Paul Buhle on Comics: ‘Lugosi: The Rise & Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula’

LUGOSI!

Koren Shadmi, Lugosi: The Rise & Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula. Foreword by Jon R. Lansdale. Los Angeles: Life Drawn/Humanoids, 2021, 160pp. $29.95.

Guest Review by Paul Buhle

It is best to admit that we live in terrible times, while we struggle to keep things from getting markedly worse, as they surely will without the needed collective effort that a large number of Americans (among others) seem not actually to want. How does this gloomy reality affect the creation of comic art, one of the more interesting artistic developments of our time, all the more important for its popularity among young people?

Horror comics once occupied the center of social controversy, along with the supposed gay relationship of Batman and Robin and other such McCarthy Era nonsense. The Congressional hearings that broke the booming comic industry of the 1940s-50s, reducing its successors to smaller fields, hit paydirt in one real way: those horror comics were indeed bloody and grim. Harvey Kurtzman’s widow Adele insisted that she and Harvey never allowed the children to read them, not even the EC horror comics whose heavy sales made Mad possible.

Did the controversy around horror comics connect somehow with the huge cult of horror films going back to the Silent days, getting hugely bigger in the 1930s and turning upon themselves as parody in the 1940s? Without a doubt. Nothing was bigger, nothing in the future of horror films all the way into the twenty-first century, could be bigger than Dracula and Frankenstein, aka Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.

We have no Karloff comic yet, and we can hope that it is more politically attuned than the volume at hand for Boris’ leading role in the early Screen Actors Union, his ardent antifascism and his insistence that children watching the classic Frankenstein (1931) knew the supposed monster was the real victim of the ignorant, vicious villagers. His literary lineage, of course, traced back to Mary Wollstonecraft and the big metaphor about the degradations of modern aka emerging capitalist society with the monster as metaphoric proletarian body, both product and victim.

Dracula comes from a different place, of course, but is historically wound around a surprisingly similar character. The careful tracing in this comic of Bela Lugosi’s Hungarian background, his meteoric rise to stardom, his floundering personal life, downfall and notorious final engagement with Ed Wood, is enlivening but misses a whole lot. Hungary had a red revolution in 1919 followed by a rightwing takeover that placed the nation in a similar spot, a natural alliance, with Mussolini taking power in Italy, followed by Hitler in Germany.

What could have been….

Lugosi was not exactly a union or community organizer. But the artistic giant of the large Hungarian-American Left, Hugo Gellert, would have been well known to Lugosi, politically and culturally. Lugosi, asked by revolutionary leader Bela Kun to be the leader of the national trade union movement before his departure, seems to have become a New Deal Democrat in the US, but played a key role in the Hungarian-American Counncil for Democracy, that is, working closely with Gellart and with that other  famed  antifascist Bela: Bela Bartok. As the rampage of Fascism threatened the world, from the middle 1930s onward, the “two Belas” could be counted upon for financial contributions and public appearances rallying the immigrant communities, in wartime to raise funds and support antifascism, in this case, Russian and Hungarian in particular.

Of all this, we see nothing in the comic.  Nor the ways in which the descending Cold War moods brought depression and a sense of panic among erstwhile antifacists. Hollywood, in Lugosi’s last years, was the home of the Blacklist. He escaped by not actually belonging to any Left organizations. Or perhaps because he was already too beaten to subpoena.

All that said, the personal drama of Lugosi’s life is well told here, and the drawing is impressive. Too much seems to be about the complicated romantic life, women won and lost, the over-extended ego that seemed to take over his creative power, with too little about the complications of his Hollywood career, let alone the unique artistry with which he approached his parts.

There goes a great star…

The Black Cat (1935), directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, using a title from Edgar A. Poe’s work but bearing no other resemblance, was a masterpiece of horror and a brilliantly-wrought critique of the destruction brought upon humanity by the First World War. The two old military adverseries (the other is Boris Karloff) meet, and are seen with some of the staggeringly expessionist cinematography to that point in film-making anywhere. The subtle politics of the film are entirely lost to the comic artist, but the importance for Lugosi is clear. He was already a star, but now he became a super-star.

All too soon, the moment passed. By the time Robert Lees and his sreenwriting partner Fred Rinaldo delivered the script of Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein to the studio in 1947 (sadly, Karloff had been replaced by Lon Chaney, Jr., and Lugosi is strictly camp), the cliches of monster films were already being turned inside out and played for laughs. Actually, with Bud and Lou offering up the best comedy around, Lugosi and Karloff were perfectly straight-faced and perfect.

But of course, this suggested a drift downward. Where to go from self-satire? Lugosi’s life was turning bad in every way. As depicted, he was addicted to drugs, unable to make a living or a personal appearance in Hollywood’s clubs and restaurants in the old way. He died too late, if earlier would have meant avoiding Ed Wood.

Paul Buhle

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Interview: Artist Matt MacFarland and ‘More Seasons of Gary’

A Comics Chat with Matt MacFarland

Matt MacFarland is a talented artist who makes some very intriguing comics. In this conversation, we discuss Matt’s latest work, a book focusing on his father, More Seasons of Gary, published by Zines and Things. You can read my review of it here. And we also discuss his series, Dark Pants, and get a sneak peek at the next, and perhaps final, issue to that series.

MORE SEASONS OF GARY

There is quite a lot going on in Matt’s work with its explorations of relationships and social commentary. More Seasons of Gary is a great jumping off point if you’re new to Matt’s work. It is a little master course in how to tell family stories. With a light and balanced approach, MacFarland addresses the issue of alcohol addiction that his father struggled with. Bittersweet remembrances provide a complex and fair portrait.

SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE

Scenes from a Marriage is another of Matt’s projects and this one is just as offbeat and subversive as the best of MacFarland’s humor although it might look more like a conventional family comic strip at first glance. There’s definitely an elegant air of mischief. You can find some samples of it on Matt’s Instagram.

DARK PANTS

Dark Pants is where it all began. You can read one of my reviews covering the first two issues here. This is a series of cautionary tales about a supernatural pair of skinny black jeans that take over whoever ends up wearing the pair. Whoever wears the jeans is empowered to seek out their darkest desires. It is an excellent example of the artist-cartoonist aspiring to the highest levels of his craft. I look forward to more of this kind of this quirky and engaging work.

This is a really fun interview and I’m so glad I got a chance to catch up with Matt, a dedicated artist without a doubt. We even discuss the legacy of R. Crumb! Be sure to visit Matt here. And seek out More Seasons of Gary, published by Zines and Things.

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Paul Buhle on Comics: CRISIS ZONE by Simon Hanselmann

You’ve entered the Crisis Zone!

Simon Hanselmann, Crisis Zone. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2021. 287pp, $29.95

Guest Review by Paul Buhle

Crisis Zone depicts the catastrophe for our time, almost 300 pages of collective debacle for the crew of caricatured cute animals (and the classic witch) brought up to date.  They find themselves amid the crisis we now all seem to expect: an urban something causes all functions to break down, a sort of end of civilization as we know it. It might seem these animal-humans barely deserve to survive. They produce television shows, Youtube-style dramas, nearly all anal jokes in one sense or another, while they attempt to go on in the old ways of pointless consumption. A high point is reached when a distinctly human character appears, telling them he has tickets for Hamillton, the banality that currently passes for high culture.

Artist Simon Hanselmann escaped the ostensible eco-paradise of Tasmania, found to be boring, and intolerable with a troubled, single mother. Self-taught and obviously scorning the usual tricks of comic art, Hanselmann created a menagerie of characters engrossed in daily meandering; all in all, captivated by their own fascinations.

The most interesting part of this large-format, detail-heavy volume can be found in the last pages where Hanselman offers, in tiny hand-lettered detail, an overview of this particular comics process. Perhaps nothing so obsessive as this has ever been done in comic art?  It is a hugely curious accomplishment.

Paul Buhle

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Interview and Review: Bob McMahon and the Cookie & Broccoli series

Cookie & Broccoli Play it Cool!

What can be more opposite than a cookie and a broccoli? And yet these two are best friends in the world of Bob McMahon‘s imagination and the latest in his series, Cookie & Broccoli Play it Cool, published by Penguin Random House. Some of our best comics are for early readers and Bob is definitely onto something with this series geared to readers around 5 to 8-years-old. That said, the timing, humor and charm can be enjoyed by anyone. In this latest book, the subject of self-esteem is covered with great care and humor. No one said it would be easy to achieve being “cool.” This book gives young readers some essential insight without sounding preachy at all.

It’s not easy trying to be cool.

Bob McMahon has been in the illustration business for over 30 years and has the chops to provide the artistry, word play, and an overall sense of integrity needed to create something in the comics medium that can truly resonate with most readers. It’s an honor to get a chance to chat with him a bit about his career and this exciting ongoing series featuring a cookie and a broccoli just trying to figure it all out one step at a time.

Cookie & Broccoli Play it Cool is a perfect gift to pick up this holiday season! For more details and how to purchase, be sure to visit Penguin Random House.

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Review: THE COLA POP CREEMEES by Desmond Reed

THE COLA POP CREEMEES!

The Cola Pop Creemees. Desmond Reed. Self-published.  2021. 232pp. $25

Desmond Reed has gone deep into cartoonland and delivered one very groovy book of comics goodness. Reed’s loopy characters literally dance upon the page. It’s a combination of whipsmart humor and design that will charm readers of all ages. There’s always room for another work in comics about a group of young people in a band, everything from Beatles comics to Josie and the Pussycats. But leave it to an ambitious indie cartoonist like Desmond Reed to take this genre into left field and high gear. The band of merry makers put the pow, buzz and boom into their music.

Just a kid with big dreams!

The artwork explodes upon the page in an amazingly smooth and natural way that you’d think Desmond Reed always drew this way. His previous book is something completely different, a shaggy dog homage to underground comix with heavy crosshatching and gross out humor. In comparison, his latest book is clean and crisp in execution and utterly charming in its sophisticated whimsy. It makes me think that it requires a good deal of planning ahead in order to get this precise look. It is after the artist has been toiling away, maybe not having the most fun, that the end result provides such a joyful reading experience.

Life in the big city.

The stories in this book revolve around a group of bohemian friends who have formed a band, the Cola Pop Creemees: Ralph Jonathan, Wallace T.J., Henrietta Susan, Gil Christopher and Mona Gertrude! The reader gets to see them struggle under authority figures and find their unique voices. Then the fun continues with various separate stories on each character. Maybe you’ve caught their misadventures on Instagram (@desmondtreed) and you’ve wondered if there might be a book collection. Well, there is and the first batch is sold out with plans for more in the near future. These comics are just too good to not give a proper shout out right now. Stay tuned for further developments by following Desmond Reed on Instagram (@desmondtreed)!

Mother never got it.

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Steve Lafler’s ‘1956: Movie Star’ on Kickstarter thru Oct 31st

Steve Lafler, one of our great indie cartoonists, has a new book out, 1956: Movie Star. This graphic novella launches a Kickstarter campaign running from today until Halloween. You can read my review of Steve’s previous book in the 1956 series here.
“Fifty-Second Street crackles with electricity as midnight beckons. Limos and cabs drop revelers at jazz hotspots like Birdland and Jimmy Ryan’s, decked to the nines.
Headliners from Sarah Vaughn to the Miles Davis Quintet rewrite the rules of cool nightly in clubs packed to the gills. Enter Ramona Lopez and Nikki Garcia, brimming with intent to quit the streets and embrace the cultural ambitions–but wait, here’s Jack Rolfe and Susie Ferrari in the house. Can these fashion industry avatars help Ramona & Nikki?”
A book trade edition will ship March 2022 via Diamond Comics and Ingram, among other distribution outlets.
1956 Movie Star ISBN 978-1-7341087-7-4 / Trade Paper 72 pages $12.99
Steve Lafler is always brewing something good. Keep up with him here.

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Paul Buhle on Comics: Review of ‘Street Cop’ by Robert Coover and Art Spiegelman

Street Cop. Robert Coover and Art Spiegelman. London: IsolarII, 2021. 104pp.  $20.

Guest Review by Paul Buhle

This vest-pocket size story-and-comic arrives to a world without…vests! But it is the same size, more or less, as those once-famous Little Blue Books, printed by the millions in Girard, Kansas, at the former office of the Appeal to Reason, aka Temple of the Revolution. That hoped-for revolution had been quashed by the repressive blows of the Woodrow Wilson government against antiwar socialists. The print revolution of Little Blue Books, if it may be called so, is actually part of a larger saga about comics as an art form and its connections with Modernism-become-Post and Post-Post Modernism.

Art Spiegelman and Robert Coover. From Street Cop.

Readers of Comics Grinder need not hear much about Spiegelman. Maus won a Pulitzer and has circled the world dozens of times. It may be said to have validated comics as art, at least in the US, where that designation had lagged. But actually the advance was twice-over, because Art and his wife Francoise Mouly had created, via their RAW Magazine of the 1980s-90s, an avant garde sensation. A collaborator, Ben Katchor, caught the flavor best by suggesting that RAW positioned or marketed itself as the organ of comics seen anew, a child of obscure or forgotten avant-garde French poetry and art. It was perhaps an extended reach if not actually a dubious claim, but never mind. The occasionally-appearing RAW was unlike any comic ever produced, more global, more arty, and in a curious way, the uneasy cousin of Robert Crumb and Aline Kominsky’s Weirdo, which was just plain…weird.

Novelist and lit prof Robert Coover is nothing if not the ungrateful, bastard grandchild of modernism, or possibly in his own world of categories. In novel after novel, story after story, Coover manages to lambaste the disordered society, indeed the disordered world, that we live in. Here, in a Manhattan of the future, neighborhoods are manufactured anew through computer printing, and they are never quite solid. The notoriously corrupt as well as brutal NYPD is put into a situation at once hopeless (cops chasing robbers into buildings disapper entirely) and favorably permissive toward ever higher levels of brutality.  Actually, we seem well on our way to parts of this dreaded future already.

Coover’s protagonist is the cop of title, an ex-criminal badly paid, but without any other definition to his life, and true to noir traditions, he continues on what could only be called existential grounds.

I do not object in the least to flying cars, low-down characters of all kinds, to say nothing of a collapsing city-scape. This part actually seems closest to current reality, although the destruction of historic architecture is part of Capital’s plan. When our cop steps into a ghoulish pet shop with very ghoulist pets, I stop to object. My own work environment has avians walking and flying around me through the day. Ghoulishness is not in their remit. Or perhaps we are in a worse version of The Birds, where the animals are wreaking revenge upon the wrong-doing humans?

The story seems to dissolve somewhere around here, but the illustrations by Spiegelman remain wonderfully strange  in their shape and colors. The artist who once did bubble gum cards, mixing the mundane with the more or less fantastic, delves popular culture imagery again and again here. The cop himself looks remarkably, sometimes, like Sluggo. This is a hell that is, at least, pretty funny.

Paul Buhle

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Review: The Gloaming (#1-5) by Hans Rickheit

THE GLOAMING

The Gloaming (#1-5) on-going series. by Hans Rickheit. Chrome Fetus. 2021. Five-issue multi-pack: print $20 and digital $15

Hans Rickheit is one of my favorite cartoonists. I have reviewed his work going back some twenty years and have seen it grow in stature. Back then, I was part of a crew of reviewers and I was known as someone with a taste for the offbeat and strange and who championed the misfit. For a taste of Rickheit’s work, check out his ongoing series, Cochlea & Eustachia. I relate to Rickheit’s touch of strange. I aspire to pushing limits in my own work in comics: seeking out distinctive storytelling paths; refining a signature style; challenging the reader. I see all of that happening in Rickheit’s work. Of course, I am not alone. His quirky, creepy, and overall gorgeous art has struck a chord with readers world-wide. Fast forward to now, and we find Rickheit raising the stakes higher with his most provocative comics ever. Has he gone out on a limb and is it worth it?

Be careful what you wish for.

Up until now, Rickheit’s work has maintained an otherworldly vibe with some restrained erotic undertones. For his latest project, The Gloaming, this adults-only comic book series finds Rickheit having crossed over to work that is beyond overtly sexual. He would be the first to admit that it is pornographic in nature: explicit sexual content; X-rated material without a doubt. Rickheit is an interesting case as he seems to be someone who can’t help but create artful comics. He seems to be gingerly navigating his way through terrain that would prove way too challenging for many cartoonists to justify. And maybe he doesn’t fully succeed and that’s alright. This is a daring experiment and one perhaps inevitable. It’s clear that it engages this masterful cartoonist and, in turn, it will engage the discerning mature reader.

Don’t look too hard.

Let’s say that your favorite auteur filmmaker made a film with some very strong sexual content. You might say that the film is a challenging departure for the filmmaker. Or you might throw your hands up and say the filmmaker has gone too far. That is where Rickheit finds himself. He has concocted a narrative about a mad scientist with a penchant for creating sex slaves and a lot of the plot involves the slaves servicing the mad scientist or servicing each other. There’s also a parallel story going on about a race of space alien sex slaves who are programmed to relentlessly pleasure themselves or whoever crosses their path, like some unsuspecting demon who appears out of nowhere. So, lots of freaky furry stuff going on. But is it art? Is it porn? Well, it’s both. But mostly it’s art. It brings to mind, or at least to my mind, “Made in Heaven,” the collaboration between Jeff Koons and his then-wife Ilona Staller (“Cicciolina”). Now, there’s a work that straddles art and, well, porn, or work of a highly explicit sexual nature. The intent is said to be art but you can argue that the couple’s sex act show is more hype than anything else; an odd curiosity that is part of a greater whole. I think Koons would agree with me on that.

Easy does it.

The actual narrative to The Gloaming does have its subplots and nuances. This is a story that features a cult of clones, who are all programmed to have an insatiable sexual appetite and are loyal to the hive, especially the leader, the mad scientist. Like every plan, there are variants that creep in. That explains four particular clones. These four young women seem to have minds of their own. For the most part, they basically behave like wild animals out to satisfy themselves save for one who is methodical. This one gets picked on by the other three sisters. This one is sort of like a Cinderella, but prone to ungodly mischief like the rest. These four are set apart from the rest of the clones and get to live in the mansion. Like I mentioned, there’s also this parallel story going on involving a race of space alien clones and that subplot is festering in the background presumably to reveal a greater truth by the time this series wraps up.

The loss of innocence.

Rickheit has moved past the stage of wondering if he’s made the right choice with this project. His main concern it seems, based on the bits of comments he provides to introduce each issue, have to do with craftsmanship. Rickheit repeatedly worries about whether or not he’s up to the task of depicting all the anatomical contortions, and related sexual activities going on in his comic. I think he is. But I do appreciate that he’s sensitive to consistently keeping the human figure alive and dancing upon the page. Sometimes a shortcut here and there can take the reader out of the story. And, as I say, there is a story, one of a growing uneasy tension between mysterious forces. This is mostly a mood piece as the title implies. That said, this is also an experiment to see what readers make of it. Do readers of Hans Rickheit prefer to keep the veil of mystery on or do they want it fully ripped off with nothing spared? I think this project is an intriguing departure but I do not believe it’s sustainable in its present form, not in the long run. More often than not, it’s nice to pull the covers up. Then again, it depends upon what the auteur cartoonist wants to achieve. Blutch, for example, has claimed he’d like nothing more than to create pure porn but then he doesn’t go and actually do that because artful and literary concerns kick in. I think what he really means is that he just wants the freedom to do as he sees fit. At the end of the day, usually that will mean that he wants to create something with integrity. That’s what Rickheit is after too.

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Advance Review: PET HUMAN

PET HUMAN

Pet Human. Written by David Guy Levy with Steffan Schlachtenhaufen. Illustrated by Alex Heywood. Periscope Entertainment. 2021. 131pp.

The sooner you know this, the better. I love dogs but I see way too many of them in my Seattle suburban neighborhood of Ballard. It’s like nearly everyone is paired up with a dog, or more than one dog. Sometimes small. Often big. But also quite fascinating. I recall an old friend of mine lamenting how he’d succumbed to the Seattle blues, that funky feeling we natives blame on the generally overcast gloomy Pacific Northwest weather (and very poorly planned high-destiny living). He may have said this with his signature smirk but, the next time I saw him, he had taken upon himself to become the proud owner of four dogs! So, fast forward to now, I’m quite intrigued with this new graphic novel that explores a pet’s life…but from a highly irregular point of view. This time around, it’s the big furry creatures who are at the top of the food chain and it’s those puny hairless little apes, the humans, who make for the perfect malleable and docile pets. This wonderfully inventive book provides a rather sobering, and very entertaining, portrait of human as pet. This books originates from the mind of film director/producer David Guy Levy (Would You Rather, The Mandela Effect, Banking on Bitcoin among many others). The book was inspired by his late dog Buster.

Resigned to a pet’s life.

When you stop and think about it, we humans are pretty darn lucky in our overall place in the world. But what about life in some alternate reality? Even if you are in prime health and super fit, you’re simply no match for a high-functioning Sasquatch! And, even if you are highly intelligent and alert, you are still no match for any Sasquatch! Like it or not, humans defer to the big hairy ones in charge in this scenario. And, let’s face it, your typical human, given the chance to lounge around all day, will not put up a fight and simply give in. There are certainly exceptions. But Buster, our human hero, is not exceptional by any means. He is very typical. He gives in without so much as a whimper of resistance, albeit an occasional meek complaint.

Walking a human pet.

Illustrator Alex Heywood breathes life into this scenario with stunning results. It took him two and a half years to illustrate Pet Human. “I was excited when David reached out and asked me to illustrate his story, and bring the Pet Human world to life,” said Heywood in a press release. “It was my first long-term project as an artist and it fit perfectly with my style of drawing. I create dense, imaginative wildlife scenes in my art all the time, just for fun.” It is Heywood’s uninhibited depiction of lush natural, yet otherworldly, terrain that keeps the reader riveted to this wonderfully subversive story. Readers will cheer on Buster as he must navigate life with his alien family of Pruni and Blorg.

Pet Human is quite an unusual story that somehow manages to gently trod over a number of issues. Buster is a human being with a heart and soul who happens to live the life of a pet with two Sasquatch-like creatures. What could be more normal? Buster doesn’t seem to mind his lot in life very much but, of course, he lacks the capacity to see beyond his circumstances. Suffice it to say, there is plenty to unpack here. The creative team have set up a world as compelling and engaging as looking into the eyes of your favorite pug. As of this writing, a Kickstarter campagin in support of this book is just about to wrap up in a few days. Go check it out. And, for further details, check out Periscope Entertainment.

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Review: MORE SEASONS OF GARY by Matt MacFarland

More Seasons of Gary. Matt MacFarland. zines + things. 2021. 48pp. $7

Matt MacFarland displays a disarming charm in how he presents himself, his family, and his father in particular in his latest book. This is a little comics memoir in the tradition of auto-bio alt-comics: a self-portrait of the cartoonist, warts-and-all.

It’s interesting to note that this story is told in segments, four panels per page, comic strip-sytle. MacFarland uses the comic strip format in order to contain the narrative. What I mean is that this isn’t a collection of previously serialized work. I see part of it on Matt’s Instagram but not as being posted in a deliberate way like a webcomic. He takes a more casual approach which I really dig. In fact, a lot of what he’s posting right now are pages from his Scenes from a Marriage series which is hilarious. Matt has found a method to keep things fresh and concise by using the comic strip format to tell his story. He’s also taking advantage of the fact that we’re so used to reading page after page of comic strips that have been collected to tell a bigger story. Matt’s new book features his father, told in a series of comic strip moments. This format echoes Art Spiegelman’s own recollections of his father albeit on a small compact scale. Matt has narrowed down the stage to the most essential: fleeting moments, heavy with meaning, tied together by the seasons. What emerges is a portrait of the artist’s father, a complicated guy, both difficult and lovable.

By keeping to this comic strip format, MacFarland provides us little windows into his father’s soul, one self-contained little story per page. MacFarland has a lean and crisp way of drawing and storytelling. This series of four-panel comic strips grows on you as one detail is revealed and builds upon the next. We begin with the fall. The first two strips set the tone depicting Matt’s father, Gary, as a less than sensitive guy, with an offbeat sense of humor. The opener shows Gary as a young boy obsessed with creating monster masks. The one after that has Gary describing a horror movie he especially liked to 6-year-old Matt. After Matt screams that he wants to see it, Gary shows him a particularly disturbing scene from it on tape that leaves little Matt in tears.

Truth be told, Gary is hardly a bad guy and Matt doesn’t pick him apart. He’s not digging for dirt but for understanding about his father–and his own life. As we progress, we come to find out that Gary is an alcoholic but that is only part of his story and it doesn’t derail the narrative as one might expect. Mixing up the chronology of events also helps in letting details emerge in a less than obvious way. In a natural course of presenting anecdotes, the reader gets to see Gary interact with an array of people and circumstances. MacFarland manages to navigate a series of challenging periods: the divorce of his parents; the start of his own family; and the death of his father. I especially like a moment Matt has crafted where he’s hiding in a bedroom crying over the news of his father’s death while also calculating in his mind when the dinner guest will finally leave. Of course, when he returns to the kitchen, she’s still seated at the dinner table. That’s classic Matt MacFarland, with a dash of dry and dark humor.

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