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posted September 3, 2007
Fantagraphics, soft cover, 168 pages, September 2007, $18.95
Monte Beauchamp's follow-up to his highly successful The Devil in Design
reads like a sequel: less tightly focused, much more of the same, to an overall slightly diminished effect. Beauchamp presents in straight forward fashion 150 or so illustrations of the devil on postcards taking from just before the turn of the 20th Century to just past its halfway point. What one will likely take away from an initial reading is a degree of pleasure at looking over so many cool drawings, an appreciation as to how many depictions of the devil were in currency during that great period for commercial art, and how widespread cartoon tropes were even in illustration projects without a whiff of comics on their breath.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the book's visual exploration of the Devil in postcard form proves to be the mundane, everyday quality of the interactions shown between man and Satan. There aren't a whole lot of "Night on Bald Mountain"-type devil figure blotting out the sun in these pages. Much more common than a figure of theological import is an imp or agent of diminished to normal height plaguing someone or leading them astray. There aren't enough post-1945 samples for me to be certain, but one has to wonder if there was a public re-orientation by believers towards a grander, more powerful figure on the historical stage as a nuclear Armageddon grew in likelihood. I think I prefer the bulk of these pictures of Scratch as opposed to someone with an End of Days vibe: a devil with which to wrestle in one's everyday life. It's a lot easier to stick your thumb in the eye of a figure that doesn't stretch horizon to horizon.