Rivaling even the masterful European cartoonist Jason, Nicolas Mahler makes some of the most patiently deadpan comics around. A lot of cartoonists make use of padded out comic timing but Mahler takes it into a meditative state with a resolute willingness (or perhaps wilfullness) to draw and redraw a scene ad infinitum. He has, for example, hundreds of three-panel comics focused flatly on a man in a recliner wrapped in an electric blanket and his conversations with an alcoholic mother, wherein the only things that ever seem to change are whether the television set is on or the mother is conscious. And where most any other cartoonist would come off as self-indulgent or tedious Mahler pulls off an advent calendar of mundane windows on the world that pay off every time.
Mahler is Austrian and very little of his work has been available in the States. Top Shelf smartly published "Van Helsing's Day Off" (one of my favorite comics), and one other book, "Lone Racer". Otherwise it's been a matter of mail ordering his books, very few of which are even in English, which is the only language I can read. Still, I've collected all those French and German comics just to admire them. While I've heard complaints about his scratchy, abstracted forms, I love the unique, personal quality of the work that demands the viewer pay attention but not over-analyze.
I am also a big fan of "silent" comics that work and Mahler (who calls them "mute comics") is one of the best artists around with silence. "Van Helsing" is a prime example. So is a gorgeous upcoming book that I've seen a little of-- seven stories of the sea, which may be the title (I forget). Hilarious in the way of other minimalist European cartoonists like Jason or Tom Gauld, the thrust of Mahler's work is the absurd and mundane humor in the everyday. I have no idea why those three cartoonists aren't more appreciated by American audiences. (Though Jason has built up a formidable following, I can't help but wonder why he's not on every comic fan's shelf.)
Recently Mahler launched a blog to promote his latest book from Reprodukt, a collection of illustrations of junk emails he's received (such as that up top of this post). Check it out, then go to the Mahler Museum site and poke about to discover all kinds of gems, most of which are even more valuable.
But if, like me, you're an English-language-only fan hoping for more Mahler stateside, the editors of MOME (Eric Reynolds and Gary Groth) have good news: the Fantagraphics anthology will be serializing comics from his Austrian "Madame Goldgruber" books. These stories are the bizarre auto-biographical strips about Mahler's experiences as a cartoonist justifying his work to the IRS-equivalent of Austria (I think), as well as vignettes of time spent at European comic conventions with other cartoonists (such as the also-great Killoffer). Translated by Kim Thompson, these will eventually be collected in book form by Fantagraphics.
Mahler is making comics with all the immediacy, humor, and existential fixation that I most love in the medium. Just the fact that his main character in the Flaschko strips is solely defined by an electric blanket is so succinct, smart, and absurd that I would hope everyone reading this post would buy his books on principle.
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