Graphic Novel Books

Shades of the macabre: Review of Vault Comics’ ‘The Picture of Everything Else’

A panel from the book   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

What is the purpose of art? Is it to satisfy the aesthetic lust of modern life or is it to shock people into imagining new possibilities, even terrifying ones? Or, as Oscar Wilde would have it, does art exist for its own sake? These questions hang heavy in the murky air and the bloody corridors of Belle Époque Paris in Vault Comics’ new book, The Picture of Everything Else, a work deeply inspired by Wilde’s 1890 Gothic classic, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

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Conceived by Dan Watters — the writer of the Coffin Bound series of Image Comics and Lucifer of DC’s Sandman Universe — and stunningly illustrated by Trivandrum-based artist Kishore Mohan, The Picture of Everything Else is set in the ecstatic, artsy years of the late 1890s. Aditya Bidikar’s lettering adds to the comic’s vintage aesthetics.

Painted faces

The story follows two Parisian art thieves, who might be more than just partners-in-crime, and a series of macabre killings that have shocked the city’s rich. It is suspected that the murders are the work of Basil Hallward, the painter of Dorian Gray’s infamous portrait, which kept him eternally young while itself ageing and decaying in response to Gray’s hedonistic life.

Shades of the macabre: Review of Vault Comics’ ‘The Picture of Everything Else’

The first issue begins at a private art expo in a Parisian mansion where Marcel and Alphonse, our uninvited art thieves, mingle with the elite crowd. The hot topic of discussion there is the impact that the new medium of photography will have on painting.

Watters weaves a tale of art and blood true to the age it’s set in. The cultural explosion happening in turn-of-the-century Paris still shaken by the bloody excesses of the Paris Commune is felt in all aspects of life — it will give birth to lasting trends in art and literature like Emile Zola’s naturalism or Claude Monet’s impressionism.

The comic explores the two extremes of art — is it an object of harmless admiration exhibited on a gallery wall or a powerful instrument of radical, even violent, change?

Such a compelling theme deserves equally compelling art. Mohan’s atmospheric, often impressionistic, watercolour and acrylic panels offer just that. Everything from the gaudy mansions to the riverside walkways of Paris pulls you back in time, while the goriness of a person getting torn in half has never looked so stunning. This is art of which the likes of Hallward and Dorian Gray would be proud.

The Picture of Everything Else; Dan Watters & Kishore Mohan, Vault Comics, ₹313 (Kindle price)

The reviewer is a freelance journalist and copy editor.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 4:57:06 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/shades-of-the-macabre-review-of-vault-comics-the-picture-of-everything-else/article33520555.ece

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