Buyer's Guide #393
Meaner than Mr. Natural,
more unpredictable than Zippy the Pinhead,
crosshatching his way into your heart—here he is, Canada's answer to
the problem of Non-Dairy Coffee Lightener—Reid Fleming,
World's Toughest Milkman! Unless author/artist David
Boswell vanishes without a trace, i predict that his character is going
to become yet another Underground Cult Idol. The artwork is just great,
the stories are crazy and the protagonist is just about as lovable as a
bald headed psychopath can get.
This book seems to be a collection of
Fleming stories done for the defunct Canadian paper, The Georgia
Straight. It is a mixture of one-pagers ("Fleming Favourites") and
longer pieces, but there is a great deal of continuity in the series as
a whole, and the running gags have a way of building, so there is no
"anthology let-down" at all.
The artwork itself
steady improvement over the course of the book, and the panels above, from the first page, are nowhere near as nicely rendered as the ones in the
latter half of the collection. They serve very well to explain the
general tenor of the strip, though, without running afoul of the
afore-mentioned running gags, which, like the similar cumulative bits
in Bill Griffith's Zippy stories, can have
you rolling on the floor just at the merest reference to them. In this
case there is a funny series of glimpses at Reid Fleming's favourite TV
show, "Dangers of Ivan," which takes on its own meaning within
the context of Reid's life until, in a superb blend of sub-plot and
plot, Reid actually finds himself in the same situation which was
Ivan's undoing. What is really exciting about this development is that
Boswell refrains from any captioned or dialogued reference to the
similarity—all we see are a
visual balloons on Reid Fleming's
part—and as recognition dawns, we leave the realm of slapstick
for a heart-stopping half page and enter into a moment of melodrama as
tense as those found in any great adventure strip.
Using a rigid twelve-panel-per-page
Boswell seems to be working on perfecting the three-panel shot,
breaking down much of the action into single tier sequences. The effect
is old-fashioned, reminiscent of a stacked set of daily strips, or
Herge's work, but it is so well exploited that by the end of the book,
he has established a sense of timing in the reader's mind sufficient to
allow him full use of silent panels, a difficult art to master. I
recommend this title highly, and am looking ahead to what is promised
as a follow-up volume to this comic (via a blurb inside the back cover)—namely, Heart Break Comics—due out
sometime this year, and scheduled to feature the further adventures of
Reid Fleming, as well as other characters. Reid Fleming
is 32 pages long with colour covers and sells for $2.00.
(January 1982), page 45.
by Dale Luciano
Toughest Milkman is a hilariously
demented vision of life from Canadian cartoonist David E. Boswell. The
first page of this book, which relentlessly chronicles the Ubuesque
adventures of the title hero, depicts him savagely pounding a
bald-headed bystander for "making fun of my milk truck" and goes on to
detail his rude visit to Mrs. Jenkins's house, where he pours milk into
the goldfish bowl and demands, "78 cents or I piss on your flowers."
Reid Fleming fears nothing. Taunted as a "skinhead" by a pair of
youthful dragsters, Fleming outdoes even Indiana Jones in mindless
perseverance, pulling himself atop the speeding auto and unblenchingly
tossing a lit cigarette into the gas tank.
The only soft spot in this
heart is for "Ivan," the woeful hero of a TV adventure show. (Coming
out of a six-year coma brought on by an automobile crash, "Ivan"
stumbles out of a hospital window to certain death, yet somehow
survives; he pulls through and appears subsequently as a macabre living
corpse-skeleton. Reid follows these surreal developments with enormous
sympathetic interest.) During a climactic chase between two speeding
milk trucks—one driven by Reid, the other by Reid's supervisor, Mr.
Crabbe—an image of "Ivan" and his hapless fate wells up from the
depths of Reid's memory. Thus inspired (or frightened) to survive at
all costs, Reid savagely flings a steering wheel at Crabbe and makes a
death-defying leap from one milk truck to the other. The desperate
struggle leaves two driverless, speeding milk trucks careening down the
highway, an apt visual correlative that communicates the mad, blind
aggressiveness which inhabits Reid's every action.
Writer-artist Boswell is a wickedly
cartoonist. His intuition for ridiculous grotesquerie is highly
refined, and his grasp of the primordial baseness of his central
character is complete. (His sense of the Reid Fleming in most of us is
implicit.) Boswell has given us an unforgettable portrait of a modern
archetype, as an inarticulate violent, rampaging brute whose only
capacity for emotional involvement begins and ends with the tube. Reid
feels trapped by life ("How many Mondays can there be in a man's
life?") and he fears the inevitability of death. He vents his
existential panic in ceaseless acts of gratuitous violence, and
expresses his outrage in the poetry of derision ("Get outta that
stream, asshole! You're killin' the fish!") Yet despite his anguish and
ennui, he clings—absurdly, yet touchingly—to his milk truck.
Boswell hasn't compromised this harrowing vision of ceaseless violence
and petty deceit in any way. It's a savage caricature of sublime
dimension and an epic excursion into violence worthy of the French guignol.
A masterpiece of its kind.
Fleming first appeared in the
newspaper, Georgia Straight, in 1978, and proved an immediate
sensation. The most popular feature of Georgia Straight until
Reid Fleming's appearance was Boswell's Heart Break Comics.
An edition of Heart Break Comics, with "an
all-new 40 page story starring Laszlo the Great Slavic Lover" will be