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Pentagram of Horror! (review)—“A hell to own”

Created by Marco Fontanili

Black Caravan, March 2022

I KNOW THIS PLACE a voice murmured when I opened PENTAGRAM OF HORROR! and found nothing stirring on the first page. A sullen air tinged red like a bloody mist not fit to breathe hovers over a graphic black‑and‑white scenery that trails down the page in narrow panels, imagine yourself lying on your face looking up with one eye; except the white is not white, rather a walnut color like old parchment made from ram’s hide.

A signpost looms overhead pointing in four directions, the destinations obscured in shadow. Beneath it, a line of tall grass gone to seed strays upward. On a corner of broken ground, an open case has two cinched bags inside; and closeby under one’s nose is a pair of fresh feathery paintbrushes, elevated it seems to rest on nothing but dust motes or soul bits more likely ranging through every scene high and low, inside and outside, making a visible globular dimension, first mistaken as stars, but not stars, more like percolating bubbles rising to some far-off surface.

This is where creator, writer, illustrator Marco Fontanili wakes up. The scenes are exultantly absorbing in their assembly of detail, shades, and splattered ink. Bleak as it is, this rendering of the place turns out to be the most coherent moment in the artist’s lifecycle, when the world is for once fused with shapes and sense in the morning light.

A running monologue escapes down the page, beginning with the question, “What’s the price of talent?” which introduces a Faustian plot to make commerce with the Lord of Hell, for it is long known the price of talent is your soul as witnessed in the “devil’s trill” given to some few virtuoso violinists by a pact with Mephistopheles in the early nineteenth century about the time Faust was famous, when scenes abounded of the Devil sailing among us disguised, bartering souls and seeding despair, which humans cultivate and consume themselves with not much prompting.

Famously, German poet Goethe experimented with the Faust legend from the 1770s, when he was in his twenties, until his death in 1831, elaborating and reshaping the characters of both Mephistopheles and the soul-seller Faust, and the nature of their pact. Already in his lifetime, other artists started embellishing the theme, bringing Goethe to admire “that I myself did not think it out so perfectly.”

Selfish desire to become famous or do great things seems to lie at the heart of soul bartering. In the present case, something went wrong and expectations were not fulfilled. The horror of doubt and self-loathing that crucifies and chains the artist, and roils his innards, simply amuses the apparition of Satan who appears with a majestic ram’s head. No need to go anywhere else, it says. You are doing fine.

Mr Fontanili’s complaint of an endless corridor “surrounded by paintings that no one has ever appreciated” reminded me of similar whining by the Vampire Lestat in his book Blood Canticle in 2003, penned by his alter ego Anne Rice, eight years after their previous vampire chronicle, Memnoch the Devil, which among other delicacies, masterfully portrayed the famous conversation in the desert between the godly brothers Jesus and Satan. Author Lestat was piqued by the poor reception.

 “You say you want to hear from me … But I ask you, my beloved followers … what the Hell happened when I gave you Memnoch the Devil? Hmmm? … I’d been to the Court of Almighty God and to the howling depths of Perdition, boys and girls, and I trusted you with my confessions, down to the last quiver of confusion and misery, prevailing on you to understand for me why I’d fled this terrifying opportunity to really become a saint, and what did you do? You complained!”

Pentagram of Horror! portrays a similar kind of confession and accusation as if we drop in on a hero’s quest at a bad moment. The symbols come alive a little once one accepts Mephistopheles, or the Devil, Lucifer, Satan as the Son of Light, enamored with light, like our ego forming a self in childhood on all the bits of light in consciousness to manage one’s way in the world. An archetypal ego is selfish, because it fails to recognize a universal view comprehending the whole self, head and heart, and other people and things in one’s identity. In this view, Satan is not exactly evil, but rebellious of interference. Just like light.

The Pentagram journey continues in five parts. Five points to cross. I have the second issue now just arrived sealed in plastic. I pet it nervously. I reimagine a frantic mood splattered with soul pods, layered in shadows on ram’s hide under an unbreathable red mist, and cyan-blue soul flame crackling and escaping into currents that billow through my own long corridors filled with portraits, jetting on toward some far-off surface. I have to take a breath and follow.

Tribute to Anne Rice

undead since December 2021