Sunday, March 5, 2017
STROPPY SIGNALS A NEW DIRECTION FOR MARC BELL
As readers of VICE and alt-weeklies from around the world are already aware, Marc Bell is one of Canada's most intriguing and entertaining comics creators. His latest work, STROPPY, serves as both an evolutionary step forward and a tangential excursion from the trail he's been blazing for the better part of two decades.
As a draftsman with a Fine Arts background, Bell has earned renown for his charming, oblique sense of humor, his obsessive rendering, and his nigh unto psychotic dedication to minutiae. He typically fills every centimeter of his frame with intricate, pseudo-mechanical “things” that end up telling stories as involved as the narratives around which they orbit. Think Sergio Aragones meets Tony Millionaire by way of the Fleischer Studio... or not, it's totally up to you.
Anyhoo, as a long time fan of Bell’s work, I have always assumed that the labor intensive nature of his style is one of the main reasons why he’s kept his stories relatively short, running to, at most, a handful of pages. So when I found out that his latest book, STROPPY, would be telling a single, 70-plus page story, I was intrigued. Would he be able to pull off a long-form narrative and still retain the utterly bonkers style and sensibility that make reading his work a comics experience unlike any other?
Fortunately, it turns out I had nothing to worry about.
STROPPY is a complete success. Simultaneously playful and enigmatic, satirical and whimsical, beautiful and grotesque, base and transcendent… Bell manages to extend his enterprise with a minimum of artistic compromise and a maximum of narrative integrity. In his own sweetly surrealistic way, Bell even manages to drift in the direction of social commentary, exploring the socio-cultural underpinnings of the Late Capitalist Dream from which we are all desperately attempting to awaken.
Not that STROPPY is a polemic; far from it. I merely suggest that there’s more going on under the surface here than weird characters being weird to each other. There are all-too-familiar stakes and consequences for these characters—exploitative employment, precarious housing, class immobility, ambition in the face of hopelessness—which serve to make the surreal moments all the more effective.
Both a must-have addition to any established fan’s collection and an excellent starting point for anyone interested in learning what all the fuss is about, STROPPY is a triumph, and another superlative addition to Bell’s expanding oeuvre. Furthermore, Bell’s longtime publishers, Drawn & Quarterly, seem to agree, seeing as they’ve gone all out with this beautiful hardcover edition, packaged in the style of Europe’s beloved “albums de bandes dessinées”.
STROPPY is available at a ridiculously low price wherever quality comic books are sold, both online and off.