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Neil The Horse #7
posted March 26, 2008
Aardvark-Vanaheim, comic book, 28 pages, April 1984, $2
These days, when people look at comics like this one and discover the material contained therein is charming enough to perhaps be worthy of reconsideration, the next step is to suggest that a collection of all that work should be done. As much as any comic book resting in dollar boxes and apartment building storage spaces across the country, Arn Saba's 1980s independent comic book Neil the Horse
resists that common prescription. At least this issue of Neil the Horse
does; it feels like it could only satisfy as a comic book. Saba's story reads like throwaway material of the most charming kind, as it were the 661st adventure in a long-running Dell comic. The leads in very non-serious fashion float through this issue's dated tribute to faerie stories and video games without ever seriously committing to the narrative, let alone creating any of the electric moments that most readers have come to expect from their pop entertainments. When characters break into song or leave the standard plot progression to one side for a page to perform a dance, the relative lack of ambition allows the move to interrupt the action and
complete it. This is true despite as tightly realized and frequently attractive, humorous art as one can find in any Saba comic.
I never cared for Saba's characters as much as others said they did back then -- no one brings up Saba now -- although admittedly they work better here than usual as (in two cases of three) bit players doing what comedy teams sometimes used to in films. There are a couple of amusing set pieces as a result. Neil the Horse's run of awesome video game moves is one of the funniest things I've seen in a comic so far this year. But no, this is not a great comic, and barely a good one. And yet there's something almost unbearably sad about this lost artifact in a disappearing format from a cartoonist who hasn't worked in this form for two decades now. I find myself wishing there were books this casual available on the market today, easy entry points and cheap thrills, yet nothing lurid in sight, and that from these humble goals one could build a sustainable and rewarding career. But I don't know if I do that for the sake of cartoonists from long ago, today's members of the fraternity, or even readers like myself.