The Comics Journal #103 (November 1985), pp. 35—36
MAKING PROMISES, MAKING GOOD
Steve Monaco on Heart Break Comics, Freak Brothers, Harold Hedd, Feelgood Funnies, Tales of the Beanworld, Saga of Swamp Thing, and MacKenzie Queen/The Jam.
Beginning with the best, in Heart Break Comics cartoonist David Boswell has done the impossible: he took the sky-high expectations built up by his earlier Reid Fleming, World's Toughest Milkman and surpassed them. In his first book in almost four years (and in only his second book, period) Boswell has created a full-length work that easily compares against the all-time best of the undergrounds, and makes a jaded old comics snob like me feel so elated that he has to suppress the urge to make rash statements such as "the Thimble Theater of the '80s."
Those of you foolish or unfortunate enough to have missed Reid Fleming may not be aware of the enormity of Boswell's accomplishment in Heart Break. Published in 1980, Reid Fleming was, simply, one of the world's funniest comic books. Chronicling the trials and triumphs of working-stiff Reid Fleming in his day-to-day battles with corporate and surburban North America, the book was one long, hilarious snarl, and what burgeoning artist Boswell lacked in technique at times was more than compensated for by his exemplary script and panel layouts. The book was a rough-hewn gem, and in the years following its release, fervid Fleming fans have been waiting anxiously for the promised follow-up, Heart Break Comics, hoping against hope that it wouldn't be a letdown, like too many long-awaited works turn out to be.
Nothing, however, could have prepared Boswell's boosters for the stunning success the man has achieved in his new book. In both its words and pictures, the cartooning in Heart Break is much superior to the earlier Reid Fleming, and there is a depth and sophistication to Boswell's already subtle, intelligent comedy that make the book exciting and fresh no matter how many times one has to read it.
Giving any kind of plot synopsis of the story is tricky, in that not only would it do the book a disservice to telegraph too many of its surprises, but the story and characters themselves almost defy any kind of objective description. While Mr. Fleming and his present wife Lena have prominent roles, the main hero of Heart Break Comics is Laszlo, great slavic lover. While Laszlo has a capacity for violence similar to the no-nonsense Mr. Fleming, he is second to none when it comes to pleasing the women, including Mrs. Fleming. When Laszlo's business associate Ken Worm introduces him to their new secretary Constance, the big Slav gives up his frenzied life of a roving Romeo for an equally skewed experiment in courtship.
But no recounting of the storyline can possibly do justice to the non-stop delights offered within the 41 pages of Heart Break Comics; indeed, its boundless generosity is the main reason the book is so impressive. Both Boswell's art and script overflow with skillfully crafted bits, and there are enough plot twists, jokes, and nifty cartooning touches in his book-length story to fill two or three regular comics. (Not that any "regular" comic could even come close to Heart Break's caliber in the first place.) Boswell has grown astonishingly as an artist, and his more assured control of his medium has allowed him to create his fictional world and characters with much more detail and dimension than in his previous book. His art is attractive and extremely well-rendered (as opposed to the good but somewhat primitive cartoon work in Reid Fleming), and he has moments in his new book — Laszlo's levitation scene and the costume party, to name two — where he achieves true tour de force levels of cartoon artistry.
Heart Break Comics is a perfect example of what comics can be like when the creator is given the time necessary to create good work and is also allowed to keep working on it until it's right. The time and care put into every page of the book is so obvious the panels almost gleam from the polish they've received. David Boswell has already established himself as one of comics' true originals, and he's only beginning to show us what he can do. The book's back cover dramatically announces that Boswell's next project will be Reid Fleming #2. Normally, my advice would be "Don't get your hopes up," but after the victory of Heart Break Comics, I say expect the best — Boswell will probably deliver. And to Mr. Boswell himself, I say hurry it up if you can. But take the time it needs. lf it pleases you, it's a pretty safe guess that your fans will he satisfied, too.
Telegraph Wire #19 (February/March 1985), pp. 24—25
by Eric Yarber
Another winner. David Boswell flrst came to my attention ln 1980, when I plcked up a copy of REID FLEMING, WORLD'S TOUGHEST MILKMAN. The book was a serles of mostly one-page situations featuring the incredlbly strong, incredlbly nasty Mr. Fleming, and was probably the single funniest comic to have emerged from this decade. How many other characters can you name that have wound up on a t-shirt on the basis of only one appearance? Fleming is indeed a legend.
Just in time to appear in 1984 comes Boswell's second book, HEART BREAK COMICS. One hears the term "graphic novel" tossed around a lot, but I think this one may be a little closer to that term than most of the extended comic book issues that proclaim themselves as such. It's a 41-page complete-in-one-issue semi-sequel to FLEMING that deals with the unfortunate love life of "Great Slavic Lover" Laszlo. One of Laszlo's conquests turns out to be Lena, Reid Fleming's wife, but Laszlo himself is much too taken with the lovely Constance to keep the affair up. Fleming figures it had gone on far too long as it was, however.
The book is drawn in much more detail than FLEMING, and the milkman's mad rages are kept to a minimum. The main focus of this volume seems to be in painting a world of confused romance where people either love the wrong people, or are loved by the wrong people, or love the right people but aren't loved by them, or are generally better off gettlng into a better sort of business to begin with. It's an ambitious theme for a humor book, and Boswell seems to have decided that it's more important than being continually hilarious. The laughs are spread farther apart than in FLEMING, which may alienate some fans of the first book. There's more of the inspired logic that went into such gags as Fleming's love of "Ivan," however, an entrance scene on page 31 being both funny and rather mind-twisting at the same time. Other scenes in this vein, like Laszlo's moonlight flight under the influence of love, are only funny in side details. The main point of such scenes seems to go beyond the simple one of merely making someone laugh. They're not taken completely seriously at any point, but there is still a sort of lyrical emotion coming from the ludicrous figures in the book.
It's really nice to see a book that has a sensibility like this behind it. While the plot veers and slides in all directions, the general philosophy of HEART BREAK remains consistent and is proven by the examples it sets within its pages. lt's utterly without pretension, no great messages within it, but still has something to say. Okay, Mr. Dealer, wrap one up for me.
|HEART BREAK COMICS|