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Cinema Panopticum, Thomas Ott
posted May 5, 2005


Because I'm in France and my books are at home, I can't tell you precisely when Thomas Ott last released a new collection of comics, but it's been a long time. A long, long time. Could it even be ten years?

In the interim, Ott has been to film school, has performed with his band, has done illustration work, has finally had his work released in the United States (courtesy of Fantagraphics, who learned that the best way to sell wordless books to American readers is to change the publisher's logo, which is what they're doing with the new book too), and a lot more people have been exposed to the work. Me? I've been waiting.

Cinema Panopticum is what I (and so many others) have been waiting for. A series of short stories with a central framing sequence, Cinema Panopticum is the closest that Ott has come to producing a comics novel. The book, wordless as usual, follows a young girl to a carnival. There she finds that she doesn't have enough money for the games or the rides, and so is forced to watch a series of short films at the mysterious cinema. Each, of course, is a study in horror.

Without revealing the endings, the stories focus on death and grotesqueries -- evil medical experiments, horrible tragedies, the apocalypse. In other words, everything that anyone has ever wanted from Thomas Ott.

The art, scratchboard of course, is better here than ever. One of the stories in this book was originally published in Comix 2000 (all of the rest is new), and you can see an improvement even over the course of the past few years. Ott's tight mastery of his chosen medium is compelling, and each image will compel the attentive reader to linger. As a wordless book, Cinema Panopticum can be breezed through in a matter of minutes. As a wonderful example of craft, however, it demands to be pored over for hours.

All in all, a fantastic book. I'm not sure when the American edition comes out (perhaps it has already?). The version that was on sale at Fumetto was the special signed and numbered edition prepared for Analph Comics in Zurich. When it is released, it's sure not to disappoint. Let's just hope that we aren't left waiting the better part of another decade to see another book from the master of modern comics horror.