February 9, 2012

New Shelf: El Largo Tren Oscuro

I try not to make too many purchases on a whim, even with comics, the one thing that would be a logical exception. I've noticed that my taste in comics has lately become more refined; that's not to say that it's necessarily "better", and definitely not "better than you", but just more particular. Also, I've gotten burned a few times when all signs pointed to my enjoying a given book, and that makes me sad. So my general modus operandi these days is "Think really, really hard about whether I want this book." It's keeping my bookshelf tidy and my bank account intact.

That being said, I've had some very rewarding whim-purchases recently, including Samuel Hiti's El Largo Tren Oscuro or The Long Dark Train. We see the train in question passing through the countryside, we see its workers shoveling coal, and then we see its passengers.1

This train, we come to understand, is actually destined for hell (or as Hiti puts it, "INFERNO"2). Its passengers are the personified seven deadly sins and a variety of other afflictions, its workers are mostly skeletons, and its cargo seems to be the souls of the damned, crying out for help to anyone who will listen. But no one helps, and the train passes without incident to its destination.

The conductor takes Anger's ticket.3
Hiti's brushwork is unrefined but fluid, and the exaggerated bodies and faces of his characters are delightfully repulsive. The book is "short on story but long on atmosphere and mood",4 which must be behind its power draw me back in. I've found myself reading it again and again to experience the intoxicating journey from bucolic calm to wide-eyed horror to excited dread. That such a short book can be so fun and engaging is a great encouragement to those of us who would like to create comics but feel intimidated by the script-writing aspect.

Hiti's comics are all self-published, and they are only available through his own website, www.samhiti.com. Even Amazon.com does not carry new copies of his books, so I consider it the work of Serendipity and/or Providence that I discovered them on the shelf of a local comic shop. This means that El Largo Tren Oscuro won't likely be at a library near you, but it is, nonetheless, definitely worth tracking down.

Top image from http://www.samhiti.com, © Sam Hiti.
1. There was a picture here from http://monsterama.blogspot.com/2006/01/long-dark-train.html Sam Hiti), but some bandwidth thing made it unviewable.  Rats!
2. From the product description on Hiti's online store, http://www.samhiti.com/wordpress/?page_id=8
3. From http://www.comictreadmill.com/CTMBlogarchives/2005/2005_Individual/2005_06/000807.php, © Sam Hiti.
4. I swear I read this description in someone else's review, but now I can't find it. Rats!