Disillusioned with life in his cramped family house, and determined to achieve his dream of becoming a champion fighter, young Jimmy runs away from home seeking his fortune elsewhere. His greatest desire is to become as renowned a name as his hero, the legendary Pimento Gonzales, under the sobriquet of “Jimmy Ruckus”. But Jimmy’s misadventures will bring him into contact with an unlikely procession of characters along the way, including a wrestling champ, escaped circus animals, pirates and a shipwrecked loner. Will he fulfil the destiny he believes is waiting for him or are there more important lessons to be learnt…?
Lara Kaminoff’s How to Pick a Fight, published by Nobrow Press, features a protagonist reminiscent of all those scrapper-type characters who populated classic British humour weeklies of yesteryear. Only in this case, rather than a series of repetitive one-page strips, Jimmy wanders through an extended narrative with a very definite destination in mind. From the start, Kaminoff establishes Jimmy as a likeable but mishap-prone youngster focused on one vision over everything else; something which guides his interactions with those he meets on his travels.
How to Pick a Fight reads more like a series of transformative encounters than a structured narrative but that’s very much part of its charm. Jimmy’s journey opens up questions of happiness over ambition, of finding one’s place in the world, and whether there’s value in dedicating ourselves to a singular purpose over everything else. Kaminoff takes that to an intriguingly symbolic conclusion that in its own quiet way leaves us with much to meditate on at the end of Jimmy’s story.
It’s in the visual storytelling, though, that How to Pick a Fight truly excels. Kaminoff’s outstanding use of lettering tricks, changing perspective, and the passage of time makes for many memorable sequences that are pure comics in composition. The diminutive Jimmy, for example, with only a backside-level view at a wrestling match absorbing the action through sound alone; the representational nature of dream sequences; and how time can move at different sequential rates when he is stranded on a remote island. They all display inventive uses of the tools of the form that are a joy to experience with Kaminoff’s fluid cartooning, animated characters and lively, energetic action scenes prove the perfect complement.
How to Pick a Fight is a coming-of-age story with a decidedly quirkier take than the norm with a central character who, despite his rambunctious nature, remains relatable simply because Jimmy’s frustrations with his life so knowingly echo our own.
Lara Kaminoff (W/A) • Nobrow Press, £14.99
Review by Andy Oliver