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posted March 13, 2006
Fantagraphics Books, 126 pages, $14.95
Have you ever had some strange combination of food and decided on retrospect it was really good? Although the blurb on the back of South African cartoonist Joe Daly's new collection of short stories compares him to underground master, the two cartoonists it brought to mind for me were Doug Allen and Jim Woodring. And not at the same time, like Ted Stearn, but revealing itself in two distinct kinds of stories. The silent, hallucinatory "Prebaby" is the volume's centerpiece and it's not a bad work of that type: the drawing provides takes on a few different traditions, Daly has an odd take on comics-page movement, and the imagery invokes of natural and spiritual concerns without bringing a cheap message to either wider concern.
Still, I have to think very few people will remember that story except for its length because of the strength of a few of the talk-driven shorts -- and by talk-driven I mean they have some talking in them; at the book's chattiest, Daly comes across more like a deadpan-humor loving indy filmmaker like Hartley or Jarmusch than some sort of dialouge fiend. Of the short stories, "My Beach Community" in particular is a real gem, a walk through the neighborhood by the offbeat Kobosh, as he overtly celebrates the greatness of his home area -- sarcastically, genuinely, just weirdly... there's absolutely no clue. But it's very funny. "Trawling the Streets of Cape Town" and "Scrublands" are almost as good, playing off minute observations of human behavior when bumped up against random encounter and shitty circumstance. Those stories come together so effectively you forgive Daly those works that rely on quick, easy humor or that are just mapping out how the characters relate or the details of their worlds. I would read 200 more pages of this guy's work the second it were presented to me, and I hope that all the anthologies out there make room for some of his shorts.