The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (#1 – 2, Amigo Comics) – Diego Olmos

3 out of 5

Diego Olmos’ adaptation of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is visually arresting – not bad for a medium that’s seen plenty of iterations of the black and white negative space style employed here – but doesn’t quite connect in the story department.  Which isn’t a direct knock on Olmos, as the comic is absolutely faithful in its retelling, but in the same way that the book caps everything with a brief wikipedia-quoted synopsis of the film – i.e. no indication as to why Olmos chose to do this, just a dry summary of themes – this two issue visualization feels more like a college thesis than a personal project.  From the same Wikipedia source, Caligari’s set designer, Hermann Warm, felt that film should be drawings brought to life, which in part accounts for the nightmarish look of the movie.  And so the comic almost feels like the natural response to that: to represent the movie as drawings.  Were it a college project, I can imagine the idea would be to compare and contrast the two results.

I’m no champion of the film – it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen it – but the accelerated pace of the narrative, and the dreaminess in the way it fits together, is definitely a relic of the silent era, and thus perhaps works better in that format.  Trying to reconfigure these caricatures and embellishments into people with word bubbles escaping through their mouths is an odd effect, and I’d think depending on how familiar you are with the source material will determine how long you’ll play along with the reading version.

But let’s backpedal to the main compliment: The Cabinet of Dr. Cagliari, the movie, is often cited for its unique visuals; that Olmos’ work stands out similarly is fitting.  His figures have an interesting Tim Sale quality to them, and though he’s closely adapting film shots, getting the ‘mood’ right is still on the artist, and Diego nails this, taking the unrestrained budget of the format to move past the painted-backdrop limitations of the movie and fully seat people in the surreal Caligari world.

Olmos has some DC work on his resume but isn’t necessarily a house name (yet).  Being a book that I’d say would primarily attract people based on its visuals, I’m not sure what the expected demographic for this title was, but if you find yourself in possession of a copy. It’s certainly worth a flip-through.