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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Max Overacts Volume 1: Hold on to Your Stubs. Caanan Grall (Writer & artist) Occasional Comics (2010)

Strongly developing a central idea Caanan Grall has created a deeply engaging, funny and warmly charming comic that matches tremendous art with smart writing. Max Fogarty is the pivot for the comic, a young boy who is convinced of his own acting genius, in (unrequited) love with a classmate and in a perpetual struggle with his older sister Andi.
The extensive cast has two layers, those who are present to provide dramatic and very funny conflicts with Max, this includes his classmates, neighbors and teachers. These characters are all given space to react to and with Max, they are in a large sense his true audience. They observe and  respond but do not shape his theatrics. They do respond very vividly, the reviews of the school play starring Max as Pinocchio delivered by his classmates are minor masterpieces of compressed venom. When they are given the opportunity they are every bit as expressive as Max.
The second layer includes Max's mother, his sister, and Janet who is the object of Max's affections and rightly annoyed by them. They are given the room to be more than just responding to Max and they create a generous wider context for the story. Each of them is as spiky and individual as Max, they stand out clearly in their own right and Max responds to them as much as they do to him. Mixing up the two layers of the cast gives the stories considerably more room to develop and depth for the interactions between the cast.
The writing is one of the distinct pleasures of the book, it is not economical as it frequently is in comics, it is rather lush and expressive. It does more than set up or execute the jokes, it is a extra level in the book, the conversations feel full, they are the conversations you wish you could have, the rhythms and fullness of the language is a joy. It gives the cast much more depth, they speak as if they had interior lives rather than just being vehicles for very funny jokes. The jokes emerge in a context that reveal the characters as much as the punchlines.
The art is stunning, it is a pleasure to read and provides countless details to attract and draw in the reader. The cast are full of life, in rest or in motion have a steady energy that is really attractive. They body language is consistently and artfully supporting or counterpointing the language, the combinations are finely judged and deliver strongly. There is one outstanding aspect to the art which is the way that Caanan Gall draws clothes, in particular dressing the female cast. They all get varied and interesting clothes to wear that suit them, they look well. Caanan Gall has not gone for the shorthand of giving a character a uniform and sticking to it, the cast have an extensive wardrobe and use it. This detail is really significant, the cast get an opportunity to dress differently and this gives them much more scope and depth. They are given personalities that are reflected in their clothes, like living people do. The bright colours give slightly exaggerated feel of cartoon which serves the stories well, they are serving Max's desire to be larger than life.
The lettering is very smart, using word balloons in frequently allows the words to merge more easily and freely into the panels. The changes in emphasis in the dialogue is well done, it gives tone and colour to to the words.
This is a smashing comic by a seriously talented creator, a pleasure.

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