I’m gonna start out by chucking out half my comics cred by admitting right up front that I didn’t know who W. Maxwell Prince was until just now. Sure, I’ve seen that he writes Ice Cream Man and that seems to be a comic a lot of people enjoy, but I’d never gotten around to checking it out. I will correct that oversight, now that I have cut my teeth on the collected edition of his Image Comics series, HAHA.
HAHA: SAD CLOWN STORIES collects HAHA #1-6, from Image Comics and writer W. Maxwell Prince. The art team changes with each self-contained single-issue story and let me tell you, that is one hell of a treat, especially when read as a collection. Some real thought was put into the selection of the artists, I am certain. I don’t know all of the names, but all are top-quality examples of various styles. Of the stories, I was either affected and entertained by all but one. That is a fantastic success rate and really speaks to the amount of talent displayed by Prince and his collaborators.
Each chapter has small hooks into others, little references that stitch together not so much a broader tapestry as a shared and very relatable world of quiet sorrow. The first story clearly needed to be placed right there to get out of the way the most obvious example of a sad clown story, that of a sad sack sonofabitch actual clown having a really bad day. It’s BARTELBY REJECTS THE PREMISE (read online for free!), art by Vanesa del Rey, colors by Chris O’Halloran. The art style reminds me a lot of Guy Davis, very indy/sketchy, well suited to the engrossing depression-noir-meets-social-satire story. This chapter did what first chapters and first issues should do, and drew me in, brought me back for more.
The second chapter cranks things up. Prince has got you back for more and he’s showing you why he’s got whole comics all his own. RUDOLPH ON THE ROAD TO FUNVILLE is illustrated by Zoe Thorogood, colors again by Chris O’Halloran. This time the story is sad while the “clown” is a young Mom taking her daughter on a road trip while suffering a psychotic break. The art is almost two styles, a very serviceable indy style combined with this achingly sweet attention to the little girl character that captivated me.
By now I was up later reading than intended, but too hooked to stop. REMY SAYS... is illustrated by Roger Langridge, who brings this spot-on Bruce Timm/animated style to the central character of Remy, a street mime who finds a friend. Out of respect to mimes, I assume, Prince does this as an almost-silent comic. I usually don’t care for that shtick but this guy nails it and tells a story I found very funny and charming and I am reminded again the subtitle is SAD CLOWN STORIES.
One risk taken with anthology storytelling is the inevitable “I didn’t like that one”. Despite writing skill I obviously now respect and stunning art provided by Patrick Horvath, GUSTAV IN THE WORLD OF FLOATING OBJECTS was my least favorite story. The watercolor-esque coloring compliments the line work, especially in the Gustav hallucinatory sections. I just couldn’t find my way through the narrative on this one, friends.
W. Maxwell redeems himself with the fifth and penultimate chapter, POUND FOOLISH MAKES A CASSEROLE, art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta. You are actually taught how to make the titular casserole by an elderly circus clown who simply misses her long-ago fella. She’s a brilliant character and I love her and I am completely not kidding when I say that I plan to make her secret cauliflower casserole! The story overall is more bittersweet than sad, but that’s okay because I don’t think I could have stood for anything worse happening to this adorable, grumpy old dame.
HAPPY HANK THE VERY HAPPY CLOWN, with art by Martin Morazzo and colored again by O’Halloran, closes out the book. Morazzo’s art reminds me a lot of Steve Dillon, in Happy Hank’s faces particularly. It’s clean artwork, excellent expressions and body language. The story is chapter 1 redux, taking that sad story about a sad sack sonofabitch clown having a really bad day and goddammit, but Prince makes it about a hundred percent sadder. While telling Happy Hank’s story, Prince refers back to all the stories that came before and then tucks in some meta-fiction just to show off. As final issues go for an anthology, this is masterful.
Tremendous storytelling from a powerful writer and some outstanding artistic collaborators. HAHA: SAD CLOWN STORIES is available right now in softcover and digital collected edition from wherever you your buy comics. I hope you choose your local friendly comic shop, but as long as you’re keepin’ it legal, I approve.
Until next time, kids! I’m gonna go and re-read that Langridge story!
Plenty of Pulp, by Max Cage, for Wednesday Pull List