Friday, January 21, 2005

Worn Tuff Elbow by Marc Bell

published in Only Magazine #10, December 10-16

Touch your elbow. You know - the loose, worn, tough part, the part where human nerves decided a long time ago that they no longer wanted to transmit the painful sensation of skin being pinched between a sharp elbow bone and a table top. Twist that elbow skin, get it all worked in, ask your little brother to squeeze you there with some pliers. Then mourn the loss of a miniature civilization that lived in the dry caverns of this mysterious region before you so callously destroyed it. Your elbow didn’t need a pinching or a rubbing – it just needed anywhere from 200-250% moisturization! Them little fellers in there’ll be just fine! Before long you’ll be lugging talking bodiless legs around like Santa with his big ol’ bag and tossing them onto your growing pile of PEI potatoes. Marc Bell cranks up the absurd-o vision from first pages of his new comic Worn Tuff Elbow - so much so that the book jelly rolls its way into the absurdified air of Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Jim Woodring’s Frank comics, and the work of Dave Cooper. The sack ‘o potatoes bit is just a warm up for the real juice of the story - Monsieur Moustache’s dictatorial attack on the Little People of Bagtown, and Wilder Hobson’s apparent confusion (is he playing the fool? Is he a fool? Is he Marc?) at this state of affairs. There are plenty of other subplots including but not limited to class warfare, Goblin Powder, a pantaloon obsession, and a chilling Orwellian finale to temper all those chuckles.
Bagtown is populated by a cacophony of outrageous characters like Legba, the many-legged creature-thing that speaks mystical missives frantically recorded by a confused audience of strange little buddies. In Legba we see the insidious influence of local artist and wild man Shane Ehman; no doubt those who are familiar with Ehman’s work or have seen him throw down a spontaneous rhyme (I believe the kids call it “rapping”) will recognize his influence in Legba’s ramblings…and then fans of Ehman are rewarded with the unthinkable, a full page of his drawings adorn the back page! Published by Fantagraphics no less! Bell’s unrestrained expression of imagination is one of the things that really launches the comic into the pantheon of whacked-out Absurdism, and defines Bell’s style (see his Shrimpy and Paul book published by Highwater, any of the Shrimpy strips in various periodicals, or his numerous mini-comics). While Jim Woodring accomplishes his imaginative vision in Frank painting mostly wordless surreal fantasies, Bell effectively extends his creativity to wild liberties with language – liberties that somehow always seem strangely appropriate and calculated to both perplex and amuse. This is no quick draw piece of work either, the details in the lines are impressive, and each frame is packed with visual narrative devices that owing to the simplicity of black lines on white paper, manage to be somehow full and sparse at the same time.
Worn Tuff Elbow is a refreshing breath of lunacy and humor in a medium that has become overly concerned with opposing extremes of depressing realism and rehashed formulaic superhero plots – both with the goal of making the next hit movie adaptation. The comics medium needs humor like this – have we forgotten what it is to laugh? Did I just say that? Will you forgive me? I appreciate the work of talented artists like Seth and Adriane Tomine, but I’d love to see a fresh wave of “funnies” lighten up the modern comic atmosphere. Bell uses the comic to do things only comics can do – words and pictures working together to create a scene that no animated cartoon, hideous computer graphics, or live theatre adaptation can do. Maybe it would work in claymation. Look, the puffery of this puff piece should perhaps be reigned in a tad, but if you are someone who has given up on comics because you are bored with the medium, or too impatient to wait for your favorite title to come out, or think there’s nothing funny or mature enough for you out there – Worn Tuff Elbow is calling you back and clucking like a chicken telling you “Comics can be fun! Comics are fun!”

Worn Tuff Elbow is available at fine comic shops everywhere - get yours at Lucky's.

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