comic page by Guido CrepaxI remember long ago constantly being told that European comics was a mature artform for adults, to be envied. There is material like that, and material of the very highest quality – but my god there’s a gigantic amount of beautifully drawn or painted drivel, and some of the reason for the ‘adult’ term is the soft porn, which is often very sexist. A few European greats will come up elsewhere in this series (I think I am doing children’s comics next, and I’ll save Pratt for adventure comics), but I want to mention a few who I really like.

Guido Crepax is an exceptional artist who specialises in porn, including adaptations of ‘classics’ such as Emmanuelle and The Story of O. The material is often tedious, but he’s as original a designer of page layouts as I’ve ever seen, and there is real power in his twitchy line. I wish there were more interesting material with his terrific art, but even so they are worth studying.

Milo Manara tends towards cheesecake or soft porn as well – but since he draws the best women’s bums I’ve ever seen, I don’t entirely mind that. His work is more ambitious than that sounds – most of his best work is a kind of deconstruction of adventure stories, not least those of his mentor, the very great Hugo Pratt. I don’t think he often pulls that off so well, as I’m not sure he’s as smart as he wants to be, but he’s a tremendous comics storyteller and he draws beautifully.

Lorenzo Mattotti is, in some ways, as close as comics get to modern painting. His sense of colour and abstract shape is beyond anyone else I’ve seen in comics – the comparisons end up being with someone like Kandinsky rather than other comic artists. I’m not entirely convinced that the stories live up to his art, sadly.

Javier Mariscal is the only person I can think of in comics who has ever been substantially influenced by George Herriman’s Krazy Kat (outside comics, there is Fiona Rae, one of my favourite painters). He’s better known as a designer, particularly of Cobi, the mascot for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. I find his cartooning work charming and very lively – he’s one of the few European creators I like without significant reservations.

Moebius is probably the biggest name in European comics. His drawings are often absolutely gorgeous, but I find his trippy Moorcockian SF entirely vacuous and rather annoying. He’ll reappear when I get to Westerns, as I like his work there much more.

Frankly you’ll be lucky to find any of these people cheaply, or in libraries. I have seen the odd Crepax soft porn volume in remainder shops, so you never know.