P. Craig Russell: Isolation And Illusion: Collected Short Stories 1977–1997

P. Craig Russell: Isolation And Illusion: Collected Short Stories 1977–1997

Single-author comics anthologies like Neil Gaiman's Midnight Days and Glenn Dakin's Abe–Wrong For All The Right Reasons are considerably rarer than single-title anthologies encompassing an assortment of authors. It's a reasonable trend: Characters like Spider-Man and Wolverine generally attract more loyalty than the individual creators who shape them. Still, there's something inherently satisfying in a career-overview anthology's mixture of economy and breadth, particularly when the subject is as skilled and as prone to experimentation as P. Craig Russell. Isolation And Illusion, which collects nine of Russell's long-out-of-print short pieces, showcases the remarkable consistency of his florid writing and artistry across 30 years of experience. Russell, whose recent work ranges from the ambitious Ring Of The Nibelung series to Dark Horse's Star Wars spin-offs, specializes in adaptations of classic works of literature, and Isolation And Illusion supports the trend, with versions of H.P. Lovecraft's "From Beyond," Cyrano de Bergerac's "A Voyage To The Moon," and O. Henry's "Gift Of The Magi." But Russell also typically draws on Symbolist imagery and rococo phantasmagoria, which pop up in pieces like "La Sonnambula And The City Of Sleep," "The Insomniac," and "Devils." At times, his art veers into near-photorealist territory, especially in the book's focused, black-and-white stories–including the haunting seppuku-inspired meditation "Dance On A Razor's Edge" and the fervid science-fiction pulp piece "Breakdown On The Starship Remembrance"–but he also plays with cartoony styles and sharp, bright colors in "Voyage To The Moon" and "Insomniac." In either mode, his art is packed with detail and tinged with dreamy surreality. Isolation And Illusion takes its title from Russell's near-wordless 1981 "Symbolist fantasy" about the journeys of a tormented angel, but the theme runs throughout the book, as his characters travel through oppressively heady psychedelic landscapes, looking disconsolately for love, escape, a method of self-expression, or simple freedom. Given its dedication to elaborate fantasies that rarely comfort its characters in their loneliness, Isolation And Illusion can be a chilly and abstract book. But the isolated beauty scattered amongst Russell's calculated and commandingly rendered illusions has its own kind of warmth.

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