These are the manic ramblings that go through my head at all hours of the day or night.
In my never-ending pursuit of new and exciting comic book stores to affix myself to, leech-like, and try and synthesize a social life, as McGiver might make a bomb from a car radio, some twine, and chewing gum (in this case, the car radio would be played by awkward over-sharing; twine would be open dislike of other people; and chewing gum limited knowledge of relevant, relatable subjects), I returned to my favorite comic shop in Burbank, House of Secrets. Like most of my raves, it hits all the major pleasure centers for my geekiness (unbagged/boarded comics for easy reading; comics organized by publisher; great selection of trades; not real manga-heavy; unpretentious; big selection of indie comics/artist collections; totally adorable and charming countergirl).
After several days of pursuing, chatting with staff, and general loitering, I decided (in open defiance to my current situation as an unemployed, homeless loser) to pick up a graphic novel (ughhhhh, that fucking WORD) that I’d been eyeballing for days: THREE FINGERS, by Rich Koslowski (Published by the great indie publisher Top Shelf in 2002).
It had been calling to me for days as I casually looked over the gorgeous art and intriguing subject matter. As I brought it to the counter, the cashier (not my new friend and secret love Comic book Store Girl, an affection that has been trending in my life for going on a decade now) cheerfully proclaimed, “Oh, there’s some funny stuff in there.”
Having read the book, hungrily consuming page after beautiful page, I would beg to differ. True, there are a few funny moments, and it’s bare bones outline seems light, but the real heart of the book is a tale of ugliness and despair. I say this with the deepest admiration for the author and illustrator, Rich Koslowski, because instead of just being about the gloom, he’s created something both sadly beautiful and grotesque. In a way, the book is about this fundamental contrast: the ultimate tale of the darkness that lurks beneath the surface of nostalgia and slowly rises from the murky depth through the passing of time.
The book is framed (with incredible simplicity and pitch-perfect execution) like a Ken Burns documentary about the rise and fall of the career of Ricky the Rat (a Mickey Mouse surrogate). The world is similar to that of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” where “Toons” (cartoon characters and anthropomorphic “funny animals”) and Humans co-exist, but far, far darker. The book starts in the 20s and 30s, when Toon actors are consigned to ethnic ghettos and basically whitewashed out of the entertainment industry. An enterprising Dizzy Walters (Walt Disney, for those keeping up), discovering Ricky playing piano on the Toon vaudeville circuit and the two form a theatrical partnership which results in Ricky rocketing to stardom, all told via talking-head style testimonials by fellow Toon actors and film historians many years after the fact.
The real push of the “documentary” is less about Ricky and his fame, and more about fellow unemployed Toons trying to follow in his footsteps and finding the barrier to be insurmountable. This turns many Toons to a disturbing, bizarre form of self mutilation called “The Ritual” wherein one of their fingers is removed to emulate Ricky’s three fingered hand.
It truly is an astonishing work. The character designs and illustrations are great, seamlessly transitioning from grainy, old time photographs to bubbly, rounded cartoons, to the sagging, grim deformity of age.
My only qualms with it is that the book is a slim little thing and that the creative potential of the work remains pretty much untapped. The world Koslowski creates is so vivid and enthralling that I can’t help but want more. Still, I suppose it speaks to the artists modesty (or simple cleverness) that he gives just a peak into this world, framed through the lens of this tragedy.
Can NOT recommend this enough. Go buy it!