Monday, June 21, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 138 (6/21) -- Goats: Showcase Showdown by Jonathan Rosenberg

Goats is a weird, complicated webcomic that actually isn't all that hard to get into -- just drop back a year or two and start reading, and it'll all start becoming clear before long. Cartoonist Jonathan Rosenberg has the knack of keeping a large cast visually distinctive and making their relationships quickly clear -- it seems like a small thing, but it's rare enough in any kind of serialized comics, let alone the wild and anarchic world of webcomics. It's especially impressive when you stop to think about the details of his world, and realize how deeply askew it is: the motor of the central plot is that his two ostensible lead characters (programmers/drunkards Jon and Phillip) stole a spaceship from two grey aliens, took it to the center of the universe to meet God, whom they tricked into transforming into a lamp chop -- and then they ate him.

That was the first major oddball plot twist, to be followed by a murderous cyborg goldfish; a Satanist chicken; the chicken's evil, nihilistic chick; a corporate Hell based on the Mayan afterlife; a talking broccoli-man barista; the inevitable infinite monkeys that write the plot for the universe; and Imaginary Reese Witherspoon. If Douglas Adams was a generation younger and started out in comics rather than radio, Goats is the kind of thing he might have created. (Though it looks like Rosenberg has a vastly better work ethic than Adams ever did; Adams never would have been able to put out anything creative on a regular basis the way Rosenberg has with Goats.)

This particular book is the third collection of Goats from Del Rey, after Infinite Typewriters and The Corndog Imperative (both of which I reviewed, more or less), and it's billed as "Book Three of the Infinite Pendergast Cycle." My impression -- formed mostly by knowing that Del Rey had bought three Goats collections from Rosenberg and by a contemplation of the nearly mystical power of the number three in SF/Fantasy publishing -- had been that Showcase Showdown would provide an ending to the current story, but that was incorrect. This book begins in the middle and ends in the middle; there are people racing around (or hanging out in a bar) trying to save the universe from a programming bug that will unravel it in 2012 (or actively trying to conquer/destroy everything ahead of that deadline), but none of them are fully successful by the end of Showcase Showdown.

Goats is a quirky, dark, completely sui generis strip, and, purely because of that, I'd love to see it be even more popular and successful. It's a webcomic telling a long-form story that isn't in traditional comics-page form, and it's neither about gamers nor confused twenty-somethings. Goats is a high-powered vacuum cleaner, sucking out the quirkier and more disreputable parts of popular culture and then bolting the resulting odds and ends together into a loose, shambling agglomeration that works much better -- and is much more carefully constructed -- than it at first appears. Not only is there nothing else quite like it, it's difficult to even define the space of things that might be like it. To be blunt, Goats is wicked awesome, and I want to see more books to finish up the "Infinite Pendergast Cycle" and either usher in or prevent the end of the world. (Either way is fine with me, as long as Rosenberg tells the story.)
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Simian Ghost - Star Reciever
via FoxyTunes

1 comment:

Chris McLaren said...

You did see this, right? Kind of heart-breaking.

I have been enjoying his new gag-a-day thing, but I'm one of those who would really rather have a good long-form story.

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