Does anybody really like clowns?
I never have, and I can’t think of any of my friends who do — assuming the subject has ever even come up. My wife damn sure doesn’t like them — in fact, they freak her the fuck out on a core level, and to a degree that most people reserve for things like spiders, or heights. Not that she’s terribly fond of either of those things — but I digress. In any case, my original point, I think, still stands : nobody really likes clowns all that much. So don’t ask me where the old saying “everybody loves a clown” comes from.
I don’t know how Alex Graham feels about clowns, though. It’s hard to tell, even though a veritable gaggle of them are at the center of the latest issue of her solo comic, Cosmic BE-ING #6. They live together in a magical castle that appears to be smack-dab in the middle of a desert. Some of them are druggies, although their narcotic of choice is never specified. Some of them have trouble holding onto repetitious, dead-end jobs. Some of them have vaguely sexual yearnings for their fellow clowns. Some of them sit on the couch and read or watch TV.
Yup, these clowns are people very much like you and me — except for that whole magic castle thing. And, ya know, being clowns.
I wondered where Graham was going to go with her series now that the long-running “Angloid” strip has concluded (and been collected, but we already talked about that a couple weeks back), and the answer is — I still don’t know. Which is exactly what I was hoping for, if you can believe that. Dare I attempt to explain what I mean? Oh, if you insist, I’ll do my best —
Graham is one of the rare breed of cartoonists whose instincts and ideas and imagination and even whims or flights of fancy I just implicitly trust. Where she goes, I’m willing and eager to follow because she hasn’t let me down yet. She’s in hitherto-uncharted territory now thematically, with a slightly “tweaked” cartooning style to match — a generally thicker line, more shading and cross-hatching, less-cluttered panels with more “negative space” — and the results, so far, are impressive. Make that quite impressive.
Free from the constraints of long-form narrative, Graham is doing one of my favorite things — throwing a lot of shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. Her two lengthier “clown” strips in this book (which, incidentally, offers great value for money — magazine format, full color, on thick, glossy paper for ten bucks? Don’t ask me how that even makes sense for a self-publisher like her with extremely limited distribution) touch briefly on issues of addiction, lethargy, useless toil (as most work is — her clowns taking it to absurd extremes by literally reporting to “work centers” where they type gibberish on paper all day long for no discernible reason), sexual ambiguity, and the joys and freedoms offered by pure randomness and leisure. Somewhere in the middle of all that is something approaching the outlines of at least a point of view, maybe even an actual philosophy, but Graham is taking her time, staking out her territory, moving from the outskirts in. And she’s doing it all with as sharp and keen a sense of observational and absurdist humor as ever.
Don’t misunderstand me : I hope that Graham does, in fact, pursue a “graphic novel”-length type of story again at some point — I just hope that she takes her time getting there. What’s the rush, after all, when the “side-steps” between “Big Project A” and “Big Project B” are this unpredictable, exciting, and entertaining? She can do more completely off-the-wall stuff like using an honest-to-goodness typewriter to fill in her word balloons and caption boxes, or interjecting “throw-away” characters with vaguely elephantine heads, for as long as she needs to until she feels something coalescing, congealing, coagulating — until the next step presents itself. A good artist always knows when the time is right — and Graham is a damn good artist.
The last, short strip in this comic had me a little worried, frankly, about Graham’s state of mind — read it and you’ll see what I mean — but she swears by the end that “it’s all good,” as the young folks say (or said, at any rate, since I don’t know if they still do), and I’m hoping that’s true because creative genius (there, I said it) this singular doesn’t come around too often. If she allows herself more freedom to follow whatever muse(s) flutter across her mind, if she does more comics like this that are content to just be whatever the hell they are, if she “feels her way forward” toward wherever it is that she’s going? I think she may end up being one of the most important cartoonists of her generation — she’s certainly one of the most interesting already.
I have no idea whether or not it’s available anywhere else at this point, but last I checked our friend Austin English had some copies of Cosmic BE-ING #6 for sale on at his Domino Books website, so if you’re going to order it — and you’d have to be insane not to — do so at http://www.dominobooks.org/store.html