Ed The Happy Clown #1
By Chester Brown
Published by Drawn and Quarterly; $2.95 USD
In the introductory note to this first issue, cartoonist Chester Brown notes that "These nine comic books will reprint the work exactly as it appeared in the 1992 book-edition, spelling mistakes and all." So this is not the re-written and re-drawn version that Brown has mentioned over the past few years. Oddly, Brown says he is at work on a revised edition that could be published in hardcover sometime after the conclusion of this series, but even that is up in the air, as he is not sure what he thinks of the revisions he has made so far.
There's certainly such a thing as sharing too much with your audience. One of my favourite cartoonists recently participated in an interview on another website that seemed destined to undermine his rising popularity and kill interest in an upcoming collection of his work by more or less declaring that he's moved past all that now and maybe, maybe someday he'd do something like the project that gave him whatever popularity he currently enjoys.
There's such a thing as sharing too much with your audience. I think Brown has done that, by going public with his thoughts on Ed. By telling me this first issue and the issues to come are at best imperfect, what with the "spelling mistakes and all," I am moved to think perhaps I should wait for the collected version. Then Brown goes on to tell the reader that the collected version may or may not be an improvement over this serialized one. It starts the issue, and the series, off on an odd and aggravating note. If you're that uncertain about a project, you'd be well advised to keep it to yourself, your editors and publishers. Why instill this much doubt in your readers right out of the gate?
All that aside, the first issue of Ed is an odd thing, even by artcomix standards. A number of short pieces are unified only by their surrealism and Brown's almost Outsider Art stylings. The non-Ed "Adventures in Science" strips are particularly fun, offbeat little strips. The Ed strips held my attention, but if Brown had any sort of narrative structure in mind when he created the series, it's far from obvious this early in its reprinting.
Probably the strongest reason to pick up Ed The Happy Clown is the extensive notesd Brown includes in the final three pages. Brown is a cartoonist who isn't afraid to share his process with his readers, as noted above, and in the actual story notes one can find fascinating and revelatory nuggets that lead to a further appreciation of his efforts. That was certainly true of his landmark graphic novel Louis Riel, and it is true here. Most of interest in the first issue's notes is the retelling of how one of the short stories was actually the work of someone else who abandoned the strip early on. Brown asked if he could redraw it and carry it further into a full-blown story. That's the type of behind the scenes information that can add to the reader's experience of the work, instead of self-doubt that casts the entire affair into question. Grade: 3.5/5
Read Alan David Doane's Five Questions for Chester Brown
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