Antonio Lapone’s art is gorgeous. His clear line style evokes the Belgian school, though his coloring takes the whole somewhere once removed, somewhere unique, though perhaps with a hint of Matt Kindt. Through the captivating pages of Gentlemind, we ostensibly follow the trajectory of the titular New York City’s men’s magazine through the years of the second world war, as it transitions from titillating trash to a more refined Playboy prototype, its contents now complete with literature, inventions, and cartoons. We’re placed within the era via Tide radio commercials, Action and Detective comics on the newsstands, and appearances of such luminaries as Groucho Marx and Frank Sinatra. There are plenty of visual homages too, including a subtle nod to a comics shop in Andenne, Belgium in an crossword puzzle.
The story itself is one of love and heartache, betrayal and necessity, riches and the squabbling over them, art, as well as most importantly - changes of heart. Showgirl Gina, née Navit, is up-and-coming Arch Parker’s muse, but when millionaire entertainment magnate Powell sees one of Arch’s sketches of Navit, the three’s romantic situation gets complicated. Parker is sent off to cover the war, returning a much sought after artist. Through all this, Navit gains control of ‘Gentlemind’ and sets about revamping it with realism as opposed to fantasy, attempting to give men what they really want, according to the logic that women know men better than men do.
Meanwhile Waldo Trigo’s talent for the words is being put to use prosecuting anyone who opposes his father’s sugarcane empire. But after a visit from his sister, Trigo longs to use his eloquence for something more meaningful, more positive than destroying lives for capitalist gain. If there is one criticism of Lapone’s art, it is that Gabriella Trigo, the second most seen female in the book, looks too similar to leading lady Navit for them be easily distinguishable from one another. The coloring is lovely though, with brother Waldo portrayed in soft browns while Navit is associated with bold blues and reds, even down to a donut bag she carries in a court room. As relationships get even more entangled, these will delightfully begin to shift.
Despite the seriousness of the lives and loves at stake, the story is told with flashes of humor. Trigo’s first name makes for ‘where’s Waldo?’ jokes, the female consultants brought in to makeover ‘Gentlemind’ all have amusing stories about their husbands, and on page three a text box is strategically placed over the female anatomy, acting as a censor. But the book’s heart is a beautiful selfless act, subtly revealed at the end, and one whose true impact will only be fully seen and felt on a second reading.
Gentlemind is one of the comics to read this year. It straddles both the Europe and America of the 1940s, with its setting and tone being New York City, while its feel is definitely European. Juan Díaz Canales & Teresa Valero capture something of the spirit of those times and their story has a soul of its own, which Lapone’s art animates to another level.