Artist Wesley Allsbrook’s most recent piece for The New Yorker is dense with sinewy lines and appropriately aquatic-themed. Dressed in mossy greens and thickets of cross-hatching, it ran online and in the December 11th print issue of the magazine, accompanying film critic Anthony Lane’s review of The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro’s new love story/thriller/creature feature.
“The strangest thing about The Shape of Water, which should be one almighty mess, is that it succeeds,” writes Lane. “The streams of story converge, and, as in any good fairy tale, that which is deemed ugly and unworthy, by a myopic world, is revealed to be a pearl beyond price.”
Lane’s tally of the films and various other bits of popular culture referenced throughout The Shape of Water is obviously not without 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon. The sympathetic figure at the center of del Toro’s film indeed owes much to the “Gill-Man,” who was initially “designed to be streamlined like an eel and have feminine qualities.” The Shape… director said as much in a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, and recalled Sunday afternoons spent watching the Universal Monsters on television after family trips to church.
Not unlike her standout contribution to The New York Times Magazine‘s special comics issue in June of 2017—when artists adapted NYT stories for the comics medium but unfortunately were allocated only a handful of pages to do so—the Los Angeles, CA-based Allsbrook offers a considered distillation of her subject here. It’s far more than merely befitting of del Toro’s stylish and romantic film: Witness the damp lovers, the impending ballet-like disorder suggested in the swirl of white wobbly air bubbles, folding chairs, and miscellaneous flailing characters. The instability materializes adjacent to the film’s unlikely couple, but the storm gains velocity independent of them, too, as if they’re not even present. They’re instead totally fixated on one another, and nothing looms as large as the weight of what’s between them—del Toro’s creature’s dark, spherical eyes are locked-in on his admirer’s even amid the chaos, laws of nature be damned.
Image © 2017 Wesley Allsbrook for The New Yorker. See Allsbrook’s work at her site and process pages at her blog. Her comics, specifically the award-winning “To Eternity” and this very promising Brooklyn-based one about a bar that was doors from our old apartment, are sweeping and strange.