Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Stray Toasters #4

Stray Toasters #4, 1988, Epic Comics
writer/artist: Bill Sienkiewicz
letterer: James Novak

I don’t get it.

I was initially excited about today’s review, because I figured that a few books in November could commemorate the Thanksgiving holiday with some peculiar reference to food, as most of the reviews in October honored Halloween, but after reading Stray Toasters #4, I confess that I just don’t get it. Featuring a cast of macabre characters, I don’t understand who anybody is, what their motivations are, or why I should care, sans the poetic narrative that fluctuates between the essence of Shakespearean verse and the crudity of an Andrew Dice Clay concert album. Still, my weary eyes were pulling through this confusing read by Sienkiewicz’s compelling visuals, which combined his chicken-scratch-like, thin lined inks with textured, prop-ridden technology, similar to the supplemental pages in the graphic novel Arkham Asylum. Nearly twenty years later, some of these pages are still breathtaking – and you don’t have to know what they’re trying to say to appreciate the beauty and sophistication of how they say it.

As I’ve explained in the past, even the most boring comic book – which Stray Toasters was not, but follow me here – offers every reader some scrap of familiarity, some moment of connection that could make the otherwise useless reading experience worthwhile. In Stray Toasters, Sienkiewicz managed to enthrall me with his narration, some snippets of introspective insight twisted by religion and murder, with captions that struck me as ambiguously assigned to any one character or muse. Describing one of his female characters, Sienkiewicz wrote, “A woman knows her own son. Her own lover. Her own personal physician. All the men in her life well enough to slit their throats.” Nice. If I ever read Stray Toasters from the beginning, something tells me I’d be in for dark roller coaster through the most violent recesses of the human mind. Sienkiewicz has taken man, scrapped off his burnt outer layers, and spread them around on the page for us to enjoy. Maybe I’m not confused as much as I’m scared by what this issue is trying to say.

I like Sienkiewicz. I’m familiar with his work on Spectacular Spider-man and from his contribution to the Batman: Black & White miniseries. Stray Toasters doesn’t change my impression of his talent – in fact, I’m more impressed with the man as an artist, but as a writer, I think this tale might be a little dated. Something with these psychological complexities is best left in the “me” generation of the ‘80s. Me, I’m just grateful that A Comic A Day is back on track after last weekend’s technical disaster. In spite of what today’s issue is entitled, we’re no longer astray. Heh heh.

Get that?


j_ay said...

When "reviewing" a book do you also just read the last chapter and then judge the entire work based on that?

The story is not dated at all.

But sorry, there are no Wolverine cameos or whatever you seem to need that would make things "familiar".

Is your next review issue number 300 of Cerebus and then you’ll judge the entire series based on ‘um, I don’t get it’?

KaraokeFanboy said...

Thank you for reading and responding! I must confess that I don't understand your embittered tone, since most of my "Stray Toasters" review was overwhelmingly positive, despite my own ignorance of the entire series. Maybe "dated" was the wrong word for this story, since I praise Sienkiewicz's brilliant visuals and prose in my second paragraph, but as I've explained in earlier posts, I try to read these issues through the lens of a novice collector, someone who would only be familiar with Wolverine cameos and the like, as you say. Of course, if you've only read my most recent entries, you wouldn't know that, so it seems we're both guilty of judging a whole based on the sum of its parts. Now, I did offer a reason behind my critique -- the reference to pop psychology -- so if you can persuade me why this issue isn't stuck in the mire of late '80s gothic melodrama, the kind that spawned the whole Vertigo imprint I presume, I'd appreciate it. Feedback like yours is what makes the "A Comic A Day" challenge worthwhile, particularly as my mind opens to the kinds of comics I probably wouldn't have read otherwise. Hey, I'm trying to "get it," which is more than many "fans" can say!