A scratchboard wizard and his chronicles of trial and (t)error

A scratchboard wizard and his chronicles of trial and (t)error

By ADITYA MANI JHA | | 6 June, 2015

Tales of Error (2003)

Writer/Artist: Thomas Ott

Fantagraphics

I have seen comics artists showing off their skills live: sketching on a napkin, painting on a wall or using graffiti techniques. But for my money, nothing feels as badass as watching a scratchboard expert at work. The way this works is simple: you use either India ink or layered, multi-coloured clay on a hard canvas, covering it completely with a thick, even coat of black. This is then worked upon with an assortment of sharp tools to reveal a luminous black-and-white texture, the amount of light in the scene being controlled by the depth of the stroke. It's an eye-catching visual style, and there are few in the world who use it as effectively as the Swiss artist and animator Thomas Ott. His third book was a collection of horror-and-gore shorts called Tales of Error.

All of the stories in Tales of Error are wordless, apart from the first one, called The Honeymoon. The action kicks into overdrive with the second tale, called The Hero. Like most of Ott's stories, the plot is borrowed from the "shock" action comics popular in America. The visual style, however, owes its lighting to German expressionist cinema, like M and Metropolis. As one can see through the panels accompanying this article, Ott is concerned with the kind of psychological "scars" that David Lynch, for one, is obsessed with. In The Hero, the protagonist wants to be a good samaritan, a vigilante who defends women and children against muggers and crooks; creatures of the night preying on the weak. 

As one can see through the panels accompanying this article, the Swiss artist Thomas Ott is concerned with the kind of psychological “scars” that David Lynch, for one, is obsessed with.

In an epiphanic moment, he sees a poster advertising a gym. You know the type: exaggerated, blown-up muscles à la Stallone or Schwarzenegger. The next night, he lunges at a bad guy and manages to surprise him, too. Unfortunately, the goon recovers from the blow to whip out a gun, and that's that. This might seem simplistic, but Ott's art elevates the material into Gothic horror territory. Image 2nd

There are many different kinds of "errors" that Ott explores in this collection, none creepier than the one made by the protagonist of Clean-Up!. This story begins with a panel showing him strangulating a man rather clinically. After the deed is done, he realises that he has forgotten to wear gloves, so he starts cleaning the body, the door-knob and all other objects in the house that he touched. Pretty soon, he realises that guilt begets a very precise brand of paranoia; he is utterly unable to stop cleaning up. That is how the police find him: upstairs in the attic, cleaning silverware.

Tales of Error bears the legend "Not for Intellectuals" on its front cover, but it's safe to say that Ott has sold himself short.

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