Don’t let the cover of the demon shooting itself in the face fool you: this is a bleak book.
Funny as all-hell and definitely one of the all-time great comic books, Arsenic Lullaby treads the ground that angels fear to and does so unflinchingly. In conversation, you may have said “Oh, I think anything can be funny,” but this is where you put that to the test. The punchline to almost any segment will be something horrible happening to someone.
Written and illustrated by Doug Paszkiewicz, Arsenic Lullaby the series is basically a sketch comedy show in comic book form. It uses the Sesame Street format of having one main story with a bunch of other, unrelated bits peppered around it. (God help me, I just compared Arsenic Lullaby to Sesame Street.) I think assuming your reader has A.D.D. works to any series’ benefit.
This collection isn’t so much a best-of, l think, as much as it is an almost-omnibus, just missing a few of the author’s least favorite things. As a collection, the ongoing stories don’t have anything in the way of closure for this volume, but it’s no big opus to follow. It’s laid out so well that you can jump in most anywhere and get caught up within a few sentences. Still, it’s too bad there’s no endcap. The book just runs out.
The majority of the content follows Voodoo Joe, whose sole purpose in life is to help people get revenge or something vague, yet bad will happen to him. These segments are the best the book has to offer. If you’ve ever heard Paszkiewicz’s podcast, A Stranger’s Voice, it’s pretty easy to hear him in your head as the voice of Voodoo Joe, loaded with dry sarcasm and occasional defeat. These parts of the book are the most fun and well-written.
The other main recurring characters are The Clot (a man wearing tanks of blood to keep him moist since he has no skin) and Edgar Bryers (a U.S. Census agent whose job is to keep the census count accurate…by murdering babies and making it look like suicide). These bits are shorter, but still pack a good, comedic punch.
There are a few two-page asides throughout where Paszkiewicz talks about where his life and the life of the comic were as we’re reading them. The funniest parts are his impressions of the 800 lb. comic distributor, Diamond Comics Distribution. It’s not much and it’s not necessary to the book, but as a look inside an independent comic auteur’s job, it’s very interesting.
Lullaby is well thought-out humor, even if no one else wants to think about the subject matter. Abortions, The Holocaust, and pedophilia are all fair game, here. I’ll also point out, that aside from the odd butt shot and “damn” or “hell,” there isn’t any nudity or cursing.
The dialogue feels natural and fun, BUT…There are a LOT of spelling and grammar gaffes. Hopefully, the quality of the content is high enough that you’re able to let it slide. I’m usually the first guy to yell about distinguishing between “you’re” and “your,” but I hate letting that ruin a joke about a woman having sex with a plant. I also hate making a whole paragraph about spelling and grammar errors, but it is a pretty large distraction. (I really have to remember to spell-check this review…)
The art is ok to start with, but as we progress, you see Paszkiewicz get better at his craft. Halfway and on, the art gets sharper and cleaner and looks pretty dazzling by the end. What really impressed me about the art was that I never got confused over who was who, which is infuriatingly easy to do in a black-and-white comic like this. How many times in The Walking Dead did I get my old white guys confused? Here, the character designs are easily distinguishable, even if they’re minor characters. The storytelling is likewise easy to follow. Nothing flashy (it’s not necessary here), just simple and easy layouts.
The collection suffers from a lack of updating. It’s my biggest gripe and it kinda ties in with the earlier spelling/grammar gaffes I mentioned. I know Paszkiewicz letters the dialogue on the page, but I don’t think it would have taken too much to digitally clean up the mistakes. A few times, the same word is written twice twice and in some places, the lettering is eroded so badly, you can’t read it. So far as mistakes in comics go, this is kind of a rare complaint, but definitely noticeable.
All-in-all, the complaints I have with this book really are minor and I had so much fun reading it. I’d give it a full five stars if not for these errors, but as it stands, I think four stars is still well-deserved. There is truly nothing like it on the market. I devoured this book in a few hours and want to again just writing this review. I think fans of this site will probably like this book if they aren’t fans already. It’s massive, hysterical, and easily worth the $30 price tag. Even if it is bleak.
As an afterthought, I met Paszkiewicz at a convention a few years back and he could not have been nicer or more gracious to li’l ol’ fanboy me. A creator’s behavior in-person goes a long way towards getting my support and based on that, I don’t mind gushing about this guy. Luckily, his comic is the goods.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars