Here’s the thing: for anyone coming into this book with no knowledge of Sergio Toppi, you’re not going to be much wiser by the end of it. The Enchanted World is the first of a planned seven volume set on The Collected Toppi and, beyond an “About the Author” section you’d find in any book, it doesn’t go much further to define the scope of Toppi’s work, his process, whether he went through different phases (did he go through a war period, for instance, to produce the green illustration that stands out because most of the art in this book is black and white), or did he always mix it up? At the beginning and end there are some standalone illustrations, but no mention of which stories they’re from. A few pop-up over the course of reading (the seal image is from “Pribiloff 1898”), and it’s fair to assume we’ll come across more in future volumes, but a reference or caption would’ve made it easy.
When you first see the cover (a frog and forest gnome from “Mushrooms“) it’s a great illustration, but one that could get the volume mistaken for an art book you’d find in a museum. Lion Forge has pulled out all the stops by making the book a 9 x 12’’ gallery edition hardcover, and it’s a major selling point, but it does foster the impression that you’re buying a book of Toppi’s prints, not sequential storytelling.
A Facebook post Lion Forge made of the witch from “Brocèlan Forest,” made me give the volume a second look. “Forest” is the first of eleven stories collected in Enchanted Forest and while there’s no definitive Toppi story (he’s done so many different things, which is why, while he passed away in 2012, it would’ve been great to see some quotes from him on inspirations because, while he was born and died in Milan, there are stories that take place in Ireland and stories that follow indigenous people), “Brocèlan Forest” is one that really lets you know what Toppi is capable of, and feel the awe of his art.
Featuring a family who look like they walked out of Mary Poppins, “Brocèlan Forest” is about the picnic they have and the witch they spot when the story takes a nasty turn, and then a shocking one (which is a good place to insert that, if they haven’t already, horror fans need to take notice of Toppi – the ending of “The Dollmaker” makes you gasp).
A lot can be said about Toppi’s art but his sense of proportion and use of white space, valuing certain elements over others by size, are really revolutionary. This is how you become wary of the power standings in “Black and Tans” before the characters do, or start to see the family in “Forest” as being at odds with the trees. Every surface has texture and it’s not effortless. You’re encouraged to note every line and Toppi’s speech bubbles are unusual, too. They’re circles but don’t always have tails, or are connected when they’re not the same voice. It’s like you’re listening in on a conversation but can’t always tell exactly who’s speaking but could make a pretty good guess.
Lest Toppi’s writing not get it’s due, it doesn’t get much better than his opening narration for “Krull”: “The village is dark and silent and the adults are fast asleep. The candles in the children’s room tremble with fear, for when the light goes out, Krull arrives…”
Without knowing what the other six volumes are going to be, it’s difficult to tell what the criteria was for the stories in this volume. Enchanted World isn’t a well-defined category and the stories aren’t in chronological order, so it’s unclear how they’re being organized. This is the first time they’ve been published in English, though, and while it would’ve been nice to see a few more bells and whistles, translating them is all Lion Forge had to do to make this an indispensable purchase.
The Collected Toppi Volume 1 goes on sale January 23rd from Lion Forge.