Review: Ed the Happy Clown by Chester Brown
August 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The 1980s were a crucial time for alternative comics, though that decade is often less celebrated than the underground movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s and the self-publishing revolution of the 1990s. During the ‘80s, alongside growing creative clusters in Seattle and New York City, there were also inventive pockets of energy brewing in Canada.
In Drawn and Quarterly’s collection of “Ed, the Happy Clown,” stories by Canadian cartoonist Chester Brown (whose recent autobiographical “Paying For It” was met with acclaim outside the comics world), a hint of that strange universe is provided. It’s one where the only way you knew outrageous and challenging comics existed was to go into the right store and blunder upon them. One of these titles was Brown’s “Yummy Fur,” which began life as a mini before being picked up by small Toronto publisher Vortex.
Brown’s graphic novel starts out as a seat-of-its-pants comedy formed by a fascination with the surrealist practice of creating spontaneously. The laughs are culled from more simple stories about Ed and various characters in sometimes gross situations — see the hilarious “The Man Who Couldn’t Stop” for the best example — that seem to be going nowhere, until they unexpectedly do.
With Brown’s mind working overtime, connecting the dots that he had previously scattered, the disparate blossoms into a science-fantasy satire involving various dimensions, avenging vampires and Ed’s penis, now topped off with the head of Ronald Reagan — and it all makes hilarious sense.
Brown finishes the book with ample notes dissecting not only his creative reasoning in the work, but his personal life at the time. These build a fascinating portrait of what it was like to try and make it as a Canadian cartoonist in that decade, amidst various personal struggles.
It makes a beautiful counterpoint to sprawling cartoon of wicked irreverence, allowing this collection to work alternately as a much-recommended time piece as well as a tribute to the sort of craziness that comes out of us when we are young and on fire.