During the autopsy after Albert Einstein’s death in April 1955, pathologist Dr. Thomas Stoltz Harvey removed and stole the great scientist’s brain. Much to one’s surprise, this is actually true, and it is from this already bizarre real life incident that cartoonist Pierre-Henry Gomont weaves an even stranger story, stylish and highly enjoyable. The author freely admits within the text to “woefully wandering” from “the anchor of historical fact” and such a humorously semi-accurate statement gives a good sense of the tone of the tale. If you look up the source material (Gomont recommends one such book on the subject in an endnote), the inclusion of actual events only serve to make the post-theft adventure that much wilder. In his Brain Drain, we're given a nice panorama of 50’s America as Dr. Stoltz (as he is known in the book) & co. crisscross the country, as he indeed did do in real life. Stoltz even spent some time with the brain in Kansas, where the climax of this story eventually takes place, embellished here as being the location of a mad scientist’s secret lair. In Gomont’s version of events, however, there’s a trio traveling the highways and byways, as Einstein himself, sans the top of his head, joins the mortician and his own grey matter in the car. The undead scientist acts as Stoltz’s confidante and is called upon to exercise his genius to get them out of their more sticky situations. There’s shoot-outs with the FBI, insane experiments in already insane environments, Gomont even throws in a love story, all with artistic flair.
Perfectly suited here to a tall tale situated in the 1950s, Gomont’s style is a modern evocation of the vintage and is a delight to behold page after page. Soft hues of blue and orange dominate while the character designs seem rooted in the time but also all their own. A subtle technique but greatly effective, Gomont is a master at having environments emphasize the movement of the scene. When called for, his line work in roads, skies, and lawns, to name but a few examples, rushes along with the characters, amplifying the action. And there sure is a lot of movement to amplify, as we’re whisked all over country and into the wilds of Stoltz’s imagination. An early highlight comes when the idea to steal the brain first enters Stoltz’s own mind. Via the metaphor of “Destiny Railways”, we are taken deeper into the inner workings of his thought processes and wild imaginings. These pictorial forays into Stoltz’s psyche will reoccur throughout the book, various adventurous landscapes echoing the bizarre circumstances he finds himself in as of course he has much to mentally grapple with - the moral, legal, and logistical consequences of absconding with the most famous brain on the planet at that time. Adding to this, he has the owner of said brain right alongside him - and somehow still connected to it - to help make the right decisions and finesse them out of sticky situations. Not easy, when even with the top of your head missing, you still look exactly like a famous recently deceased genius.
Gomont is an artist and writer to look out for. Being unfamiliar with his work, I was impressed enough with simply the stylish covers of these two books to want to delve into their contents, and they did not disappoint. Published in French as La Fuite de cerveau, the English translation gets the nice ring of ‘Brain Drain’, to which ‘entertain’ would also rhyme and be quite apt.