The Bloody Cardinal by Richard Sala graphic novel review

Richard Sala draws on everything from Gothic horror to Giallo in the deeply stylish The Bloody Cardinal

A mysterious book, left behind by a long-dead criminal mastermind, lies at the heart of a series of grisly murders in this stylish new work from the great Richard Sala (Evil Eye, Delphine). A heady concoction of influences and styles – from pulp novels and German Expressionism cinema to horror fiction and Italian giallo thrillers – The Bloody Cardinal is a twisty, twisted romp that unearths some unwelcome truths as several characters attempt to track down the dreaded Journal Of The Cardinal.

Sala’s novel may be a compulsive page-turner, but you’ll want to take your time drinking in his vibrant artwork, and decoding the variety of styles and references hidden within The Bloody Cardinal’s gorgeous aesthetic. An opening passage, titled ‘The Song Of The Cardinal’, is presented in stark black-and-white, with etched-in shadows and full-page compositions that recall the Caligari-esque gloom of 1920s ‘wordless’ graphic novels by the likes of Frans Masereel and Lynd Ward.

Later, the book settles into a deceptively conventional groove, drawn with a clear, inviting line and deep wells of striking colour, and set within straightforward panel grids. However, throughout, Sala accumulates visual and narrative motifs that tip the hat to his chosen influences. Some sequences – featuring gloved hands wielding knives and extreme closeups of glaring eyes gazing out of the dark – are straight out of the Dario Argento playbook, while the Cardinal himself – equal parts criminal mastermind and fearsome monster – is a homage to the bygone era of villainous protagonists such as Fantomas and Fritz Lang’s Dr Mabuse, albeit dressed up in a mobster suit and sporting a vivid, red-plumed bird mask.

Far more than it may seem at first glance, The Bloody Cardinal is a deep and dazzling work, and a perfect, eerie read for a dark winter’s night.