From the Continental Shelf: Dylan Dog

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).

22 Responses to “From the Continental Shelf: Dylan Dog”

  1. Dave L. Says:

    I love Mignola, but those covers look like hasty re-workings of Hellboy covers and/or panels, right down to the poses, and that makes me sad.

    And if I hadn’t already gotten most of what I need for my Halloween costume, I’d totally go as Dylan Dog. Perhaps next year.

  2. Wood Says:

    I got all excited about the big reprint until I realised that I had all the Dark Horse issues. Apart from a few weird things that revealed the creators hadn’t been to the UK – they never seemed to know what British trains were like, and London policemen in the comic had guns – they were pretty good, for all the reasons you mention.

    The one with the little boy with no legs who’d been kept in the cellar and used by his parents as a sort of organ bank for the older brother they actually liked was especially good.

    I had never realised that “Felix” was actually supposed to be Groucho. It’s a shame that they felt they had to change that.

    At about the same time as they published Dylan Dog, Dark Horse published a really excellent cyberpunk comic from the same Italian publisher, called Nathan Never. The hero in that one was less interesting, but the art and plots were excellent. I think IDW republished the Dampyr comic, too, for a while.

    I love European comics, me.

  3. velveteenbright Says:

    oh man, that looks so badass. I can’t believe I didn’t notice Dylan Dog when I was in Italy.

  4. Ashbet Says:

    *orders from Amazon*

    That’s a damn shame about the moustache, though. What a craven *ahem* decision.

    Are there English-language issues other than the Dark Horse release?

  5. Freddie Says:

    Best comic I have EVER read in my life. I miss Italy some times for this real reason.

  6. Ruairi Says:

    Love Dylan Dog; they say there’s a movie planned with Brandon Routh in the title role. Hmmm…

  7. Strangegoat Says:

    Ah, good ol’ Dylan Dog. I was a loyal reader growing up, along with Martin Mystere, Mister No, Zagor (he of the Turkish Live-Action Film) and Alan Ford (not to forget Tex Willer, Il Grande Blek, and Komandant Mark). I do miss Italian comics. Sure, with decades of issues, you get lots of crap along with the good stuff, but at least Italians always understood Genre Comics, something we’re still vainly hoping for over here. Of course there are a few titles here and there, but there is only the one Genre, that is best not named.

    Anyway, I’m also amused to see the top pictures are of the Croatian edition of Dylan Dog, which is what I read when I was a kid (well, I read the Serbian edition, as that’s what was around all over the late Yugoslavia when I was growing up).

    Great article!

  8. Jerem Morrow Says:

    GAH! I found Cemetery Man first (even have the tee shirt {don’t make me break out the camera!}), then learned of the Dellamorte Dellamore info…then, via Rue Morgue Magazine, gleaned the Dylan Dog connection. Such a great little web. Thanks for posting this here! It’s a perfect fit.

  9. wchambliss Says:

    Ashbet, I’m not aware of any English-language translations apart from the seven published by Dark Horse. Maybe I’ll do some of my own, release them as web-Samizdat, and take my chances.

    Ruairi, I’ve heard about the DD film. I’m nervous, frankly. Do you know if it’s in production yet, or has Routh merely been “attached to the project”?

    Strangegoat, my dear former roommate is also a Yugo Serb. She’s the one who really got me off the fence with respect to Dylan Dog. I went to high school in Naples, Italy, and read it occasionally, like everyone else, but never really cared about it the same way I did for, say, X-Men #173 until I read it again, many years later, through her eyes. Not coincidentally, her other two favorite comic books growing up were Martin Mystery and Alan Ford.

  10. Strangegoat Says:

    Actually, I’m a Croat, not a Serb, but yes, that’s the group of comics everyone who grew up in the former Yugoslavia will remember reading. Well, people who actually read comics. You had your Dylan Dog for horror fans, Martin Mystere for science fiction and ufo, ancient astronauts, Atlantis etc. fans, Mister No and Zagor for adventure (although Zagor was often occult as well), and Tex, Blek, Mark etc, for spaghetti westerns. Oh, and of course, very, very popular, Alan Ford for counterculture and sarcasm & taunting the establishment in general. It was really a great time for comics lovers in Europe. And it still is, really. All the comics above are still published regularly in multiple languages. Or almost all, at any rate, I’m not completely certain.

  11. wchambliss Says:

    Ah, Strangegoat, sorry for the confusion! Still, it’s interesting to find out that Dylan Dog was a pan-Yugoslavian phenomenon, and that its readership was not just concentrated in a few neighborhoods of Belgrade.

  12. Erica Stratton Says:

    I was in despair over not knowing any Italian while looking at the “short version” of this article on your website. Thank jeebus for translations!

  13. Shay Says:

    Always wanted to read Dylan Dog. I have a curious affinity for a very certain type of horror comics, (yes, LORD HORROR too) and I’d very much like to give DD a try. Just pre-ordered the Dark Horse omnibus.

  14. Strangegoat Says:

    Wchambliss, it definitely was a pan-Yugoslavian phenomenon. Although I’d say not as popular as for example Zagor, which was probably the most popular one.

  15. wchambliss Says:

    Strangegoat, have you seen the Turkish Zagor movie? Hopefully, this link will work:

  16. Johnny Says:

    I grow up with Dylan Dog lunch box, Dylan Dog folder for my notebooks… comics, sure!
    Not following it anymore… too old :)

    It surely has kvlt status here in Belgrade, Serbia :)

  17. Strangegoat Says:

    Wchambliss, I mentioned it it one of my posts above. But I’ve never seen the actual movies. I’m sure it would be an interesting experience.

  18. wchambliss Says:

    Johnny, a Dylan Dog lunchbox?!

    Were you also a fan of Martin Mystery, Alan Ford, and Zagor? And what’s “too old”, really? Umberto Eco still reads Dylan Dog. He’s almost 77. Be young at heart. Otherwise, there’s always Manara and Crepax.

  19. Jovana Says:

    Ahhh yes :D thanks for featuring this!!
    Big slimy kisses from Zrenjanin,Serbia!

  20. Rogan Says:

    And this is why my better half conastantly refers me to Coilhouse blogposts – thank you for this article, spread the awareness of this amazing comic, and kudos for pointing to the John Constantine, Hellblazer “connection”.

    Yanks, grab your publishers by their collars and demand more Dylan Dog comics! You’re only some 300 episodes behind the rest of the world.

    I fear that the Routh movie will be yet another Constantinization, what with it being relocated to US once more.

    Dylan Dog is still strong in Serbia, Croatia and other Ex-Yu countries, though the quality of the scripts is declining, with one notable exception – miss Paola Barbato…

    On the other hand, it’s had so many great artists that i am constantly amazed as to how it failed to grab the US audiences… Maybe if they tried some sort of manga-digest format comprised of 4-5 episodes…? Or publish them as tpbs, but recolor them and secure the rights for the Groucho mustache, since his very presence prepares the reader for the surreality that isn’t always meant to be explained, but is there simply to be enjoyed…

    Ah, so many random thoughts without a coherent narrative, but Dylan Dog always inspires me to ramble on and on.

  21. wchambliss Says:

    Rogan, I share your trepidation about the film adaptation. As for how best to market Dylan Dog to a US readership, I wonder if it isn’t already too late. I hope not, but I fear that the episodic paranormal detective ship has sailed here. Scully in a bikini, waving to the camera at the end of the latest X-Files movie, was like a middle finger jabbed right in the eye of those of us who once loved the show. It felt ominous.

  22. Emma Vieceli Says:

    YES YES YES. Thanks for the fabtastic news, Coilhouse ^_^