Two issues in and Image’s six-issue series Haha – a collection of complete-in-one stories revolving around the world of clowns – is already proving to be a bleakly comedic affair. Written by W. Maxwell Prince (Ice Cream Man) it uses a rotating cast of artists to tell tales that are essentially self-contained though, in the case of these first issues, still tangentially interlinked. It’s a series that could indeed be classified broadly as falling into the horror/thriller genres. But, so far at least, it’s proving is far more than yet another retread of that all-pervading creepiness of clowns motif. Instead it uses those gaudy harlequin trappings as a tragic and ironic counterpoint to very real stories of human frailties.
Haha #1 introduces us to the clown Bartleby, an employee of the failing Funville amusement park. Bartleby’s world is one of denial as he reimagines the harshness of his daily routine as idyllic domesticity. His life spirals into dramatic freefall when he loses his job and then suffers one reversal after another. This culminates in a life-changing encounter with bank robbers when he attempts to cash his final pay cheque.
Prince’s skewering of aspirational wholesomeness is all the more effective for the dual perspectives we are afforded. Bartleby’s hopelessly upbeat narration and the reader’s observation of the actuality of his situation sit side by side as parallel narratives – optimism and nihilism making the most awkward of bedfellows. Vanesa Del Rey’s visuals fittingly have a foot in both raw realism and grotesque fantasy with her action sequences having a frenetic energy to their realisation. Chris O’Halloran’s colours also play a vital role in emphasising the grim incongruity between Bartleby’s clownish facade and the gritty environment around him, while Gold Old Neon’s lettering choices in regards to narration and dialogue intuitively contrast protagonist viewpoint and reader perception.
Haha #2 features multiple Broken Frontier Award-winning artist Zoe Thorogood whose debut graphic novel The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott from Avery Hill Publishing I spoke of in these glowing terms last year: “I’ve been involved in comics commentary for nearly 14 years at Broken Frontier and trust me when I say that I have rarely seen a first graphic novel as accomplished as this one.” It goes without saying that Thorogood’s involvement with this book was a major factor in my interest in it.
This second offering is told from the perspective of Rudolph whose unstable, clown-fixated mother abducts her and takes her on a road trip to the Funville amusement park; a destination she sees as some kind of paradise community. Prince builds up an impending sense of inescapable doom but it’s Thorogood’s art that is the main draw here. In scope this is a tale far more focused on the dynamics of one mother-daughter relationship and as such there’s no place for the grand experimental visual metaphor of Billie Scott but that only underlines the versatility of Thorogood as a visual storyteller. Here she adds deeper layers to the subtler nuances of the two leads’ interactions with each other through both their body language and visual characterisation that builds up to a quietly devastating moment of discovery in the book’s final sequences.
One wonders as to what degree Prince intends these six stories to ultimately converge, or whether their links will be minor in scale, but these first two issues of Haha will certainly provide enough hooks for the reader to want to investigate further. And with news that the genius cartooning of Roger Langridge will feature in issue #3 this is the perfect point to either hunt down the print copies so far or make some vital digital purchases before next month.
W. Maxwell Prince (W), Vanesa Del Rey, Zoe Thorogood (A), Chris O’Halloran (C), Good Old Neon (L) • Image Comics, $3.99
Review by Andy Oliver