A Cucumber Finds Himself In A Pickle In Josh Pettinger’s “Goiter” #5

For good, ill, or a little bit of both, there are precious few things we can really, well and truly, rely on in today’s comics world — and many would argue that the same is true for the wider world in general. You know, the one they call “real.” But we’re not really hear to talk about that, so let’s get back to comics.

Whether we’re talking the medium or the industry, comics are in a state of flux. Where and how the dust settles, and what things will look like once it does, nobody knows. The mainstream is freaked out by all this uncertainty, of course, but for independent and self-publishing cartoonists, this has always been the way of things. Print a few too many books you can’t sell, you don’t make rent. Have a nice weekend tabling at a show, suddenly you’ve got beer money. There are no constants apart from the fact that there are no constants — unless and until you find yourself a publisher that believes in your work and is willing to put up the cost of printing and distribution themselves, that is.

After taking on the burden of all that all by his lonesome for this part half-decade or so, Josh Pettinger appears to have found himself in precisely that much-sought-after position : Tinto Press has stepped up to the plate and, as of the fifth and latest issue, is now publishing his acclaimed one-man anthology series, Goiter. And they’re doing it in full color, to boot! One hopes, then, that he has found that ever-elusive something to rely on.

As for the rest of us, well — those who have been following it know that Goiter has been a reliably interesting and quirky (but not, thankfully, in a terribly self-conscious way) series from the outset, and that Pettinger’s character-driven stories are consistently delightful and bewildering. At first he was perhaps wearing his Clowes and Ware influences on his sleeve a bit too obviously, but as time has gone on he’s become more and more confident in his own visual narrative skills and now structures his stories his own way, writes dialogue his own way, and has a singular cartooning style that occupies a unique space halfway between emotive and deadpan — all of which coalesces to splendid effect in his title story this time out, “William Cucumber.”

On paper, a long-form strip about a late-teens protagonist who gets canned from his job renting chairs at the beach, moves into a tent in the backyard of his divorcing parent’s home, takes up smoking so he can cash in on being a human guinea pig only to find there’s no money in that racket but he’s hooked on nicotine anyway, and undertakes an impromptu murder investigation with the daughter of his mom’s new boyfriend sounds like a string of utterly incongruous plot elements strung together — and hey, I suppose it is, but Pettinger, as always, finds a way to make it work by focusing on character so ferociously that he’s able to “sell” readers on any set of circumstances said character finds themselves in. It’s a gutsy move, but it’s one that’s always worked to one degree or another over the course of this series’ lifespan, and it works to a very high degree in this new issue. Particularly as questions about how “real” any or all of this even is come to the fore, the tension between the deliberately blase figure drawings and the potentially-hallucinatory subject matter gives readers plenty of reason to question, in the words of Freddie Mercury, “is this the real life — is this just fantasy?” It’s a low-key barnburner of a story, and one of Pettinger’s best efforts to date.

I was somewhat less enamored with the short-form backup strips that round out the issue, but I do see what Pettinger was going for with them — I just found them rather slight and maybe a bit too convenient/forced in terms of execution. But that’s a small gripe when we’re talking about a comic that boasts a superb main feature and terrific production values. Josh Pettinger is creating something really special with this comic, and if you haven’t been picking it up already, now that it’s more widely available, this would be the perfect time to start doing so. Single-creator anthologies are considered by some to be a bit of an anachronistic throwback, I know, but Goiter proves that it’s a format with plenty of gas in the tank yet.

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Goiter #5 is available for $5.99 from the Tinto Press website at https://tintopress.com/product/goiter-5/

Review wrist check – Ocean Crawler “Paladino Wavemaker” green dial model riding an Ocean Crawler black stingray leather strap. And no, your eyes don’t deceive you, that’s the sleeve of my winter jacket brushing up against the watch. We got seven inches of sloppy, wet snow here in the Twin Cities yesterday — yup, on October 20th. How nuts is that?

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