Notes on Al Columbia

by Christopher Sloce

Whatever nostalgia taps into, it is something primal. Nobody I know is immune to suffering its effects, even the hardened among us who revisited some cultural artifact, only to learn our tastes didn’t match up with what we now find moving or funny. And fear and horror are nothing if not primal.

There is something instantly recognizable in the cel-shaded early animation style that taps into that same feeling, which Al Columbia realized somewhere along the line.

Al Columbia’s early artwork are creepy and disturbing black-and-white drawings, but they’re not as refined. They’re the works of the smartest kid in class who used his intelligence to become the grossest, a reverse Prince Hal. At some point, he changed styles, and started juxtapose the horrific violence in his works with an aesthetic that seems to be borrowed from the Fleischer Brothers cartoons, if the Fleischer brothers were a set of psychic twins that plotted murders at the behest of the Anti-Christ. He realized that Betty Boop is a powerful nostalgic, and that black-and-white cartoons are imprinted in everyone’s heads.

Later, he became even scarier: earlier body horror tropes of prehensile tongues sit next to idyllic hobo clowns searching for pies. To quote from Stephen King’s theory of the three types of emotion horror causes, Al Columbia manages to be terrifying, horrifying, and revolting. Unfortunately, his works can be hard to find, but a copy of Pim and Francie is worth buying.

Oh, and by the way: his two imps that constantly get murdered and frolic around ruined Disneyworlds? Based on him and a girlfriend. Have fun.

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