Lorenzo Mattotti at TCAF! Review of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE

Lorenzo Mattotti is coming to TCAF! He will not be back in Toronto any time soon, so this is a rare opportunity to meet this famous and enormously talented European creator. Mattotti will be participating in interviews, panels, discussions and signings at TCAF and this is your chance to really get to know this work.

To celebrate Mattotti’s appearance at TCAF, we are running reviews of his English language books all week. Next up, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!

Title: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Words: Jerry Kramsky
Art: Lorenzo Mattotti
Year: 2003
Publisher: NBM Publishing

Review by John Anderson

What is it about?
This is an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novella. It’s a psychological thriller about a scientist who creates a potion that gives form to the dark side of his spirit. Soon Dr. Jekyll is transforming into Mr. Hyde without the potion, and Hyde is committing horrible crimes which Jekyll is powerless to prevent.

Why is it good?
I must confess I haven’t read the original story. This was my first introduction to this famous tale, and quite simply, it is one of the most beautifully illustrated books I’ve ever read. From the first pages showing a monstrous shadow gliding over an expressionistic city, to how Jekyll’s transformation is depicted with a brain impaled with nails, to the end where Jekyll’s twisted and wretched body lies hopeless, Mattotti portrays the psychological horror of Jekyll’s situation like no one else can.

It’s expressionistic in that the inner feelings and drives of the characters are reflected in their physical appearance. Of course this is especially true for Hyde, who is depicted as a hunched, brutish figure with an evil sharklike grin. The bright colours, especially all the reds and blacks, give it an air of violent decadence. And it is disturbing – there are scenes of murder, mutilation and sexual violence, illustrated with a ferocious energy.

Mattotti excels at the more pedestrian scenes too. His ugly, decadent characters resemble those of the German expressionist George Grosz, while his vertiginous architecture reminds me of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I love the scene where Jekyll meets Frau Elda and the subtle, knowing looks they give each other. I also love the scene at the end where Hyde skulks through the city, surrounded by the grotesque inhabitants of the city’s underbelly.

Since I haven’t read the original I can’t say much about the adaptation, but I’m told that a lot of elements are left out of the story in order to focus on the psychological aspect. I don’t know how much of the text is Kramsky’s own and how much is Stevenson’s. Like Mattotti’s and Kramsky’s other collaborations, the story is mainly concerned with the psychology of the characters. Towards the end of the story, Jekyll tries to regain control by recalling an innocent moment from his childhood, which Hyde tries to subvert. Jekyll realizes he will never be free of Hyde, so he kills himself. The depictions, in both words and art, of Jekyll’s internal psychological torment and hopelessness will haunt you. After reading this adaptation, I can’t imagine any other adaptation doing the story justice.

You can find Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in store at The Beguiling, or you can buy it online at beguiling.com.