What I think : Dav and Roy, the two protagonists in cartoonist Drew Lerman’s Snake Creek, might be a stand-in for the author himself and a walking potato, respectively. What I know : Lerman wrote and drew one of these strips per day throughout 2018 and 2019, and now they’re all collected in a single — and singularly impressive — paperback that he’s having printed, and offering for sale, via Lulu. I also know that you should buy it. And now I’m going to tell you why.
In a very real sense, these strips follow a direct through-line that you can trace all the way back to George Herriman, but they’re also undoubtedly — as well as unclassifiably (not a real word, I know) — contemporary, despite largely dealing with timeless physical and metaphysical themes. There’s a simple and understated elegance to Lerman’s cartooning that is, above all, smart — and is reflected in his charming wit and masterful sense of comic timing. He’s clearly done his homework, then, but this is in no way an academic exercise, since the most important lesson he’s taken to heart is that the best “gag”-style cartoons have a hell of a lot of heart themselves. As do these.
Avoiding over-thinking things is a tricky wicket when one is working within the strictures of a set format and formula, but Lerman’s four-panel grids feel expansive and rife with possibility — part of that’s down to his expert illustration, sure, which abides by its own kind of internal logic and privileges physicality and motion above all else, but a bigger part of it is down to his eye and ear for commonality and universality, his sheer facility at imbuing the outrageous with elements we can all relate to and draw a pleasing grin from. I mentioned Herriman before, but Charles Schulz, Frank King, and Walt Kelly were all masters of this, as well — and trust me when I say it only sounds absurd to mention Lerman’s name in the same breath as these greats. Within just a handful of this book’s 152 pages, he earns that distinction absolutely.
Which isn’t to say that there’s not room for improvement — there is. Lerman’s imagination is so fluid and amorphous that he sometimes seems to lose interest in plot threads that he was “all in” on just days prior (a fascinating nameless dog turns up for a time, only to make an abrupt exit), but I can forgive that because along the way he lands on inventive uses for pretty much all of his ideas, even those that are ultimately discarded, and watching a cartoonist “feel their way” through their own material is usually a fairly fascinating process in and of itself. Besides, the line between “anything can happen” and “hey, shit happens” is such a fine one that demarcating it is often an exercise in futility — and don’t we all appreciate it when comics have an element of the genuinely anarchic to them?
I know I do, at any rate — and if you do, as well, then I defy you to be anything but utterly captivated and frequently even transfixed by this work. I sincerely hope that the newspaper syndicates are paying attention to Lerman, because this is visionary, iconoclastic stuff that is nevertheless absolutely and immediately accessible to readers of all stripes, and from all walks of life.
In these fractured and harrowing times, gentle but assured musings and observations on everyday absurdities are both hard to come by, and exactly the sort of tonic we can all benefit from on occasion. Drew Lerman has a unique perspective that’s as invaluable as it is funny and intelligent, and with this book he makes a strong case that he might very well be our next great cartoonist.
Snake Creek is available for $13.00 from the Lulu website at http://www.lulu.com/shop/drew-lerman/snake-creek/paperback/product-24211384.html
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