Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #17: Fred the Clown in "The Iron Duchess" by Roger Langridge

Fred the Clown will not win, in love or in life. That is the rule. As long as you understand that going in, you can enjoy the stories about him with joy and a light heart.

(Except..he sort-of does win love here, in an odd way, because this book is basically a melodramatic movie, and that kind of movie has to have something like a happy ending. But it's a very Fred the Clown kind of happy ending.)

The book is Fred the Clown in "The Iron Duchess." It is basically a silent movie presented as panels on paper, but that's nowhere near the oddest thing creator Roger Langridge has done in comics over his career. He's good at this stuff; Iron Duchess is right up the middle of what he does best: longing love, amusing squalor, smirking villainy, mad science, trains hurtling headlong, mountains carved into the visage of a beloved ancestor, extended dream sequences, the power of the cinema, and amusingly communicative pigs and horses.

I could fill up the page with words about Iron Duchess, but that would be severely beside the point: this is a mostly-silent book, with some information conveyed through printed materials in the fictional world, but no dialogue or captions. This is a story that exists separately from words, in a movie-world that never quite existed, with characters who are sturdy and dependable because we know them on sight -- the beautiful love interest, the grumpy father, the handsome movie star. Well, and Fred. And his pig.

Which is rather the point, actually -- Fred and his pig takes the stuff of standard melodrama and makes it silly. Makes it something more slapstick while at the same time more emotionally true. A nice trick, that. Langridge is good at those kind of contradictions.

I suspect I'm not making the case strongly enough, so let me be blunt: Langridge is a great cartoonist, and this book is him at the peak of his strengths, telling a story in the ways only he can. Yes, it's a fake silent movie about a bumbling, penniless clown and the heiress he falls in love with. So what?

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