Sam Spina is one of those cartoonists who never strayed too far from his DIY roots — and for that, we should all be thankful.
You never know when one of his new self-published minis is going to hit, nor what it’s going to be about, but you can be sure of a couple things without fail : whatever he comes up with is going to be funny, and it’s going to make you think just a little bit, too. These are both good things, of course, but lots of comics manage to do them — what sets Spina’s work apart, then, is a little something extra that we’ll just call, for lack of a better term, charm.
Which, if we’re being honest, is a well-nigh impossible thing to quantify and is entirely subjective in the extreme, but still — you know it when you see it, and you’re definitely going to see a lot of it in Spina’s latest, The Legend Of Stick Dirtly. I’ll try my level best to explain the sources of this nebulous quality, but if I come up short — as I very well could — it’s simply because trying to classify something that is, by its nature, entirely unclassifiable is a fool’s errand, and I’m a fool for making the attempt.
But I’m probably not as foolish and/or outright delusional as our guy Stick, who travels the Earth by foot, his sidekick Pee Pee the Bug in tow, placing sticks in the dirt under the assumption these sticks will grow into trees and supply the oxygen we need to breathe, thus making Mr. Dirtly the self-appointed “father of trees and champion of the air we breathe.” The savior of us all, in other words; the guy we owe our very existence to. Hey — it’s nice to know who should get the credit for, like, everything, isn’t it? I know I feel better knowing who to thank.
Comics focused on either the laughably oblivious or the laughably self-important are nearly as old as the medium itself, of course, but with this modest little number — riso-printed on eye-catching yellow paper with even deeper yellow cardstock covers — Spina slyly acknowledges that both character traits stem from the same root, namely a complete lack of self-awareness, and proceeds to construct his humorous yet heartfelt 32-page yarn, superbly illustrated in his signature “cartoony” style that privileges facial expression and body language above all, with this essential kernel of knowledge in mind. Hijinks ensue, as the cliche goes, but those hijinks are smartly plotted and paced, the chuckles they elicit are entirely earned, and they’re every bit as earnest at their core as is this book’s protagonist himself, which means — perhaps paradoxically — that they, and their author, are every bit as self-aware as Stick Dirtly himself, as we’ve already established, isn’t.
The end result? An entirely satisfying expenditure of four of your dollars and about 20-25 minutes of your time that has some legit points to make about our looming ecological catastrophe (hell, it’s probably not even “looming” anymore — it’s here), but isn’t afraid to poke a little bit of good-natured fun at a guy who, bless him for trying, figures he holds the key to solving them all by his lonesome. You can call that whatever you want, but for my part, I’m sticking with my original description — absolutely charming.
The Legend Of Stick Dirtly is available from Birdcage Bottom Books at https://birdcagebottombooks.com/products/the-legend-of-stick-dirtly
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