COMICS: Demons, Politics and Luck

Three comics that take you from the horrific to the mundane

J. Caleb Mozzocco


Drawn and Quarterly

Cartoonist Kevin Huizenga presents a wide variety of short stories in a wide variety of formats in this anthology, and yet they all star the same nondescript protagonist, one Glenn Ganges (like the river). He's an unassuming-seeming character, a suburban, Midwestern type with a blank stare, a receding hairline and an interest in golf. Of course, Glenn's normalcy is probably what makes him such a versatile lead.

The book opens with "Green Tea," which presents a genuinely horrifying Victorian thriller about demons and/or madness, with a more modern framing sequence involving Glenn as a college student. It's scary enough to put one off of green tea forever.

That's followed by "28th Street," a magical realism retelling of an Italian fable. Glenn and his wife are unable to conceive, and finally their doctor tells Glenn it comes down to a curse, which he can only lift by plucking the feather off an ogre. An ogre that lives in the basement of a Wal-Mart-like superstore and can only be found after a visit to an enchanted gas station.

Rounding out the book is a color piece featuring one of Glenn's new golf buddies, a theologian who's afraid Glenn is cursed to suffer an eternity in hell for not believing in God.

Are We Feeling Safer Yet?

Keith Knight Press

After watching the sad, defeated man that President George W. Bush has become get on national TV and sigh through his latest change in Iraq strategy last week, I actually started to feel kind of bad for the president. At this low point in his political career, a whole book devoted to making fun of Bush and his administration seems more superfluous than subversive.

Increasingly, the rest of the nation is realizing that the emperor has no clothes, so the need for cartoonists like Keith Knight to draw squiggly lines in black marker pointing that fact out isn't as strong as it used to be.

Of course, reading the cartoons contained in Knight's Are We Feeling Safer Yet?, which originally ran in 2004 and 2005 in his (Th)ink cartoon, serves as a good reminder that Bush deserves any and all of the scorn dumped on him.

I've always preferred Knight's multi-panel and usually autobiographical K Chronicles to his one-panel (Th)ink, but these are drawn in the same incredibly loose, kinetic style, and are a textbook example of getting a lot out of a little.

They say pictures are worth a thousand words, and Knight uses pictures and words, making his cartoons pretty much priceless. In one panel, he'll include a funny little drawing, a reference to or a straight-up quote from a news story and his own caption binding them together and coming up with a cartoon koan.

They're not all winners, but Knight tackles Bush, Iraq, Katrina, race, hip-hop hypocrisy and other big but hard-to-hit targets fearlessly, with even the most depressing realities getting a veneer of hilarity when rendered in Knight's style. At it's worst, (Th)ink is like a Far Side for folks who grew up listening to The Pharcyde; at it's best it's brilliant.

Drawn and Quarterly

This hardcover collection of Gabrielle Bell's autobiographical minicomics is a somewhat unexpected offering from art-comics heavyweight publisher Drawn and Quarterly, but Bell's tiny, rough drawings, overly wordy panels and straightforward storytelling deepen and grow as they go on.

As the cartoon avatar of Bell explains in the introduction, the book contains three issues of Lucky, which began as a journal of her day-to-day life and gradually morphed into short stories.

Bell is a cartoonist eking out a living in New York City with a boyfriend trying to get into the film industry, and they seem to spend most of their time moving into different tiny apartments and meeting new roommates. Centipedes are killed, picnics are gone on, and the inability to hook up the stereo can lead to a breakdown, in which "the silence is like a harsh light cast on the shambles of my life." It's alternately mundane, funny and heartbreaking; it's real life.

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