Roman Dirge is a pessimistic romantic. Dressed in black-on-black-on-tattoos, his skin art punctuated with piercing, the artist best known for his Hot Topic-crowd comic Lenore , is having his first gallery show in more than a decade.

Just how darkly sensitive is Dirge? Back at the American Film Institute, I adapted one of his short graphic stories from an issue of Lenore – “The Boy with his Heart in a Box” – into a film. “Heart” is one of the best pieces of short-form writing (Dirge's, not my adaptation) and one of the only theses on love I wholly agree with.

At the vernissage of his show, I was finally able to give Dirge a copy of the 4-year-old film. His response: “I'm not trying to be mean here, just honest. I have to say, I hated it.”

Why I write this is not some form of petty revenge – I agree with nearly everything Roman wrote me; his criticism was, pun intended, dead on – but to showcase the quixotic ambiguity, the heartbreaking inspiration, that pervades all of his artwork. Lenore, “The cute little dead girl,” is a zombie in search of the same Maslowian needs any little girl desires: tea, friendship, cootie-shots – she just goes about it with a shovel and dagger.  

On view at Meltdown – and priced quite nominally given Dirge's success – is artwork from, and inspired by, Lenore . In the first three hours of the show, most of the pieces were already purchased, including a Madonna with Child pastiche with Lenore-as-Christ. It's a perfect testament to this patron saint of Goth. (Whether that reference is to Lenore or Dirge, I'm not quite certain.)

Meltdown Comics is located at 7522 Sunset Blvd., in Los Angeles. For more information, call (323) 851-7223 or visit www.meltcomics.com.