A wonderfully evocative bit of elegant grotesquerie that’s unique in every aspect. THE RESURRECTIONIST is the first book by writer/illustrator E.B. Hudspeth, who provides a two-part account that begins with a 65 page biography of a 19th Century figure named Dr. Spencer Black, apparently “one of the most remarkable physicians and scientific mavericks the world has ever known.”
We learn how as a child the Boston-bred Dr. Black accompanied his surgeon father on grave robbing expeditions, the start of a lifelong obsession with death and transcendence. In 1869 Black entered the renowned Academy of Medicine in Philadelphia, where he developed the idea that the creatures of our mythologies were actual forerunners of mankind whose grotesque geometries manifest themselves in anatomical mutations.
Black grows increasingly eccentric and is booted from academia, joining a traveling circus where he parades exhibitions of specially created monsters. But this isn’t enough: he becomes determined to create living, breathing critters, leading to a wealth of unholy experimentation whose end result is a dog with wings. This critter becomes Black’s downfall, as the sight of it causes his wife to freak out and set fire to his laboratory.
Black won’t desist in his experimentation, grafting corpses’ legs onto living people and rearranging internal organs for the edification of the carnival’s patrons. After being ridiculed in Chicago Black ceases public performances and disappears, with his final claim being that he’s found what he always sought: the secret of immortality, as proven by the alleged resurrection of his deceased wife.
Such is the first section of THE RESURRECTIONIST. Writing-wise the treatment is a bit on the flat side; I’d have preferred a lengthier and more descriptive account, although the evocative diary entries by Dr. Black and others nearly make up for the flatness of the prose, and the author/illustrator’s impressively varied and fecund imagination is a constant marvel.
Part two of THE RESURRECTIONIST is “The Codex Extinct Animalia,” consisting of Dr. Black’s obsessively wrought anatomical studies of mythological creatures. Done in the style of an actual anatomical textbook complete with scientific commentary and detailed illustrations, the Codex makes for fascinating reading/viewing. Among the critters on display are the “Sphinx Alatus,” the “Ganesha Orientis” (an elephant-headed man with four arms boasting a “sinewy fiber woven through its bone structure…this sinew acted as a resistance barrier for undue or excessive strain, much as a splint protects a broken limb”), the “Canis Hades,” the “Pegasus Gorganis” (the winged horse of Greek mythology), and so forth.
THE RESURRECTIONSIST, I might add, is attractively packaged as a large format hardcover, with a striking layout and nifty illustrations throughout. It’s sure to liven up any coffee table.