One-Panel Review: Sergio Toppi’s Baroque Western Fantasy ‘The Collector’

In One-Panel Review, we review a new comic through a single frame; this week, it’s Sergio Toppi’s charming, high adventure saga, The Collector, in which our Collector scours the world in search of fabulous artifacts of history and mythology. Toppi’s long been a legendary figure in comics worldwide, making this recent translation a godsend to English-speaking readers.

While it’s easy to make the comparison to spaghetti-western luminaries like Sergio Leone by virtue of Toppi’s sense of grandiose scale, or the amorality in his fascinating protagonist, known only as The Collector, let it be known: Toppi’s scraggled, versatile line spins the wonders and legends of all cultures.

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Toppi’s eye held more detail in it than all the cliff faces of Mars put together. Every panel is a battlefield of embroiled textures and contours as you see here, and his composition is as exquisite as his technique; I loved that the Collector is always displayed so diminutively, as he crosses interminable desert dunes, or faces grizzly Khans, great masked devils, a galloping monitor lizard about to make a meal of his bound form…

And yet, the Collector always prevails, as per the matter-of-fact boast which he offers to his guests as plainly as saying his own name (which he never does). He is The Collector, and he always gets what he’s after, whether his adversaries be scoundrels, or sometimes saints; the illustrious Red Lama Bzanpo here had just finished saving our hero’s life in repayment for a previous debt, and our Collector takes the opportunity to once again contest the ownership of the necklace. It is an artifact of great power made from the femur of a demon-slaying monk king, and once he’d set his eye upon it, all engagements and friendships were subordinated.

What’s wonderful is that this tenacity never comes off as greed: our hero’s drive is beyond good and evil, and betrays instead a simplicity that provides striking contrast to Toppi’s graciously convoluted art style: he collects to have, never to boast or display. It’s meditation to him, an act of self-fulfillment that drives him, and so it is with a sense of rightness that he obtains his marks. He savors objects of historicity, and in their pursuit, often weaves himself into those histories as well. Consequently, The Collector’s tale is of a force of nature, a mysterious globetrotter that is a power allied only to itself, and is terrible and stately to behold.

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