Peculia and the Groon Groove Vampires

By Richard Sala
80 pages, black and white
Published by Fantagraphics Books

Ever since I first encountered Richard Sala’s work in his animated short “Invisible Hands” (for MTV’s Liquid Television) I’ve been a fan. Reading his new graphic novel Peculia and the Groon Groove Vampires, I’m reminded once more why I think Sala’s work is so great; it’s not quite like anything else out there, but in the best possible way.

A new family’s moved into town, and they need a lot of baby-sitters to help them out. When the local baby-sitter’s club comes up short-handed, they draft the first passerby they see into service to give them a hand. Unfortunately for the baby-sitters, the new family is in fact a group of vampires. Unfortunately for the vampires, the extra baby-sitter is Peculia.

What I’ve liked in the past about Sala’s Peculia stories (which originally ran as a back-up in the comic Evil Eye and have since been collected into a graphic novel as well) is how Peculia seems to almost innocently wander into bad, mystical situations, but her escapes are always very deliberate. Peculia’s escape from Grandmama in Peculia and the Groon Groove Vampires is especially fun because you can see Sala having fun with the chase around the room, using every single piece of furniture to try and delay the inevitable. That in many ways sums up Peculia and the Groon Groove Vampires, with a combination of whimsy and seriousness. The titular vampires are dangerous and are killing people left and right, but the way that Sala writes the graphic novel is with a strange combination of both menace and humor. It’s hard to not laugh at the horrible fates that befall the vampires’s prey, but at the same time Sala still knows how to make things get tense and dramatic when the time is right.

Sala’s art, as always, is outstanding. The art in Peculia and the Groon Groove Vampires reminds me almost of woodcut illustrations, with long flowing ink lines for character hair and simple-yet-expressive facial features. Don’t mistake that for Sala’s art being stiff or old-fashioned, though. There’s a real fluid sense to the storytelling here; from Peculia batting a baby vampire across the room (no pun intended) to leaping onto a chandelier, Sala’s able to draw wonderfully energetic art. Perhaps most important to me, though, is the joy of Sala’s character designs. From Peculia’s pert face to George’s mop of hair, thick glasses, and little hearts that appear over his head, all of the characters look distinct and great-looking. Even minor characters like the baby-sitters club members each have their own look and style, and it really helps make the book stand out visually.

Sala’s comics are one of the few out there that can successfully merge being both creepy and funny into a single unit; it’s hard to say which aspect of the book is more important. The combination of the two, though, makes Sala’s comics a must-read. If Sala’s switching over to graphic novels from now on, I don’t mind that one bit. Big chunks of Sala material all in one sitting has got to be a winning situation for everyone involved, I think.

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