Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 330 (12/30) -- Reid Fleming, World's Toughest Milkman, Volume One by David Boswell

Sometimes it's just not possible to be dispassionate about a work of art. At those times, the honest critic must disclose his true feelings up front, to come clean entirely to his audience. And so I have to admit: I love David Boswell's Reid Fleming stories on a level with only a very few other comics (Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot, the best Giffen/Fleming/Oskner Ambush Bug stories, The Cowboy Wally Show, some of Evan Dorkin's work), as one of the pinnacles that the form is capable of.

So I was thrilled to see Reid Fleming, World's Toughest Milkman, Volume One appear from IDW last week; this big, bright volume reprints the original 1980 Reid Fleming one-shot (later reprinted as a special from Eclipse and the first issue of the 1990s Deep Sea run), the subsequent five-issue story "Rogue to Riches" (originally published by Eclipse, reprinted in issue form and then as a trade paperback by Deep Sea), and the sidebar one-shot Heartbreak Comics (out of print for decades, though I still have my copy, deep in the files). Nothing in this book has been widely available for a decade, which is a damn shame: Reid Fleming is a great comic creation (in both senses of the word "comic"), and Boswell's stories combine laugh-out-loud moments with lovingly precise drawings of mayhem and rascality.

The title explains the premise perfectly: Reid Fleming is the world's toughest milkman, a hard-drinking, improbably womanizing, scruffy, ridiculously strong, aggressive-to-a-fault man, a man with a milk truck under his feet, a bottle of rye in his hands, a trail of slapstick destruction behind him, and a street full of Caspar Milquetoasts (of both sexes) ahead of him to be terrorized. He has the cruel, obnoxious boss we've all had at least once in Mr. Crabbe, and the scattered, ineffectual over-boss we all equally recognize in the dairy's president, Mr. O'Clock. Boswell perfectly negotiates the rough edges of Reid's personality; in other hands, Reid Fleming would be a villain, or a bore, or a crank. But Boswell keeps the reader always on Reid's side -- he's living the life we wish we could, calling out the fools and morons and idiots in life and doing just what he wants at all times.

Boswell's art is scratchy and organic in the one-shot; one part classic adventure strip and one part '70s undergrounds. But he was rapidly gaining in detail and maturity; Heartbreak Comics sees his precise crosshatching and dots in all their glory, and the later Reid issues show him loosen that style up a bit to suit the more anarchic proceedings of a Reid Fleming story -- the lines are still as precise and perfect as they were in Heartbreak, but the panels are often larger and the scene-setting is stronger as Boswell focuses on exactly the elements he needs to tell his story right.

Reid Fleming's stories are full of both the energy of youth and the anger of middle age; they take place in a world that's as like today or the suburbs of thirty years ago as it is like a silent comedy. They're damn good comics, and having them back in print is something to celebrate. And the "Volume One" in the title of this book gives hope that more will be forthcoming in less than another decade, which would be even more to celebrate.


Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great article, thanks

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