctive hand, loose and flowing lines reminiscent of the work of Edward Gorey. "I love Surrealism and Dadaism and German Expressionism and the Pre-Raphaelite painters," says Darcy. "I love turn-of-the-century illustrators like John Tenniel, and W.W. Denslow, who did the 'Wizard of Oz.' Those are the styles I was obsessed with as a child, and I've brought all those obsessions into my work."

"Frightful Fairytales" contains all the prerequisites set by the Brothers Grimm: bewitched ships, magic jewels, mischievous elves and wicked queens. Like the Grimms', Darcy's characters are placed into the gilded cage of flowery narratives and left to suffer unprecedented misfortunes (usually of the violent kind). Darcy, "makes mad and beautiful work," says Alan Moore, comic book artist and author of "The Watchmen" and "V for Vendetta."

Yet, there is redemption here as well -- the handsome prince ready with the restorative kiss, the fairy godmother waiting with wand poised. Happy endings do come, but not without some sacrifice.

"I like the idea of the romantic tragedy, of everything being pretty and perfect -- but then, if you look closer, there's some hidden sadness beneath," says Darcy of her stories. "I'm sort of a pathetic sap that way. I wanted the book to be like that, to have that kind of bittersweet nostalgia."

*

Dame Darcy

"Frightful Fairytales"

(Ten Speed Press)

Book reading: Dark Delicacies, 4213 W. Burbank Blvd., Burbank

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Info: About Dame Darcy, www.damedarcy.com; about "Frightful Fairytales," www.tenspeedpress.com

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