Saturday, May 30, 2020

Richard Sala (1959-2020), friend of the Louise Brooks Society

With much sadness the Louise Brooks Society mourns the passing of Richard Sala (1959-2020), an acclaimed cartoonist, illustrator, and comic book creator and longtime friend to the LBS. Sala was found dead in his Berkeley, California home, having died on May 7th. He was only 61 years old.

One of Sala earliest comics was Night Drive, which he self-published in 1984. Soon afterword, he was "discovered" by Art Spiegelman and others, and he was published in RAW magazine in 1986. Sala's many admirers included his fellow cartoonists, such as Daniel Clowes, the author of Ghost World. Clowes  penned a moving tribute to Sala, a close friend, in Comics Journal. Other memorial pieces include those on Boing Boing, Comics Beat, and CBR.

Sala loved all manner of popular culture, where it was pulp illustration, silent movies, German expressionism, science fiction and horror, or mod music. I first became aware of Sala around the time he published Peculia (Fantagraphics, 2002), whose plucky heroine was loosely inspired by Louise Brooks. (Peculia is a mysterious girl whose name is a reference to a childhood misspelling of the Spanish word "pelicula," or "movie"). In a 2007 interview with Comics Reporter, Sala stated:
So, I sat down and began to create model sheets for characters -- the kind you see that are done for animation -- just so I'd have a guide to what my characters would look like from every angle. The more I drew women, the more they evolved into whatever it is they've become. I really like the way women were drawn in old comic strips and early "golden-age" comic books, so I was looking at those. I also referred to photos of silent movie actresses like Clara Bow and Louise Brooks -- women who were spunky and sexy and cute and strong and innocent and smart -- all at the same time. And I looked at vintage illustrations of flappers, which captured that same spirit -- often in drawn in what seems like a single graceful, gently curving line from head to foot. So that became the basic type for many of the female characters.
Around the time Peculia was published, I was managing an author event series in San Francisco. Enthused by Sala's new book, I begged his publishor for an event with the artist, but Sala wouldn't do it. I never understood why until later, when I learned of his crippling anxiety and agoraphobia. We exchanged a few emails back then (more senseless begging for an event by me, and chat about Louise Brooks), and a few years later, with the rise of Facebook, we connected once again, occasionally liking and commenting on each other's posts. It has been a long time, but I think I sent him a copy of my first book, the Louise Brooks edition of The Diary of a Lost Girl. I guess Louise Brooks is my Peculia.

For more about this singular talent, check out his Facebook page, or his blog/website titled HERE LIES RICHARD SALA. Though we never met, I consider you a friend, a kindred soul. Good passage Richard.

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