Different Ugliness Different Madness
Different Ugliness Different Madness is the latest release from Humanoids, a graphic novel by Marc Males that promises an intriguing period setting but disappoints with expected patterns of plot.
I loved the idea of a story set among radio in the 1930s, but ultimately, little was done with that, since a major part of the premise is that one of the characters has felt a need to escape from that world. We’re told at the beginning that Lloyd Goodman, a famous narrator and show host, disappeared from the medium for a year. Meanwhile, a dying old woman named Helen is seeking out memories by visiting an abandoned train station.
As a much younger, very pretty woman, she randomly took trains and hitchhiked as a way of escaping severe trauma she’d experienced. Out in the country, almost out of money, she meets a kindly stranger with an ugly, rough-hewn face who takes her in and gives her a place to stay. She talks to herself in mirrors, while he avoids his own reflection.
The story is very European in its overall structure, with a distinct stubbornness about telling the reader who anyone is or their motivations. You have to keep reading until it all comes together as the characters finally finish their flashbacks. (For Helen, we find out what’s going on 56 pages after we first see her odd behavior.) The enjoyment theoretically comes in the moments, bits of dialogue as the two strangers ask each other questions and refuse to answer.
Ultimately, a short tryst between two strangers is fondly remembered throughout one’s remaining life. It’s sex nostalgia. After this life-changing momentary encounter, the characters can go back to real life, becoming adults as they set aside their temporary period of escape and make more practical choices.
I never found the leads believable or well-rounded, particularly Helen, as her motivation was so extreme and expressed so flatly (possibly due to the translation losing some of the distinctions of the original). This is the kind of story where instead of dialogue, the reader gets sequential speeches, as characters discourse on their histories. The art is lovely in its detail, with a distinct Kirby influence visible in the faces. The figure work is stiff, though — perhaps it suits a story of memories to have all the images look like photos, without any sense of the figures moving, but I didn’t care for it.
I don’t regret reading Different Ugliness Different Madness, but it gave me little to keep and take away, and I’m glad I didn’t pay for it. You can read an excerpt at the publisher’s website. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)