I'm a huge fan of European comics, in addition to manga, traditional US books, or any variety. As with manga, European Graphic Albums differ quite a bit from domestic fair, mainly, the European works are oversized and fully painted, or lushly colored. Most volumes usually run around 48 pages or more, and are highly detailed when compared to US books, with the art usually being lavished over at great length, to high affect. European albums also feature genres outside super heroes, and are mostly aimed at mature audiences.
Today I'm going to talk about a fantastic creation called Genetic Grunge by Bayeto and Zalozabal, that I've had for some years (since 2002), as the first volume was published by Dark Horse via their Venture line of imported graphic albums from a few years back, but the second volume seemingly never materialized. Turns out volume 2 was published in late 2003, but came out directly from the original publisher, SAF (as far as I can tell), not Dark Horse's Venture line, and it flew under my radar (even though I'd signed up for it from my comic shop). Luckily I caught wind that Heavy Metal was publishing it in their magazine as well, and picked up their spring 2006 special, which contained the full second volume. At last I had the complete series!
Even though I'd had the first volume for the better part of four years, and hadn't fully read it, I'd started into it once or twice, and thumbed through it from time to time to admire the incredible artwork. Zalozabal has an amazing kinetic cartoony style that's equal parts Peter Cheung and Moebius (now there's a match made in heaven), with a dash of Ramos. Needless to say, I love his stuff. Sure he works in an extreme style, with long, thin, curvy, angular figure work that puts Aeon Flux to shame, a likely turn off to some, but he carries the sci-fi future story perfectly, immersing you into the world of Umma Kurtha, with rich detail and even richer color work. Pages take on the palate of a scene or location, and characters and objects all become drenched in rich hues and vibrant tones. It's stunning.
The story as well, is quite dense, and challenging, but with time and effort, quite rewarding. Genetic Grunge, as with most albums, rewards a reader for investing time in it, and going back to pages again and again to catch more information. I would recommend however, that you read the back cover description before starting in, as it summarizes things you may not be able to put together on your own without great difficulty. In fact, I'll go ahead and copy that here, to give you a good feel for the concept:
Umma is the owner of an artist's representation agency, specializing in the scouting and promoting of freaks in the world of entertainment. But her business takes a plunge when an interplanetary corporation launches its new product, a so-called "Make Your Pet" (MYP) kit, which enables any kid to create a biological phenomenon in his own garage. But the same kit can be used illicitly to alter human DNA, and when a reward is offered to anyone who can find the first human clone created with the MYP kit, and thus uncloak Siba's diabolical agenda, Umma joins in the crusade, seeing in it a way to destroy the competition and save her agency. A mindbending satirical cyberbunk maelstrom, Genetic Grunge features the dazzling talent of Zalozabal, a creator who, along with co-writer Roberto Bayeto, conjures a totally immersive, visually stunning environment.
So, if you're looking for a visually explosive, sexy sci-fi suspense epic, or haven't tried a European comic, what are you waiting for?!? Genetic Grunge is comics of the highest order. Seek out copies of the English language albums at Dark Horse, Amazon.com, or in the pages of Heavy Metal.
If, like me, you're taken with Zalozabal's artwork, he's also done an album on his own following Genetic Grunge, called Slum Nation, which is featured in the same issue of Heavy Metal as volume 2 of Grunge, and I'll be featuring that here down the line too.