“What The Actual,” Indeed

I’ve always been a fan of single-creator anthologies — having literally cut my comics -reading teeth on books like Chester Brown’s Yummy Fur, Daniel Clowes’ Eightball, Peter Bagge’s Neat Stuff and Hate, etc. — and while there are more small-press and “indie” comics to choose from than ever these days, “solo” anthology titles are a pretty rare thing to find, so I’m always on the lookout for them, and recently my never-ending quest led me to Jai Granofsky’s magazine-sized What The Actual #1.

Clearly we’re in “labor of love” territory here given that Granofsky financed the publication of this himself, but the contemporary comic book landscape is littered with work by people who think they have something worth saying despite no evidence being on offer to support that belief, so it’s not like putting a few thousand bucks of your own money — daunting as that no doubt is — on the line necessarily means the world has any particular need of your book. And truth be told, I’m still trying to decide whether or not the contents of this ‘zine would have been better off either left within Granofsky’s head or expurgated onto paper for the private edification of no one but himself.

Which isn’t to say that this collection of short strips and single-page “gags” is worthless, or that Granofsky doesn’t show some potential as a cartoonist. To the contrary, his fluid art style, while not terribly distinctive, is pleasing enough to the eye, and there are times when his off-kilter humor delivers some semi-memorable “laughing in spite of your conscience” moments. But there’s very little by way of artistic rationale behind any of the book’s contents, the inconsistency of the strips (moreso in terms of quality than tone) is somewhat whiplash-inducing, and a lot of the absurdity he trades in feels calculated at best, forced at worst.

It would be one thing, of course, if we hadn’t seen this stuff before, but shockingly bratty kids, inept would-be superheroes, severed heads in sci-fi tanks, and the like are all pretty old tropes that you should at least try to say something new with if you’re gonna bother with ’em at all. Otherwise, keep on thinking until you think of something different.

Believe me when I say that I’m mindful of the fact that Granofsky is still very much a work in progress himself, and that it might not hurt to afford him the opportunity to see what he comes up with once his legs are under him a bit more firmly, but usually even the most “raw” talent produces work that shows some intriguing potential. Think “Ed The Happy Clown” or “Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron.” Not than Brown and Clowes didn’t have their misfires — they most surely did and sometimes still do — but there’s nothing in this first issue that screams “this guy might really be able to develop into a special talent.” Just a lot of strips desperately angling to deliver some sort of vaguely or explicitly ironic statement, something comics in general is in no short supply of already.

Unless the expurgation of garden-variety anxieties and neuroses or splash pages of an elephant taking a shit inside Hillary Clinton’s head are indicative of some sort of nascent cartooning genius and I just don’t know it. In which case What The Actual #1 is the opening salvo of a monumental artistic project that I’m just too blind and/or stupid to see the greatness in.


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