Mesmo Delivery by Rafael Grampá

Posted by on February 23rd, 2010 at 10:00 AM

Dark Horse; 80 pp. $9.99; Color, Softcover;  ISBN: 978-1-59582-465-3

Sergio Leone never directed an episode of The Twilight Zone, which is probably just as well — his grand, violent set-pieces would be entirely at odds with the quintessentially suburban horror of Rod Serling.  The two genres were too divisive to ever be compatible. Yet, to an outsider like Brazilian cartoonist Rafael Grampá, these are probably two of the key American works of cult storytelling — simply opposite sides of the same coin — and so it is with Mesmo Delivery that we find him flipping that coin like a deranged chancer.

Truckers, rock ‘n’ roll, superheroes and the parched desert landscape provide the stereotypical American (with an even more capital “A”) backdrop here and, while it seems like an unforgivable sin of genre writing, it actually works perfectly here.  Grampá isn’t interested in capturing nuanced minutiae of life, he wants to celebrate the low-brow, export-ready culture with the wide-eyed wonder of a foreigner seeing his first Hollywood movie. So, the plot is set-up simply as a coathook for the gaudiest drapery U.S. culture has to offer.

Mesmo Delivery by Rafael Grampá

No stranger to gaudy drapery himself, Elvis sets the tone at the book’s opening, introducing us to Grampá’s visual flair for embellishing every possible aspect of the story.  As a lone 18-wheeler trundles across a highway, “Hound Dog” blares from its radio.  Rather than typical sound-effects emanating from a stereo, the music dominates the entire composition — the lyrics bellowing in bold, elaborate lettering, like explosions, and the movement of music represented by weaving Rococo tendrils. It transforms the most mundane and hackneyed of openings into something magical.

The art itself is downright gorgeous, even though it depicts some decidedly ugly acts of violence.  It shares many traits with Frank Quitely’s art with uniformly delicate inking, the moiré shading and an uncanny knack for faces. On first glance, the characters look uncommonly ugly, but on closer consideration, they’re revealed to be just slightly exaggerated to capture to essence of the character.  Just as Leone used type-casting as a visual shorthand, we instantly recognize the people in Mesmo Delivery and it’s not difficult to imagine Grampá camped out at truck stops, obsessively sketching the more interesting specimens of America’s genepool.

Mesmo Delivery by Rafael Grampa

Two of these specimens find themselves thrown together as Grampá’s protagonists here, for reasons which reveal themselves as the plot unfolds – right up until the Serling-worthy twist at the end.  Rufo is a lumbering brute of a trucker who is hauling ageing Elvis impersonator Sangrecco — and his mystery cargo — cross country. Each of them is fascinating study in a character and Grampá allows each their own time in the spotlight, keeping our allegiances and identifications in flux, never letting on who exactly is supposed to be the hero of the piece.

Mesmo Delivery by Rafael Grampá

It’s this toying with the reader that makes the writing in Mesmo Delivery really sparkle.  It also has a degree of self-awareness that clues us in to Grampá’s, you might say, manifesto for the book.  When Sangrecco announces, “I’d a been a better Elvis than Elvis!” he’s right. He embodies everything about pop culture, but exaggerated.  So, this book is not just about elevating the art of comics — which it does, beautifully — but raising its dumbest, most populist conceits too. During the fight scenes, the tails of the soundtrack snake around the characters, making the scenes seem almost like a ballet and getting to the heart of one of the comic’s conceits of killing as an art form.

The fights also let us see some of the real strengths of Grampá’s art.  Even though there is a definite Quitely influence here, there is more weight to the figures.  Even when Quitely drew the hulking Flex Mentallo, he seemed almost ethereal.  Rufo, however, is solid and his every move seems to resonate around him.  This makes the fights not only balletic, but incredibly kinetic.  It’s one of the most thrilling rides in recent memory.

Mesmo Delivery by Rafael Grampá

Grampá’s been given a chance to play with the big boys with a couple of gorgeously rendered anthology tales for Daredevil and HellblazerMesmo Delivery shows that he’s more than capable sustaining that kind of mainstream action and having a roaring good time while he’s at it.  The big two need more artists like this that can bring storytelling to the next level.  Someone, please, get this guy on a Batman book.

Mesmo Delivery by Rafael Grampá

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