Lucifer's Garden of Verses v3: The Student (Or Nude Descending a Staircase... Head First)

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks
The Plot:
Lance Tooks's new book depicts the story of a man who sells his soul to the devil in order to become a success in the New York art world.

The FAQs:

Nude Descending a Staircase? Are there naked chicks and stuff?
Nude Descending a Staircase is one of the classic pieces of modern art. Painted by Marcel Duchamp in 1912, it’s hailed as one of the greatest and most innovative pieces of art of the 20th century. Duchamp’s painting is one of the first pieces of artwork to convey motion in its subject, with its multiple abstract images. More interestingly in our context, it’s a much more complex and abstract way to address an important aspect of comics art: the movement of characters across a page. So the subtitle is kind of a double play on words.

And no, there’s no nudity in this book. If you want a wild sexual romp, go pick up a book from NBM’s Eurotica line and not its ComicsLit line. I recommend Milo Manara if you want some sex.

Why would I want to read a satire of the art world?
That’s part of the fun of this book to me. I don’t know anything about the New York City art world, so it’s fun to read about the venality and self-centered nature of artists. Frankly, as a sports fan, it’s nice to see that egotism isn’t exclusive to the world of jocks.

Yeah, but selling your soul to the devil? Isn’t that kind of a cliché?
It’s not a cliché, it’s an archetype. There’s a difference there. Sort of like the difference between a quote of Romeo & Juliet and a Harlequin romance. For hundreds of years, writers have told the story of a good man tempted by his greed and ambition to sell his soul to the devil. It’s a theme throughout Western literature to use the Faustian archetype as a way to satirize venal human drives and emotions.

I like in this book how the devil takes the form of art critic Acquanetta Scapinelli, a person who has unparalleled power to make or break the career of a young artist. She’s nasty and self-centered, too, and uses her power to wrap Andrée Baldwin around her nasty fingers.

It takes on racism, too? Isn’t that a bit politically correct?
Ah, you must have seen the back cover, where Andrée is shown in a parody of offensive minstrel art from the first part of the 20th century. Actually, the parts of the book that dealt with racism were probably the parts of the book that I enjoyed the most. It was a treat to read a comic where the subject of racism was dealt with head-on. Andrée has a white girlfriend, uses or discards the blunt hammer of racism as he sees fit, and generally embraces racism as much as he discards it.

In a neat twist, Acquanetta creates a doppelganger for Andrée, who embodies many of the most nasty and pernicious stereotypes about black men. I thought it was very interesting of artist Tooks to use the dual nature of Andrée to show the kind of split ways that America treats black men in the beginning of the 21st century.

What about that artwork? It doesn’t exactly look like it’s drawn by John Cassaday.
No, Lance Tooks definitely has a non-mainstream art style. I found it quite off-putting at first, since it appears rather flat and one-dimensional compared to what I’m used to from the big two publishers. But the more I read it, the more provocative and interesting I found the art. It serves the story directly, by presenting the story in a somewhat more abstract manner than usual: my being somewhat non-representational, the art is effective in conveying the themes and undercurrents of the story.

The bottom line:
I found The Student to be a provocative and interesting book, which took on some unique themes for an American comic. The art is unusual, and many users may find that to be off-putting. But I think the interesting story drives the artwork, and this book achieves a unique quality that I found enervating.

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