Sideshow Monkey: The Art of David Hartman (Book)

Written by David Hartman

Published by LuLu Press

Let us discuss the Monsters.

They are why I am such a fan of the horror genre; I’m a monster addict. Being just a mere human, born without the ability to fly, the addition of claws, the lack of sharpened teeth and limited in size to something of a normal or average stature, I have always found myself wanting more. I remember the scene from Clive Barker’s seminal classic Nightbreed, when a creature attempts to explain the bond between us mortals and the demons of the night:

To be able to fly? To be smoke? Or a wolf? To know the night and live in it forever. That’s not so bad. You call us monsters. But when you dream, you dream off lying and changing… and living without death.

Yes, I dream in Monster. I think as a genre fan, a lot of us do. We see it in the halls of horror each and every day. The graphitti is sprayed on the wall for all to see. For what is horror without monsters?

This brings me to David Hartman’s collection of artwork, Sideshow Monkey. This slick book is a dazzling array of the work of a man who shows his love of the monster clearly with each and every deliberate line and hue he throws down on the page. This the kind of artistic admiration my mind used to try to replicate as I was a little kid, sitting quietly, doodling on my desk, trying not to be seen by the teacher. Hartman’s style is a great fusion of comic book sheen with a gritty pencil line sketchbook quality that makes you remember what devotion goes into each piece. There is love to be seen here. Admiration to behold.

The works here are very different in composition. There is a wide variety of ghouls and ghastly grotesqueries to goggle at. Zombies, werewolves, robots, freaks, geeks, and of course the prerequisite nicely shaped tits and ass, all come careening towards your eyes. Often in the midst of each picture, Hartman makes the focal point a woman in peril. A fresh young female framed where her flashing white flesh is in stark contrast to the creaturious carnage that is surrounding her. But if you study Hartman’s attack on each subject, you will find that it is merely a trick on the eyes. Hartman may be trying to attempt to draw the eye away from the easy connectivity of the human form. The darkness that surrounds each person in peril is so full of movement and dynamically monstrous forms, we are being dared to look away from the safety of the humanity in each work. This is the genius that lurks beneath.

Hartman has worked on a few previous comic book series, one recent contribution to the comic echelon was The Devil’s Rejects comic series, he also was the FX supervisor on the film Bubba Ho-Tep. In perusing Hartman’s prepackaged portfolio, there are a few quick moments where, unless I am just completely insane, one can see his influence in the look of several elements in Coscarelli’s film. I mean, Just look at the mummies! There is a confluence of similarities there that, while decidedly differing in look, allow me to see that their progenerator is the same hands that made old Imhotep come alive, much to Elvis’ chagrin.

The book is split into two sections; the first a group of finished illustrations, the second a colossal collage of sketches. Where one can see each completed illustration as a story, a ton of tiny details making up the words, standing in for the prose, and creating a story out of their etchings; the sketch book can alternatively be seen as a series of vignettes stacked in upon each other. Every toothy grin, blood stained claw, and sharpened edge gripped in an inhuman hand beckons to have its past filled in with out imagination.

Within the first section, the completed illustrations, there are some definite high points:

“Lovecraft” – …. yeah, yeah. I Know. But seriously, When you look at the illustration, it is a clear exercise in Hartman’s “I dare you to look” style. The center of the piece is a man, very HPL in stance, dress, and appearance. He is holding a book with a strange star on the cover. In the center of the star is an eye, and it is this image we find ourselves looking at first. Yet, around this, dipped in blues and blacks, staring out with impossible red eyes are the horrors of the realm of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. They stare out and around their poetic master. I could describe them for you, but the madness of what my feeble mortal mind is seeing would surely overcome me. Heed me, dear reader, the dog faced demons come for me in my sleep. Stare into the faces of the Shoggoth, Gug, and their Elder Masters… you too will sleep no more.

“Mercury Bear” – Again with the sleek, sexy form in the front we see Hartman’s advance upon our senses. But this work also serves to detail another delicious trick Hartman plays. He uses iconic images with a degree of deception in their composition. “Mercury Bear” shows us the female in fright, but it is the mutant ursine behind her that all horror geeks will be bearing down upon. A clear homage to a wonderful Frankenheimer film. Love the oversized claws on the beast’s hand that detail an understated caricature element to the piece. The chick is not too bad either. I am a sucker for nipples. Pun fully intended.

“Texas Blood” and “Texas Blood II” are continued examples in the icon worship that Hartman plays with in the book. “Texas Blood” is a family portrait of the killer cannibal clan from the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre. All are present in the picture, from The Hitchhiker to Gunnar Hansen’s Leatherface. Throw in a few background details showcasing a few of the star victims from the film, and we have a great piece of cannibal caricature. Just enough distortion in the details to make us easily recognize the images for what they are.

Now alter those details very little and we graduate to “Texas Blood II”. In the background a man holds two chainsaws as if they were swords, another man is faceless, and in the forefront things have changed as well. Gone is the lurch of Hansen, and in its place is a very erect Leatherface with a most phallic pose to his chainsaw position. The twitchy mayhem of Bill Moseley’s Chop Top replaces the Hillbilly grace of the Hitchhiker. The saw is bigger, the teeth are badder, and there is amplitude to spare. Definitely we are in the sequel’s territory here.

“The Living Dead” takes the O’Bannon classic and illustrates the more fan-tastic moments of the experience. I love the hidden canister, and the look on Linnea’s face in the picture. There is just something sexy about the way she looks under the control of Hartman’s pen.

I am not going to explain the giddy joke behind the “Island of the Dead”. Just suffice it to say that once you have seen it, you will be demanding that some indie film director take a crack at this type of send up. Laugh out loud funny!

“Girls of the Grotto” is a Creature from the Black Lagoon piece, and as much as I do enjoy Hartman’s work, if there was one complaint; it would be that I do not like some of his designs. The Creature in “Girls” is just too skinny, the look on his face is wrong, his stance is off, there is too much drool, there is not enough detail in the body, and I do not like the way that his eyes appear to glow. Not I am not going to detract from Hartman’s abundantly apparent talent. It is well done. But my critique has more to do with territorial fan boy nitpicking than anything else. Good illustration, Dave, you just got it all wrong!

I could talk all day about the critters and creepers who come a crawling in between the covers of this comic art collection. It would be simple. It would be fun. Hartman is a man who is after my own heart. We both love monsters. But more so than loving them, David Hartman most obviously respects and worships them as they should be. These are dangerous ideas, these monsters. They need to be kept in a safe place. They are deadly. They are dangerous. They can kill us.

I pray that David Hartman never starts making them.

4 out of 5

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