by RM Rhodes
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Heavy Metal ran six stories by Thierry Smolderen and Enrico Marini. The first of these, titled The Gypsy Star, was an immediate hit and was followed by the rest of the series over almost the course of a decade.
The art was the obvious draw of the story. Realistic, with an obvious manga influence, Marini could provide a cartoon flip to his line when it was necessary. The color scheme usually balanced a very orange red and a cool blue. The sequential storytelling was often clever and made for a compulsively readable feature.
The main character is called The Gypsy in the first series and Tsaigoi thereafter. He drives his eighteen wheel truck across a futuristic highway that spans the world. Sometimes he’s with his sister, sometimes he’s with other family members, and sometimes he’s alone. It’s a Mad Max setup with an unfortunate ethnic label and none of the pesky fuel shortage limitations.
Tsaigoi is an enthusiastic participant in capitalism. All of the stories are about him driving his truck through a problem area and getting caught up in local events, to his dismay. In every case, the stakes of the story are commercial in nature. And when it is called for, Tsaigoi will strap on his guns and take the fight to the people standing in the way of him getting his product to his customers.
Easily the best of these stories is a yarn about a caper in Germany during the final World Cup game between Germany and France. Germany loses badly due to a penalty shot 45 seconds into the game. Much comedy is made from this state of affairs and, in the end, Tsaigoi’s commercial instincts prove to be very very solid.
Tsaigoi is also a lover. I’m happy to report that every one of his sexual encounters (roughly one per story) is consensual. There is one problematic scene with a parapalegic woman, and one of the main characters is introduced by showing him running away from a giant man who wants to rape him. The way the character is drawn, he could be anywhere from a boy to his early teens. For the most part, though, it’s wholesome entertainment.
It is not difficult to find out what issues of Heavy Metal these originally appeared in, nor is it difficult to purchase them. The new Omnibus Edition of the six stories is, however, a much nicer product than the random handful of issues. It’s a hardback edition with a very nice slipcase. The extras are nice as well – a map of the world, showing the route of the highway, along with several pages of production art and sketches. It's the first thing I've seen from Insight Comics and its a handsome debut. The European edition must have recently been published.
The only real flaw in the production of the Omnibus is the title of the introduction. Dan Panosian remembers Gypsy from the pages of Heavy Metal and references a catchphrase saying that the main character utters when he is surprised or frustrated – “Dracu!” Except in the new translation for this edition, Dracu has been printed as Dracs.
Printed together like this, it is easy to see how well Marini’s art matured over the course of the series. The early stories have a sketchier aspect to the line weights, but the later stories are much more confident. The color got better as well – it’s almost as if the technology improved during the same period as the original publication.
Gypsy is a pretty solid action adventure comic. The creators did their best in the later stories to lean into the skid on the problematic name, but they were stuck with it. If you can get past that, you should be able to relax into the ultraviolence and over the top slapstick of it all. And if you can do that, there is a good chance you'll be very entertained indeed.
Why is this here? It's a long story. Mike Rhode first introduced himself to me when I first started vending at SPX. Over the years, we've talk to each other at Comic conventions around the DC area and never quite get around to sitting down for lunch.
When I moved to Arlington two years ago, I didn't realize that Mike lived within a mile of my building. Nor did I realize that he lived next door to my girlfriend's friend from college. We also discovered, by accident that we work two buildings away from each other, because we work in adjacent organizations. The world is a very small place, sometimes.
It really feels that way when I run into Mike at the local farmer's market. Naturally, that's when I pitch him article ideas. I'm reading the entire run of Heavy Metal in public (in blog format) because I happen to own the entire run of Heavy Metal. This means that I'm engaged in an ongoing study of the magazine. In addition, I have a diverse and idiosyncratic reading list that tends towards the weird corners of comics history. Sometimes one circumstance or another results in long articles that I don't really have anyplace to put. Mike has been gracious enough to let me publish them here.
In summary: this is an article about comics from someone in the DC area.