As writer Douglas Noble and artist Sean Azzopardi’s Sightings of Wallace Sendek was designed structurally to be periodically added to with new material interspersed among older work, it seems only fitting that this review should pull together existing Broken Frontier commentary on the Sendek mystery (first covered at BF back in 2012) with additional thoughts on this new edition. Think of this review not as a recycling of previous Broken Frontier content but more as embracing a critical thematic synchronicity with its subject.
First, though, some context. Originally published in 2010, Sightings of Wallace Sendek was conceived as a one-shot that could be revisited and expanded upon with new eyewitness accounts regarding the enigma that sits at its heart. In the mid-1970s, infamous rock legend Wallace Sendek disappeared in mysterious circumstances. Did he choose to opt out from society? Did he meet with foul play? Is he dead? Or had Sendek entered some kind of Faustian pact with sinister, otherworldly forces?
Jumping backwards and forwards across the decades, we observe the many possible random meetings with someone matching Sendek’s appearance – often in the most disquieting of circumstances – since the musician vanished off the face of the earth. Compounding the eeriness of Sendek’s disappearance are other preternatural phenomena: a class of schoolchildren spontaneously and synchronously drawing his likeness a decade later, coma patients recovering en masse to the sound of his music, and television sets that refuse to display anything but his image are just a smattering of the paranormal events associated with the missing singer.
The Wicked + The Divine‘s Kieron Gillen has described the project as “the Ziggy Stardust myth as imagined by David Lynch, from two of the titans of the British small press scene” and it’s hard to argue against the contention that this is the finest collaboration that frequent comics co-conspirators Noble and Azzopardi have produced from their creative partnership over the years.
Sendek lends itself so well to ongoing expansion because the narrative was designed as a series of one-page “sightings” of the missing entertainer by eyewitnesses of varying reliability, or as short accounts of how his disappearance has impacted on friends, colleagues and strangers alike in the following years. When I last reviewed the book I noted that the creative team could return to this scenario time and time again adding extra pages that, depending on perspective, either help to clarify the sequence of events or muddy the waters even further. With this third version Noble and Azzopardi seem to delight in the latter, mercilessly teasing the reader with unknowable, transitory half-glimpses of a wisp-like truth at the heart of events.
The new material in this edition of Sendek slots in seamlessly, and underlines the true irony of this fractured narrative. The more puzzle pieces we have, the less distinct the greater picture becomes. The book’s constant shifts in time and perspective have allowed Azzopardi to experiment and adapt his style wildly for each individual segment, with text pieces, letters, classified ads and other ephemera sitting between the comics, and lending a slightly detached, fatalistic air to the proceedings.
Anyone familiar with Noble’s oeuvre will know, of course, that his comics manipulate, interrogate and even subvert the form, constantly reminding us that we’re still only scratching the surface of this medium’s boundless possibilities. Sean Azzopardi meanwhile is, as I have been saying with regularity at BF over the last year or two, currently producing the very best work of his career. Together they seem to bring something gloriously dark out of each other; an unrepentantly bleak creative symbiosis that can bring us such hauntingly unforgettable material as Sendek.
Sightings of Wallace Sendek isn’t about clear-cut answers. It’s about immersing yourself in this darkest of mysteries and letting your wild imagination fill in the blanks. It remains one of the genuine classics of the UK small press scene over the last decade or so, and one of the creepiest and most unnerving horror comics you’ll ever experience.
For more on Douglas Noble’s work visit his site here and follow him on Twitter here. You can find his online store here where you can buy Sightings of Wallace Sendek priced £6.00. You can follow Sean Azzopardi on Twitter here and visit his site/store here.
For regular updates on all things small press follow Andy Oliver on Twitter here.