Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Show Must Go On by Roger Langridge

Roger Langridge has a seemingly endless well of sad-sack protagonists to draw from, most of them loosely connected with the most old-fashioned, least remunerative parts of show business imaginable. Fred the Clown is probably the epitome of the form -- I don't want to be dogmatic, because Langridge could always have one even sadder sack lurking out in the wings -- since he doesn't speak, but The Show Must Go On's Mugwhump the Great is a close runner-up.

Mugwhump is a mediocre ventriloquist turned somewhat less effective stage MC, in the kind of small-city off-brand variety house that never existed in the real world past 1920 but turns up all of the time in fiction. (Fred is a minor character here; Langridge's sad-sacks often share a world.) Well, I say ventriloquist, since he uses a dummy in his act, but the dummy is actually a little wooden guy who can talk and walk for himself, so Mugwhump is not so much a ventriloquist as a cross between a fake and the straight man in a lousy comedy act.

As usual for Langridge's vaudeville-inspired comics, Mugwhump is in love and is utterly frustrated in that love -- but somewhat less typically, that's only a subplot to a saving-the-world plot. (Although the particular villain threatening the world does so in a very Langridge-y way.) Everything muddles through, as we expect it would, and the dummy Billy is both an important hero and the maguffin, in a nice bit of narrative compression.

But Mugwhump is only the cover feature: his adventures only fill about a quarter of this two-hundred-page-plus book. There are also three thrilling adventures of the pipe-chomping Doctor Sputnik (and his faithful assistant Spud); two stories about Jack T. Shit, a gentleman of wealth and taste who is pleased to meet you; seven short pieces under the overall title "Frankenstein Meets Shirley Temple," which are quirkier and more philosophical than you'd expect from the title; and some less definable bits, too. (Three stories were written by Gordon Rennie -- no, you're thinking of Michael Rennie; I did that, too -- and one odd little two-pager called "H.P. Lovecraft, Chocolate Sampler Copywriter" was written by Luke Burns. But everything else is pure Langridge. And the Rennie stories are bizarre and energetic in a way that's not quite like pure Langridge, but are somewhat parallel to that.)

Yes, this is an odd and sods collection, with a miscellany of stories originally published various places 1991 through 2011 and collected in this volume because Langridge was cleaning out his drawers or he finally got enough clout to have a book like this published or a Langridge-lover ascended to a position of ultimate power at Boom! or the stars finally aligned correctly for the Great Old Ones to return to Earth.

I don't care why it exists, honestly -- though it was a good excuse to ramble on in the previous paragraph -- since having a nice thick collection of Langridgeiana is a great thing. I will warn new Langridge readers that this is pretty hardcore Langridge; you'll want to warm up on his Muppet Show comics of Fred the Clown before diving into the deep end here. (If you're familiar with Art d'Ecco, though, you might find this a bit tame -- all of the stories have conventionally logical plots and most of the characters have consistent, understandable motivations.)

In short: Langridge! Weird vaudeville-inspired comics in a variety of quirky modes, about various things that used to be pop culture a long time ago, drawn impeccably. Go get it.

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