Mephisto and the Empty Box
Reading this oversized comic, with its black ink on yellow paper and distressed-look cover, feels like finding an old magazine in an attic and flipping through it for a glimpse of a different time. Mephisto is a stage magician, and the box is a vanishing cabinet. A newlywed couple visits his show, and the wife ends up participating in the show, to tragic effect.
The art seems European in influence; it’s made up of thin lines and flat figures, creating a deceptively simple look. The lines suggest forms instead of attempting to capture them, building an organic page.
The lettering appears hand-done, with the width of the brushstrokes changing; sometimes it’s crammed in wherever there’s space. There’s an early sequence where the size and shape of the assistant’s face changes across the bottom three panels of the tier, but keeping the pictures exact is not the point. Instead, the mood is created through suggestion, matching the subject of the story.
There’s strong use of shadow and light, made explicit when Mephisto is in the spotlight on the stage. The contrast between light and darkness is echoed in the subject of the story, contrasting magic and despair. The straightforward story at times descends into symbolic fantasy, and the page itself breaks apart into scattered panels.
If you know too much about how the trick is done, the magic is gone. That’s a principle of stage performance, but it’s echoed in the way I don’t want to talk about the story and set up too many expectations. Misdirection is the key; if we’re not careful, we’ll go through life aiming at the wrong things and not recognize it until it’s over.
Death is the absence of meaning, and the end of the book perfectly captures that. The work is a meditation on purpose and love and what makes life full or empty. It’s a strong work completed by what the reader brings to it, suggesting different things to different people, just like magic.