So, confession time: I used to be a clown. Not like a child’s party clown or a circus clown, no, I was a parade clown. Every year in my home town there was a big Thanksgiving parade, and I would dress up like a clown with my brother and other people and walk the street handing out candy and joking with kids. It was something I looked forward to every year and is one of the few, purely good memories I have of my childhood.
This is most likely the reason why I, unlike an overwhelming number of my peers, have never seen clowns as a frightening force of evil. Clowns are just people in goofy costumes that want to make people laugh, not forces of evil to be feared and despised. They should make you want to laugh, not cry, and I am saying that without a hint of irony.
That’s right, I am pro clown. I look forward to your emails!
What a lot of people might not realize, though, especially the younger generation, with their toktiks and chatsnaps, is that before clowns were portrayed as evil agents of destruction, there was another counter-clownish version of my beloved pranksters that captured the nation’s attention, the sad clown.
Sad clowns were popularized in America by artist and comedian Red Skelton. Skelton, a struggling actor, started painting in the early 1940’s, and eventually gained a fairly solid cult following for his portraits of sad clowns, producing over a thousand works on that subject in his lifetime, and making much more money off of those than he ever did from acting.
When asked why he found the subject of sad clowns so alluring, Skelton evaded the question, but implied that he saw a lot of himself in the work, and that they were an outlet for his own upset and frustration.
The image of a clown, a maker of mirth and merriment, as a sad and miserable person deep down inside was not a new concept when Skelton began painting. Obviously the most famous version is the opera Pagliacci, and if that name sounds familiar you’re might be recalling this scene from Watchmen.
So what does all this clown talk have to do with this week’s review? Well, this week we are looking at HAHA #1 from W. Maxwell Prince, a book that might just teach you to love clowns again.
Here’s the blurb:
ICE CREAM MAN writer W. MAXWELL PRINCE brings his signature style of one-shot storytelling to the world of clowns—and he’s invited SOME OF THE COMIC INDUSTRY’S BEST ARTISTS to join him for the ride.
HAHA is a genre-jumping, throat-lumping look at the sad, scary, hilarious life of those who get paid to play the fool—but these ain’t your typical jokers.
With issues drawn by VANESA DEL REY (REDLANDS), GABRIEL WALTA (Vision), ROGER LANGRIDGE (Thor), and more, HAHA peeks under the big top, over the rainbow, and even inside a balloon to tell a wide-ranging slew of stories about “funny” men and women, proving that some things are so sad you just have to laugh.
Issue one of HAHA follows the misadventures of Bart, AKA Bartleby the Clown. Bart’s a perpetually upbeat man who just wants to do right by his family. His work at a local amusement park has kept his family provided for, but clearly has not brought them the respect his wife wants from the neighborhood.
When Bart learns that his employer is going out of business and his life is going to spiral out of control, it sets him on a bizarre journey of self reflection that takes a twist that is as strange as it is unexpected. I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say the ending of this book is not what I think anyone would expect.
So let’s look at what works, what doesn’t, and why I think you should read this book.
First off, the art in HAHA is fantastic. Del Rey gives this world a shabby, rundown vibe that perfectly fits the mood of our characters. The action is frenetic and exciting, and the moments of quiet are achingly heartbreaking. Not to mention that when things take a turn, Del Rey draws a world that is perfect in its unsettling nature.
Prince, well known to indie readers from his spectacular series Ice Cream Man, really shines in this work as well. The story is short, a single issues, and yet fits more pathos and plot in its pages than some trades four times as long. You empathize with Bart almost immediately. He’s a good man who just wants to make people happy and provide for his family. Setback after setback slams into the man, and yet he refuses to give in to melancholy. Bart is a character that you want to root for, a perpetual undog and everyman, even if he does spent the entire story dressed up as a clown.
It’s tight, funny, uplifting, and bizarre. It’s everything I like in an indie, and I think you’ll like it too.
What doesn’t work:
As I said, HAHA is a single issue story, and while that’s great (and increasingly rare in the comics world) that also means that there is a lot that get’s glossed over quickly. I want to know more about this character. I want to learn his backstory and see where his life goes after this issue. Plus, he does a few things that really make you wonder about just who this guy actually is, and those things never get explained in a satisfactory way. What makes a man like Bart do the things that he does? Hopefully one day we’ll learn.
Buy this book. Seriously, it’s a damn fine read. Prince is a master storyteller and HAHA will have you laughing as hard as you cry. I am really, really looking forward to the next issues in this series, and can’t wait to see where it goes.
It’s time to take back clowning!