Stroppy by Marc Bell (Drawn & Quarterly), 64 pages, $24.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
You can always count on Montreal publisher Drawn & Quarterly to enrich your life with weirdness. Marc Bell’s first graphic novella, Stroppy, does just that.
It follows factory worker and aspiring musician Stroppy’s painful downward spiral after the appearance at his work of Sean, a brainwashed, exuberant propagandist who works for music-making corporate sellouts the All-Star Schnauzer Band.
Sean brings the news of a Schnauzer Band songwriting contest, which promises cash prizes. His arrival also precipitates a series of cruel, unfair losses in Stroppy’s life, complicated by the Schnauzers’ ulterior motives and by corrupt town overlord Monsieur Moustache’s own desire to win the contest.
It all sounds more like biting social commentary than zany fun, but if you’ve ever spotted Bell’s long-running comic strip in Exclaim! magazine or are familiar with his previous books and art, you know his style: panels densely packed with fantastical, misshapen hodgepodge characters who regularly bring the laughs.
The minor characters on the sidelines are even funnier and make the work richer. Like, say, the green and yellow blob floating in water in the bottom corner of a page, declaring, “I love cultcha!” after an impromptu poetry reading by Clancy the Poet, the book’s voice of integrity. (The poem’s title is just as good: Father Ocean Wears The Water Trousers.)
Flashes of Bell’s music nerdism show up in surprising, delightful places, as do Canadian references. “Guellphh!” belches Stroppy in one panel.
A trip through the Schnauzers’ hit discography via a mini-golf excursion slows the pace, and the plot gets wild and refuses to wrap up neatly. But in our real world of ubiquitous advertising, big fish swallowing up small fish and good guys getting pushed aside in the name of flashiness, greed and gentrification, a certain frayed unravelling is just what’s required.
Best, there’s potential for a revenge sequel.