Friday, May 16, 2008
Percy Gloom and Hieronymus B.
I haven’t been doing enough comics blogging. But I just read a couple titles that seem to go together:
I really liked them both while feeling that both could be better. It’s a bit hard to put my finger on it.
Let start with the visual basics. We have two somewhat hapless protagonists - characters to whom things happen, mostly, rather than characters who do things. They are both prematurely aged children/innocently child-like old men. They both have big round heads and little bodies. I’m starting to think that Charlie Brown is an archetype. The bald-headed kid who gets the football yanked, but who somehow salvages some degree of philosophic dignity. Maybe there is something Charlie Brownish inherent in the comics medium. A simple circle face on a stick body. It really doesn’t get more iconically economical than that. Chris Ware, anyone?
Percy is a middle-aged son, still living with his eccentric, inventor mom. (His father slapped himself to death when Percy was born. It’s a ‘Gloom tradition’.) He wants to be a ‘cautionary writer’ and the events of our story are occasioned by receipt of a letter, inviting him for a job interview at Safely Now. Which does not go well, but he gets the job:
When asked what he has that all the other applicants do not, he blurts out in tears: ‘My Mother!’
He’s like a cross between Elmer Fudd and Kafka’s Hunger Artist:
But he has his oddly effective side, as well. His head lights up like a lightbulb when he remembers to screw it on (his mother has to remind him.) He solves problems for his friends and learns important life lessons about taking risk. It’s sweet. And I like the art. But it’s also hit-and-miss. The Gloom family auto-death-slap fits with the obsessive questing for risk in the mundane, the better to shun life. There’s a good thread there. But other jokes just seem like by-the-numbers wackiness. He had a wife, Lila, who joins the funnelheads and kills herself in a silly way. Eh. It’s written as though this is all a metaphor for something, but I must be missing it. But it’s fun.
Hieronymus B. is slender - on 60 pages. And mostly wordless, which makes it a very fast read. It’s like Owly visits Kafka’s Castle. It’s paranoid, but in an oddly sweet and gentle way. Weird things just happen at the office; he can’t deal with them, but it doesn’t matter. He has weird dreams and walks into paintings in museums, in a Calvin-like way. He’s passive, not aggressive, but occasionally oddly effective. (Not the theologian, Calvin. The other one.)
One thing I find a bit odd, thinking about these books, is not just that ‘sweet and gentle Kafkaesque storytelling’ turns out not to be an oxymoron. What’s odd is more that my sense this kind of Kafkaesque isn’t so hard to do, so you should do it really well. Just make a hapless round-headed bald kid/old man, to whom random but portentous things happen. Writes itself. So you have to write it really well. (But even if you don’t, it will still be lots of fun. It’s a winner of a sub-genre formula.)
And by the by. I’m organizing a book event around Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics [amazon]. A fine book, in my judgment, soon to come out in paperback. It will be hosted loosely at the Valve but, this being the internet, anyone with their own soap box who wants to join the converation is probably welcome. We haven’t settled a date yet. Maybe 4-6 weeks? But it’s definitely going to happen. I have some freebie review copies to give away. I’ve decided to give a few to anyone who sends me an email out of the blue, explaining why they deserve a free copy. Or, alternatively, leaving an impressively clever comment to the post, achieving the same. (By bothering to read to the end of this post, you have already passed the first test, grasshopper. Clearly you have some interest in comics.)