With help from comedian Heidecker (Tim and Eric’s Zone Theory, 2015, etc.) and illustrator Pertega, “pop-culture archaeologist” Frank (The Good Inn, 2014, etc.) adapts into a graphic novel a never-produced film collaboration between surrealist artist Salvador Dalí and classic-Hollywood absurdist Harpo Marx.
The first 40 pages of this graphic novel are mostly straight-text exposition, detailing how Frank came to reconstruct the unproduced film and explaining the brief time Dalí and Marx spent together in mutual admiration. This sluggish start sets the stage for what is to come: an illustrated adventure that kicks off in 1930s New York but eventually engulfs the world, thanks to “the Surrealist Woman,” an enigmatic beauty with fantastical reality-altering powers. We first encounter her through visionary businessman Jimmy, who discovers an artistic self he never knew was inside him when the Surrealist Woman arranges an otherworldly musical performance. As Jimmy and the Surrealist Woman fall in love, the happiness she feels triggers global chaos (the Great Pyramid floods, Venice runs dry, the streets of Paris suddenly all go in one direction). Jimmy’s vulgar, ambitious, unfaithful fiancee, Linda, becomes enraged by the attention the Surrealist Woman receives—both from Jimmy and from society—and rallies the forces of order to prosecute the Surrealist Woman. The story is a bit on the nose about freedom of expression versus societal oppression and expectation. Most enjoyable are Groucho and Chico Marx, who work on behalf of the Surrealist Woman; their playful, punny dialogue contrasts with the stiff exchanges between Jimmy and Linda or Jimmy and the Surrealist Woman. Pertega’s art shines in detailed close-ups and as the story delves deeper into surrealism (dripping wax effects, rivers of hair, complex page layouts), while the plainer scenes and more distant perspectives render the characters flat.
An intriguing pop-culture artifact—more so for its background than its execution.