Bartleby the clown has a few problems. First, he's a clown. Second, and to make matters worse, he's an Amusement Park clown in an era where people don't really spend that much time in amusement parks anymore. Third, points one and two collide unpleasantly and together form a last paycheck. That would be rough even if he were living on his own, but he isn't. He has a wife and children, a family, to think about. What kind of future does he have now? His wife will leave him, his kids will grow up with no respect for him. He can picture it already.
Good thing Bartleby is such a lucky guy.
For all of 2020’s well-documented faults, I’ll always be grateful for the amount of time I had to discover comic creators who hadn’t been on my DC-centric radar before. Of them, most were fine, many were good, some were great.
For me, W. Maxwell Prince stands out as one of the greatest. Prince is a rarity in the write-for-the-trade age, as he is best known for the one-and-done stories featured in in his critically acclaimed horror anthology Ice Cream Man. Though he does have some longer form work, the recently concluded King of Nowhere for example, there is a reason his shorts have been so well received, and it goes beyond the appetite for a tale you can finish in one sitting. In Ice Cream Man, Prince is in his element, spinning shorts like a master from the golden age of magazine fiction. He hits his goals every time, and I generally leave feeling a little wiser and a little more afraid of the dark.
HAHA, like Ice Cream Man, is an anthology – in this case, a clown-themed anthology. However, whereas Ice Cream Man is an ongoing collaboration with the great Martin Morazzo, HAHA features a new artist in each issue. And while Ice Cream Man is genre-defying, it remains closest to horror at its heart. HAHA is, so far, more of a human drama. Prince has mentioned that he will not be committing to a single genre at all, but will be using HAHA to tell a variety of stories on a variety of themes, each featuring at least one clown, because he doesn’t like clowns.
Sounds great to me.
The first issue, “Bartleby Rejects the Premise,” centers on Bart (Bartleby while in costume, which he is for the entire issue), a family man and, of course, a clown. Bartleby works at Funville, a rundown amusement park that seems destined to shut down… or so Brenda, Bartleby’s wife, predicts. Bartleby disagrees but as it turns out Brenda is the more observant between them and when he arrives at Funville at the beginning of the issue, he is greeted with his last paycheck and a few hours in overtime in lieu of a pink slip.
From there, it’s really just one thing after another – an escalating series of events that test his metal resiliency. And, of course, the entire time Bartleby is wearing his costume and makeup, burying himself in his mask, making the specific into the universal and allowing us to see ourselves in him and his frustrations. The question is, how does Bartleby emerge from his day… assuming he emerges at all.
Vanessa Del Rey’s artwork has a stylized, scratchy almost-realism that reflects the sad and increasingly semi-fantastical world that Bartleby inhabits. When he sits at the dinner table with his family, panels are straight, highly structured, and Bartleby himself bleeds into the gutters and beyond as if to tell us that he doesn’t quite fit. At Funville, the bleeding becomes a feature with no real borders between panels at all, just images forming barriers against one another, and then when chaos hits, the pages break apart into chaotic angles and slivers of story that break against one another like shards of glass.
Color artist Chris O’Halloran is a staple of Ice Cream Man. There his work is dreamy, like ice cream colors. He brings more grit to HAHA with darker, earthier shades contrasted with a punch of candy pink on Bartleby himself that ensures he will always stick out like the proverbial sore thumb – the most colorful part of a dull, drab world.
In the back of the book, the cover of issue two promises a clown-themed burlesque dancer and the art of Zoe Thorogood. I can’t wait.
But for now, as you’re going through issue one? Pay close attention to the backgrounds.
Just trust me.
W. Maxwell Prince and today's collaborators Vanessa Del Rey, Chris O'Halloran and Good Old Neon spin a tale about a down on his luck clown, and how much you can lose before you aren't lucky anymore. Or maybe it's about how little you need to keep in order to continue seeing yourself as lucky? Well, what's important is, a story about a slightly pathetic clown has no right to be this good.
HAHA #1: Bartleby’s Life-Changing Day
Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
Storyline - 9/109/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 8.5/108.5/10
Cover Art - 8.5/108.5/10
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