Thursday, September 18, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #261: Let Us Be Perfectly Clear by Paul Hornschmeier

Paul Hornschmeier's art style is always soft and rounded, even when it doesn't seem like it should be -- even his robots and stone-faced midgets look squishy and cuddly, the unlikely soft toys from some much odder world than ours. That goes a long way to wear down the sharp edges of his existentially dark stories, but even more puts the two parts of comics, words and art, into a quivering tension.

His full-length graphic novels -- I've so far read Mother, Come Home and Life With Mr. Dangerous -- tend to push that tension down below the surface of relatively mundane stories about regular people and their travails. But his short stories revel in strangeness and quirk, which brings us to his collection Let Us Be Perfectly Clear.

Let Us Be Perfectly Clear is a flip book -- Let Us Be on one side, Perfectly Clear on the other, meeting in the middle with "About the Author" pages upside down to each other. And I learn from a certain online book store's description, well after I read the book itself, that Perfectly Clear contains comedic stories and Let Us Be morose ones. That's plausible afterwards, though during the reading, it seemed more like Perfectly had the short, strange stories and Perfectly Clear had the long, ominous ones. Perhaps I'm just describing what "comedic" and "morose" meant to the young Hornschmeier -- these stories were originally published a decade or more ago, and collected in 2006.

These stories are Hornschmeier at his most philosophical, his most enigmatic, his most odd, his most ironic, his most arch, and his most weird -- and it's difficult to describe them any more than that without talking about specific stories, like the one that wanders through several plots almost aimlessly (possibly as an analog to changing TV channels) or the one where two men meet to watch "videos"whose subject is very carefully not quite explained. And then the funny side of the book is primarily single-pagers -- and explaining those would be very close to spoiling the jokes, assuming any of us consider them jokes.

These are weird, artsy comics, drawn in a bright, cheery style but with daggers lurking at every turn in the narrative. If you like weird, artsy short comics, this is a wonderful collection of them, and you should have a great time. If your idea of comics is more conventionally American, you'll want to stay far away from the section of the store with Hornschmeier books.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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