Friday, November 16, 2018

Minis: Josh Pettinger's Goiter #3

Josh Pettinger is an interesting new talent, working in a variation on the kind of flat, Golden Age style that Dan Clowes made a career out of. The third issue of his series, Goiter, explores some of the same ground as issue #2: misunderstandings, doomed relationships, weird twists of fate and a sense of existential helplessness. He uses a coloring technique that makes the pages look a little bleached and faded, as though this was an old, random issue of some fifties comic that somehow made it into the reader's hands.

The story follows a depressed and aimless young waitress named Sally "celebrating" her thirtieth birthday. As she was walking home, out popped a floating head in the sky named Joe Murphy, who claimed to be her boyfriend. It was a gag worthy of a Michael Kupperman comic, but Pettinger rooted it in science-fiction. Murphy was pulled into the future by a desperate American army in a parallel universe that was losing World War II to act as trench fodder. When captured by the Germans, his fellow prisoners managed to duplicate the dimensional displacement tech and send the appearance of his head into the past.

His purpose: to romance Sally, of course. The reader is treated to four pages of entirely straight-faced yet hilarious pages of romance comics. Then reality comes crashing in, Joe is pulled back into the future, and Sally is left bereft. The twists at the end are worthy of an EC Comic (a clear model of sorts), and yet as Pettinger reveals at the end, the weirdness of this issue was based on real-life events. He's a server at a high-class restaurant where people spend more on meals than he makes in a week. He moved to a new place in search of new meaning, met a new person, and has health problems that he clearly works through in the struggles of Joe. It's fascinating to see him work though this using classic comic book tropes: mad science, war comics, weird science, and montage-style romance segments. What's most interesting about it is that even though the comics's underpinnings are obvious, it is not in the slightest an ironic read. It's not parody or pastiche. Despite the modern sensibilities, the story is as deadly serious as a Golden Age or EC comic, and that is key to its success. Warping his personal problems into familiar tropes was an interesting way of amplifying the intensity of his feelings in a manner that was both absurd and sincere.

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