David Sandlin is engaged in an odd-essay, of sorts. For the past several years he’s been writing, drawing and producing the first four installments of his 18-volume graphic novel, Belfaust. (I wrote about the first three comics in January.) He started Belfaust around 2010, when he received a yearlong fellowship at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. He worked on the multi-volume graphic novel as a break from doing research and drawings for an even more ambitious series of large-format silk-screened books, 76 Manifestations of American Destiny, which he is still working on.
“Betty’s First Swingers Party” is the latest installment (excerpts shown here). “For Belfaust, I had the basic idea of using the Faust legend as an armature for a love story set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and later in the United States in the 1970s. In their attempt to escape the past, the couple’s love is threatened by compromises and temptations thrown in their way by a mysterious stranger, who may or may not be conjured by supernatural powers.”
Belfaust got set aside while Sandlin concentrated on a gallery show for 76 Manifestations. “After that was done, I went back to Belfaust but had a hard time controlling the sprawling scope. I got a handle on the novel by breaking it up into episodes and printing them as Risograph comics in small editions. I think the first one came out in 2018.”
Sandlin also started a series of paintings and silkscreen prints to help him better visualize the novel’s composition and color, and in 2021 he exhibited them at Owen James Gallery, along with the first three Riso-printed chapters. Since then, he has published two more episodes and should have another one out by Christmas.He has all 18 chapters in PDF form, and is in the process of getting the text edited and images cleaned up bit by bit.
“I find that preparing each episode for Riso printing makes me focus on fine-tuning the color separations, which is important to me as a printmaker,” he says.
“Incidentally, the pro-/antagonists of Belfaust are three recurring characters who have show up in my narrative work for close to 40 years. The two male characters have starred in many of my tales, but Belfaust gives the spotlight to the woman for a change.”