- Posted by Johanna on September 8, 2006 at 8:47 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Dean Haspiel
- PUBLISHER: Top Shelf Productions; $7.95 US
Billy Dogma, “the last romantic antihero”, is a straight-ahead guy in a mixed-up world. Armed only with his berserk guns (I’m not sure what they shoot, but it’s not bullets) and the love of his girlfriend Jane Legit, he does his best to hang on to his ethics in a world in which he just can’t help but to get in trouble.
These stories are a bizarre blend of disparate elements, but somehow it all works. Mostly, that’s because of the sheer amount of imagination and verve pumped onto the page. It’s the visual equivalent of a great theme-park ride. The pages are often composed of layered and inset panels to draw attention to the face, and more importantly, the dialogue.
At times, this is a very text-heavy book. Billy’s ruminations make up a kind of “word jazz” that flows fast and furious. He talks a lot, giving out great chunks of philosophy that demonstrate how impossible it is for him to compromise. The character lends himself well to a variety of stories, whether longer meditations on society, or one-page strips that alternate between gags and pathos.
As a character, Billy is almost a stereotypical tough guy, trapped in a world that keeps slapping him in the face. Instead of fighting for “Mom and apple pie” or some similarly square concept, though, he’s more like a beatnik, surrounded by retro items, having an “experience”.
Billy can also be seen as a stand-in for the starving artist. He’s constantly distracted by the phantasms of his imagination, fighting the good fight to keep acting ethically in a world that doesn’t care. When he tries to “go straight” and get a job, he throws everything into disarray, ultimately shutting down the city. He belongs in his place, supported by Jane and her regular job, because the world isn’t kind to iconoclasts. (This identification is complicated, however, by the existence of a supporting character who looks an awful lot like the author.)
The relationship between Billy and Jane is very appealing. Jane handles the practical matters, and Billy handles the fun. At times, she even saves the day in her own way, working out solutions while Billy’s guns are blazing. Their overriding love for one another comes through strongly; theirs is a realistic, possible, deep relationship.
It’s also refreshing to see a book that’s philosophically anti-corporate. Billy knows there are more important things in life than a paycheck, and he’s so much himself that soul-sucking bureaucracy can’t get a hold on him. He’s jealous of his time, protecting it for the things that are important, like his love for Jane, instead of letting it be frittered away or stolen by second-hand smoke.
The author maintains a website. Haspiel was nominated for a 2002 Eisner award for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition and a 2003 Ignatz award for Outstanding Artist. For more Billy Dogma adventures, look for the comic issues Boy in My Pocket (Top Shelf, $2.95) and Aim to Dazzle (Alternative, $3.50) or read the webcomic Immortal.
For more Haspiel work, check out Opposable Thumbs (Alternative Comics, $4.95), a collection of Haspiel’s semi-autobiographical stories; The Quitter, written by Harvey Pekar and illustrated by Haspiel; or Project Superior, a collection of superhero stories by more alternative artists, including Haspiel.