In every Italian railway terminal there is at least one newsstand. Invariably, physician its stock breaks down like this: half of everything is daily papers—Communist-leaning, Northern Separatist-leaning, Social Democrat-leaning, ten flavors of Berlusconi-leaning, et al.; of what remains, one third is sports-related, a third is girlie magazines (wherein the pneumatic risk pneumonia), and a third is Dylan Dog. Old issues in piles—sold and re-sold, bindings mostly broken, costing a few Euros apiece for a hundred black and white pages. This long-running horror comic, which reportedly sells half a million copies per month in Italy, is like plaque accumulating in the arteries of their national transit system.
Every issue is commute-sized: fifteen local stops long at most. First you can’t put them down, and then you throw them away. They’re like episodes of Kolchak: The Night Stalker by way of Arthur Conan Doyle and Dario Argento. But with a light touch. Despite all of the Jungian unpleasantness, there are plenty of wisecracks and visual gags to go around.
In the almost three hundred issues published since Tiziano Sclavi created the character in 1986, a dozen writers and illustrators have tried their hands at the series. There have been fat years and lean years creatively, but throughout it’s been the confection of choice for a whole generation of Italians with a sweet-tooth for the macabre. No less of a gray eminence than Umberto Eco once declared, “I can read the Bible, Homer, or Dylan Dog for days without being bored.”
For those of you who don’t already know, Dylan Dog is an ex-cop turned paranormal investigator, or “nightmare detective”. He’s also a bit of a wreck. After his wife died, he quit Scotland Yard and settled into an uncomfortable bachelor lifestyle at 7 Craven Road, London.* He owns twelve identical suits of clothes: blue jeans, red shirt, and black jacket. He is a (mostly) recovered alcoholic. He’s terrified of enclosed spaces, of heights, of flying, even of bats, and is prone to violent motion-sickness that makes travel almost impossible. To relax, he plays the clarinet—the one song he knows on it, that is—or else builds a model Spanish galleon he always breaks before finishing and then, Penelope-like, begins again. Did I mention he lives with Groucho Marx? More precisely, with an obnoxious Groucho Marx impersonator whose own personality has been submerged for so long that his mask has become a face.**
And then there are the ladies. The appropriately-named Dog is a serial amoureux. Most of his clients are lovely young women running from, or hurtling toward, something terrible. Or both, which makes him a regular in grief counseling. For all his hang-ups, he’s charming enough, and looks like a young Rupert Everett.*** The distressed damsels get good work out of him too. He’s a keen investigator, and two-fisted in a pinch. Moreover, he has an incredible tolerance for the bizarre. No matter how weird things get, the guy won’t crack (any more than he already has). Imagine if Fox Mulder were a little more like Magnum P.I. and you’ve got the idea. All the girls dig Dylan Dog.
Well, that might be an overstatement. I don’t want you to think he’s some kind of swinging dick. Much of the character’s appeal is tied up in the fact that, in the end, he doesn’t get the girl, or paid, or anything else. When it comes down to it, he’s a loser—a cosmic loser, even—but one with an endearing worldview. Readers love Dylan Dog for his ability to shrug off his losses. He doesn’t try to overcome his misfortune, he embraces it. It’s a source of comfort to him, of irony. He’s been down so long, he not only expects to be miserable, he finds his own misery amusing. Needless to say, a Horatio Alger story this is not.
Next spring, Dark Horse Comics will publish a phone book-sized translation called Dead of Night: The Dylan Dog Case Files, which I hereby recommend to everyone, sight unseen. At 680 pages, my guess is that it will probably collect the seven issues Dark Horse released in small-book format between 1999 and 2002. The first six of these have covers by Mike Mignola (whose own Hellboy title is a good point of reference for American readers unfamiliar with Dylan Dog; another being John Constantine, Hellblazer).
But don’t take my word for it. If the idea of a neurotic gumshoe toot-tooting through the London fog in a VW Beetle with the vanity plate DYD666—looking for love, and hot on the heels of homicidal man-droids, werewolves, and hypnotist child-molesters—sounds like your cup of Oolong, then step into your friendly neighborhood comic shop. The English-language back issues can still be had, and on the cheap. Pick up a few. And should you happen to live in a city with public transportation, take my advice: save them for the train.
* I doubt I’m alone in wanting this address to be two blocks down and one street over from 221b Baker Street.
** In Europe, at least. Fearing litigation, Dark Horse Comics changed Groucho’s name to Felix and removed his identifying moustache for the American version of Dylan Dog. Given this sort of imbecility, it’s small wonder that a title which has sold more than 54 million copies worldwide never caught on here.
*** Just like him, in fact. At Tiziano Sclavi’s request, the illustrator Claudio Villa modeled Dylan Dog after Everett as he appeared in the 1984 film Another Country. Completing the circle, Everett later starred in an adaptation of another Sclavi work, Dellamorte Dellamore (aka Cemetery Man).