I’ve been on a big Decadence Comics kick lately. They are an art collective from London and Athens, respectively, spear-headed by two artists named Lando and Stathis Tsemberlidis. They each bring their own flavors to a extremely well conceived but disturbing gumbo.
They put out sci-fi collections of their own work and anthologies with other artists that focus on the more the expansive, brutal, and philosophical ideas that seem to be slightly out of vogue in current pop culture. These aren’t your typical star wars hero narratives. Triangle headed gods drown their families on floating space temples in order to transcend to the next dimension. Empty shopping malls house scattered survivors, searching for a drop of water. Space explorers land on a foreign planet and begin battling the reanimated skeletons of the last explorers. There’s a very realistic and menacing feeling of constant collapse and decay. Like you’re never truly safe, even though you’re the only person left in an empty broken city.
A common theme is a current of physical realism in the work of Lando especially. The timing of his comics are motion to motion, movement to movement, giving you the feeling of being ‘ground level’. The time is now and there is very little dialogue to shelter you from the visceral nature of his story-telling. Its a very cinematic feel, which is in direct opposition to the fussy, flat and purposefully unpleasant line-drawing technique he employs. the realism of the figures and their movement give the violence in his work a special feeling of dread and brutality. The baddies feel scary (though maybe they aren’t baddies? Typically, thats for us to decide) One particular thing I really appreciate in his work in the attention to detail. Upon finding a group of survivors in an abandoned building, we briefly see the tarp they set up and hunting supplies they created. It adds to a sense that Lando’s reporting what happened, rather than making it up.
I’m always pleased when I find artists collaborating like this. They both have found a common ground that is not identical but is equilaterally fruitful. Each reenforces the other. and adds a crucial element to the narrative whole, both visually and in terms of thematics.
I’m more into Lando’s work at present, so I hope you’ll forgive any imbalance in attention, dear reader. In short, Lando’s work feels more grounded and episodic. It’s quite linear and feels familiar. There’s a very well rendered physicality in the action and movement in his work that truly sets it apart from peers. I keep returning to it to see how he pulls it off and it almost feels like a magic trick. I think a lot of it is to do with his use of negative space as well, which is always a well considered element in the compositions.
Stathis tends to go into the lucid dream logic dimension, with similarly silent creatures enduring bizarre episodes that still somehow adhere to some kind of unconscious universal anti-logic (very much like David Lynch, in that respect).
There’s a kind of vicious black humor in the mix as well, which can be overshadowed by the larger (often disturbing) themes they work with, that I think helps the pill go down. The name Decadence itself has a snappy mocking tone. Reading stuff like this can sometimes be a exercise in self-flagellation, but their humor creates welcome breaks from the more difficult passages.
I’m not sure if the design work for their comics is more one than the other, or if it’s collaborative, but they do very cool and cheeky things emulating old sci-fi paperbacks, classroom text books, and role-playing manuals. It gives the whole line-up of work a distinct identity.
They are mysterious, super ambitious, and cinematic. They also seem hardcore about what they are doing, which I really respect and I’m frankly envious of. There is an impossible coolness about all their work.
Both artists contribute to a weird whole that feels genuine, thrilling, and bizarre. With so little dialogue, but so much obvious attention and meaning put into the work, you find yourself filling the blanks and adding yourself to the narrative. To me, thats expert level comic creation and a great example of what makes the medium singular. At first glance, the art can seem so flat and purposefully unpleasant, that its almost a dare to enjoy it. A deserved middle finger. It’s so precise and faint, that it can seem impersonal. But once you dig in, it's lively, vital, and hugely kinetic. And the larger themes that weave through their work, involving power, class, gods, space and all the big intangible and hard ideas you could want.
Highly recommended! (start with Gardens of Glass, in my opinion)