No matter how you look at it, you don’t know how to look at Max Huffman — nor what to expect from him. Which means, of course, that he’s unquestionably one of the most interesting and surprising of the true auteurs working in comics today — but even with that in mind, his latest self-published mini, Whisnant #1, is something well and truly out of left field.
As deliberately and overtly “cartoony” as anything Huffman has done, this thing reminded me more than a bit of Bud Blake’s old syndicated strip Tiger on the margins — only it’s actually, ya know, good, and has something to say about actual existential concerns. I think, at any rate.
So, what have we got here? Cubism, a black-and-white protagonist in a full-color world who inexplicably becomes full-color himself, an ice cream truck that sells gems and crystals, “people” that aren’t people, family dysfunction, externalized angst, nosy neighbors, fake questions from non-existent readers, what appears to be a robot with what appears to be a fish tank atop its head, collapsible vehicles, a disposable evil super-villain general who looks like he stepped out of a Ben Marra comic, mail delivery problems, a turtle that lives in a storm drain — and no yard sale, no matter what the cover says. I’d be lying if I said it all made sense in the end, but then, piecing together how it just might is part of the fun.
And I really can’t stress that enough : this comic is fun. Most of that is down to the sheer, unfettered imagination that comes through in every panel on every page, but a lot of it is just intuitive — on the part of both artist and reader. The cover shows Whisnant himself with the weight of the world literally on his shoulders, and though none of the entirely random events that happen around and to him are necessarily all that consequential, whether taken either individually or in total, you can’t help but feels his burden is damn heavy indeed — even if that burden is, in actuality, largely Huffman’s, as it’s up to him to pull one rabbit after another out of his hat. Fortunately, he makes the act of coming up with crazy shit look effortless, and with a delicious paradox like that at its core, how can this mini be anything less than kinda sorta sensational?
Easy answer : it can’t, so don’t even worry. You know you’re in good hands here, no matter how mercilessly (and I mean that in a good way) those hands are set about the task of shaking up your perceptions. It’s one thing to never know what’s coming around the corner, yeah, but what Huffman is doing here is something far more ambitious, if no less playful : he’s crafting a work that doesn’t clue you in as to where you stand in relation to or within it, a puzzle-box with no solution or final shape, an amorphous and evolving and maybe even metaphorically gelatinous thing that seeks to confound not in an adversarial fashion, but an inherently inviting one — come on in, it’s a crazy ride!
And a crazy ride for its own sake is one I’m absolutely never averse to giving a go. If you’re of the same general disposition, you’d be a damn fool to pass on what will surely be one of the best times you’ll have reading — and wondering about — a comic this year.
Whisnant #1 is available for $6.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/whisnant.html
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