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Fred the ClownReview - Fred the Clown
by Roger Langridge
Fantagraphics Books, 2004
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Feb 8th 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 6)

For those not previously familiar with Fred the Clown, this comic book is confusing at first.  It is divided into ten chapters, each "a step to happiness."  Fred the Clown dresses like a clown, but he doesn't act like one.  He doesn't honk horns, have water-squirting flowers in his lapel or get custard pies in his face.  He does get drunk a lot, approaches women and gets rejected, gets chased by policemen and beaten up, and does many stupid and crazy things.  The different chapters are drawn in quite different styles, some full of text, others with few words, some very crudely drawn, and others dull of detail and subtleties.  The second chapter is especially bewildering, with a supposed history of Fred the Clown dating back over a hundred years.  It takes a little thought to come to the conclusion that it is all fiction, and Langridge created the old comic book strips also.  It is very clever, but it is not so clear what it is all meant to achieve.  It is as if he has so many ideas and is so eager to experiment with the form that it all spills out without much control.  But then, reading on, more understanding dawns and it becomes possible to make out some unity in the diversity of ideas.  Partly, it is Langridge's enjoyment of the form and his enthusiasm for word play, contrary thinking, slapstick, variety in the arrangements and sizes of cells on the page, a large dose of absurdity, and a hint of bleakness.  Langridge's drawing style is brash and confident, and he is immensely skilled.  What especially stands out after repeated readings is his love of the medium of comic book art and his familiarity with the history of styles.  But Langridge's does not just honor the past -- he plays with it too, subverting it and stretching its form.  It is hard to describe, so I recommend you find some samples of his work to see for yourself.  It is tempting to draw connections with Dostoyevsky's "underground man," as Fred the Clown is a modernist antihero, shining a light on the nature of everyday life through his own combined jealousy and revulsion at the lives of ordinary people.  While the stories are often juvenile, they are also rich and bristling with ideas, and by the end one has a sense of sympathy for Fred because he is so true to his own deviant nature. 

 

 

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© 2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved. 

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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