This article originally appeared in Strangehaven issue issue #14, June 2002.
by Dave Cooper [Fantagraphics] May 2001/$4.95 US
[6.5” x 8”] 40 pages duotone; colour laminated covers
www.davegraphics.com | www.fantagraphics.com
Dave Cooper is a creator of the highest calibre. If you’re not aware of his work (and you should be) I can only describe it as somewhere between Robert Crumb and Jim Woodring, but comparisons are odious and Cooper is a unique talent. His illustrative techniques span the spectrum from a raw, textured, representational style to highly polished exaggerated cartoons and everything from his art, stories, design, lettering and production values are quirky, original, inventive and of high quality.
You may even know his work without realising it. His Wonder Woman strip was a highlight of last year’s Bizarro hardcover from DC and his work has also appeared in anthologies like Dark Horse’s Scatterbrain and Fantagraphics’ Zero Zero. Many of Cooper’s serialised strips are now being collected in trade paperback form by Fantagraphics, including Suckle, Crumple and Dan and Larry.
Weasel is Cooper’s second attempt at an ongoing title (the first being the sadly overlooked Pressed Tongue), albeit a sporadically published umbrella title comprising several different components. These include the animated surreal styling of “Television Program X-32b” with huge-eyed characters and lush computer generated halftones; the “Encyclopaedia Nonsensica” containing exploded diagrams of grotesque organic-looking machinery with accompanying text in what appears to be an alien language (illuminated by Cooper’s extraordinary lettering); beautiful full-page sketches from “A Gentleman’s Secret Diary;” and an occasional piece by guest artists (including Pat McKeown and in the current issue, Mike Mignola), but with due respect to those creators, all but the Cooper pages can only be a disappointment.
The centrepiece of Weasel though, is the serial Ripple, rendered in one of Cooper’s more realistic art styles, with a fine, densely hatched line quite unlike any his previous work, but still unmistakably Cooper. Thematically too, it’s a departure. Cooper portrays Steve, the protagonist, suffering from lust, sexual anxiety, jealousy and impotence in an utterly convincing manner – yet Cooper insists that the story is in no way autobiographical. It’s a five-part story that concludes in the long-awaited Weasel #5 and if the last part lives up to expectations, Ripple will be a masterpiece.
Each issue is wrapped in a sumptuous colour cover painting (Cooper is not just a cartoonist, but an accomplished painter and designer) and the luxuriously high production values – matt laminated card covers, cream-coloured paper, two-tone printing – are only what Cooper’s work deserves. Even among the giants of his Fantagraphics stable mates Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, and Charles Burns, Cooper is not overshadowed.
If I alone have failed to convince you, please check out Cooper’s gorgeous website www.davegraphics.com.