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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.
© 2005 Christian Perring. All
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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