Desmond Reed is a New England cartoonist whose work I’d been borderline fascinated with since first coming across his self-published debut, Those Dark New Hampshire Woods, some years ago, but it was his later ‘zine The Funnies that pushed that fascination over the border — in fact, it’s fair to say the short-form adventures of his eminently-flexible coterie of lovable goofballs positively hooked me, and so I was gratified to see their return in his latest (also self-published) mini, Apples, which builds on the strengths of its predecessor without in any way appreciably upsetting the — errrrmmmm — apple cart. Sorry.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for breaking with formula and tradition, but when you’ve got a good thing going, seriously — what’s the point? And so our fictitious friends Wallace T.J., Mona Gertrude, Ralph Jonathan, Gil Christopher, and Henrietta Susan are back, and doing what they do best, which is to say, serving as lovable comedic ciphers to the shit we all went through at one point in our lives — or may still be going through, if you’re fortunate enough to be a couple of decades younger than your curmudgeonly critic here.
Nominal personal growth appears to have occurred among our cast since their last go-’round, but it’s kinda hard to tell, and not especially relevant either way — which sounds like a “diss” (or whatever) but isn’t, given that it’s their relatable reactions to exaggerated situations and/or exaggerated reactions to relatable situations that give this comic its charm aplenty, so “character arcs” of any sort are rather surplus to requirements here. Quick-fire vignettes about popular themes like drug use, depression, co-habitation, shit jobs, and everyday life’s little highs and lows are the order of the day, then, and while that may not sound terribly ambitious, few do them better than does Reed, so seriously — check your coolness at the door and just relax and have fun.
Ah, yes — that dread word. Some time back certain quarters of the comics community (those who take it upon themselves to police the medium’s general trajectory for reasons known only to themselves) decided that “fun” was an outmoded concept and that cartoonists should be aiming their sights “higher,” but I’ve never gotten on board with myself that since fun is, ya know, fun. I’m pleased to report Reed appears to have ignored this unspoken dictate as well, and has instead honed his comedic chops and gently acerbic sense of timing to its full potential and is now ready to stand as one of the more unique funnybook-makers in the contemporary scene. The self-appointed “intelligentsia” may consider that to be a truly trivial pursuit, but who the hell cares? Around these parts, we ain’t ashamed to admit that good times are a good thing.
Which isn’t to say this comic doesn’t skirt around the edges of “heavier” material, but it does so in a way that’s still designed, ultimately, to be more reflective of the struggles of its readership (and perhaps even its creator) than it is downright exploratory, to offer sympathy and reassurance via commonality of experience rather than to take deep dives into deep issues and deep problems. This is a comic that knows who you are, or were, and is here to meet you on the home turf you share with it. There’s a time and place for taxing and challenging work, absolutely, but when you need a break from all that but still don’t care to be condescended to? You can’t do a whole lot better than this.
It’s no exaggeration to say I’m flat-out enamored with Reed’s squiggly world and hope to have a chance to visit again soon — until then, though, I’m content to re-read this comic whenever I could use a pick-me-up. Even knowing all the gags, punchlines, and twists of fate, a visit with old friends is still, and always will be, well worth a person’s time.
Apples is available for $5.00 from J.T. Yost’s Birdcage Bottom Books distro at https://birdcagebottombooks.com/products/apples?variant=41000348811440
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