At first glance, (and second and third) “The Adventures of Dieter Lumpen” owe more than a passing debt to Hugo Pratt and “Corto Maltese.” Here’s another suave, alignment-neutral man courting trouble in exotic locales. Pratt’s influence is not one that Argentinian writer Jorge Zentner or Catalonian illustrator Ruben Pellejero would bother denying. But the years separating Dieter Lumpen (1985) from Corto Maltese (1967) from bring with them added layers of subversive cynicism. Corto was an anti-hero caught in adventure stories; Dieter Lumpen is a hero frustrated by anti-adventure stories.
Take “Caribe”, a graphic novel (‘album,” since it is published in the European format), which finds Lumpen in tropical Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Lumpen isn’t adventuring; he’s lazily shifting from his hammock to his fishing boat to the pool hall and repeat, repeat, repeat into Nirvana. Notice that this isn’t a Puritan-work-ethic story, with Lumpen lacking “purpose.” No; idle hands are the only ones free to open Heaven’s door. The lilies of the field do not toil, and neither do the coconuts at the beach.
Into this Paradise wanders a Hollywood film crew, with all the bizzy-ness and concurrent crass corruption that Hollywood usually signifies, and a slick movie producer suggests Lumpen sign a studio contract and move to Tinseltown. The reader, sniffing adventure, wonders if there are more exciting motivations behind the producer’s actions: is he a drug dealer, smuggler, spy, treasure hunter? There IS a villager who approaches the producer and claims to know the site of a sunken Spanish galleon, (very Pratt) and the map to the treasure is tattooed on his body (very Pratt too.) Maybe that’s where things are headed? Except the tattoo is placed on the villager’s private parts (not very Pratt) and after seeing it, the unimpressed Hollywood producer decides not to bother with the treasure hunt after all ( not very Pratt either.) The treasure hunt is postponed, the adventure avoided.
But there’s still the mundane issue of Lumpen and the profitable contract the producer wants him to sign. Is Lumpen going to sell out? Instead of the expected confrontation, Lumpen detours by visiting a garish, ghostly mansion worthy of Norma Desmond. There sits a fat man whose face is covered by a featureless, alarming mask, (very “Eyes Without a Face.”)
Who the masked man is and what he teaches Dieter about fame and fortune is too delightfully shocking to spoil here.
The slick, presumptuous Hollywood producer (is there another kind?) misquotes the Bard at one point: “Shakespeare said, ‘Drama, not anecdote!’ Well, Shakespeare wouldn’t have lasted a day in Hollywood!” “The Adventures of Dieter Lumpen” avoids anecdote and go for deeper convolutions of the soul. It is all the more profound for it. The whole series is highly recommended. It wouldn’t last a day in Hollywood!