DragonFish Comics, 2009
Story: Andrew McGinn
Art: David Neitzke
You only have to wander into your local specialist store to appreciate just how reluctant the comic industry is to cater beyond its established demographics. Like timid weeds the US publishers have dug deep into several small niches and seem reluctant to branch out into unfamiliar territory. Andrew McGinn and David Neitzke’s The Legacy paints a similar picture of the world of syndicated comic strips (or cartoons), a stagnant industry in which the characters never evolve and when a cartoonist dies his offspring is expected to carry on in his name.
This is the predicament aspiring graphic novelist Chas Brown finds himself in. Filled with pretensions of greatness, Chas’s progress on a book about “real life shit” is perpetually stifled by the promise he made to his father; that he would inherit and continue Milt Brown’s cosy comic strip ‘Simple Pleasures.’
When Milt conveniently croaks, Chas finds himself torn between a sense of duty to his mother and a desire to work on something worthy, and decides that the only way to free himself from ‘Simple Pleasures’ is to get it cancelled. Thus begin his efforts to make the strip as vulgar and unpopular as is humanly possible. But Chas isn’t quite prepared for the consequences that his new ‘Simple Pleasures’ – daily topics include paedophilia, drug abuse and bondage – will have on both those around him and his conscience.
I must confess that my knowledge of comic strips is pretty limited, but Andrew McGinn’s subversive comedy is so densely packed with references and background sight gags that it virtually seconds as a history lesson in the medium. There’s a comprehensive (and equally hilarious) coda included that details Milt Brown’s early comic career and the creation of ‘Simple Pleasures’ icon, little Dougie Riggle. Clearly a lot of work has gone into the book’s metafiction, and it really brings the world within and around ‘Simple Pleasures’ to life.
McGinn balances crude, coarse humour with an astute commentary on not only the comic strip market, but the creators within who find themselves slaves to an audience eternally satisfied by more of the same. While Chas Brown goes about destroying his father’s beloved creations, there’s a delicious irony in the fact that most of the people who read this book would saw off their drawing hand to inherit a popular cartoon franchise.
David Nietzke has taken a rather novel approach here, illustrating the graphic novel in the style of a comic strip. His characters designs riff on countless established comic strips, while never veering so close to one particular property that the book lacks its own identity. His parodies are also spot-on and, most importantly, instantly recognisable. I particularly enjoyed Rutherford, a languid pooch with a love of ravioli and an extreme dislike of Tuesdays.
With so many small publishers striving to imitate the big boys for a thin slice of the superhero/vampire/zombie pie, it’s both heartening and satisfying to read a book as original and painstakingly conceived as The Legacy. It’s the sort of comic Woody Allen would have once written if he’d taken a different career direction; smart, funny and unashamedly introspective.
For more info on The Legacy, as well as a list of online outlets that stock it, visit www.molechpress.com/legacy.html.