The nicest thing about picking up a book by Canadian artist Nick Maandag is not knowing what the next page will bring. Will there be hilarity? There almost always is. Will it make sense? Not necessarily, at least not in the way one expects it to. Will one walk away with a sense of satisfaction? Yes, which is probably the only thing that matters. There is a singular worldview on display here, one that holds a mirror to how ridiculous our everyday rituals can be if we only stop to pay attention.
It’s interesting that one of the endorsements on the book cover comes from the legendary Chester Brown, given that his spirit moves almost palpably through these stories. The difference lies in the comments being made, about the underlying absurdity of the times we live in. In his opening story, ‘The Plunge’, Maandag turns the simple act of using a French press to make coffee in an office into some kind of ceremony that attracts the attention of all his colleagues.
Maandag once spoke of his earlier work in an interview by describing what drove his creative decisions. “I was always meant to be a comedy writer,” he said, and one can gauge the accuracy of that statement by the subtle ways in which he moves the action forward. He turns the perfectly plausible act of wanting a cup of fresh coffee into an amusing yet powerful indictment of how soul-sucking these corporate spaces can be. The act of inserting a plunger into the hot water and coffee begins to take on the appearance of an office ritual that slowly sucks everyone into its orbit.
The second story gives the book its title, which is interesting when one considers that the Merriam-Webster’s definition of ‘odyssey’ is a long wandering or voyage usually marked by many changes of fortune. The tale we are primed for is one of heroism, with the implication being that somehow, something life-changing will occur, changing how the protagonist looks at things. Maandag’s protagonist does nothing of the sort and is more of an anti-hero than someone deserving of being on a pedestal. His Harvey Knight is a card-carrying member of a cult masquerading as a religion called Solarism, at war with a group of Shadow Men who must be eliminated. Is there a point to it all? Our guess is as good as anyone’s.
There is method to this madness though, because even surreal situations need good old-fashioned storytelling skills. Maandag skewers not just an increasing herd mentality that proliferates across society, from how we vote to what we all collectively stream on our devices, but also casts a cold eye on bigotry, and the implications of separating ourselves from anyone perceived as an outsider. Those concerns are reiterated in the final story in Harvey Knight’s Odyssey, ‘Full Day’.
Nick Maandag is an astute observer and has an undeniably unique perspective on what it means to live in today’s increasingly fractional, irrational world. We need more voices like his because it is only by acknowledging the inanity of what we spend so much time doing that we can begin to try and change it.
Nick Maandag (W/A) • Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95
Buy Harvey Knight’s Odyssey online here
Review by Lindsay Pereira