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Percy Gloom
posted May 1, 2007
 

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Creator: Cathy Malkasian
Publishing Information: Fantagraphics, hardcover, 150 pages, June 2007, $18.95
Ordering Numbers: 9781560978459 (ISBN13)

Fantagraphics decided to publish Cathy Malkasian's lovely new graphic novel Percy Gloom after seeing the first third of it. This act of faith may not have been extravagant, but it likely paid off better than they can imagine. While the author's first sustained comics work carries considerable surface charms which you can see from page one, the book's greatest strength is how well it all comes together as a singular, creative statement. It's rare to see a graphic novel that evolves and changes throughout, becoming complete only on its last page. It's uncommon to seen any long comics work this good from a first-time author. Percy Gloom is one of the best books out this year.

imageI was prepared to hate it. Fragile Percy Gloom ventures forward from his room in hopes of landing his dream job: writing cautionary literature about the dangers inherent in everyday items. Becoming an object of desire for one of the city's leading lights after healing her toenail with his saliva -- the first time in the history of the world that particular sentence has been written -- Gloom slowly sheds the grief caused by the loss of a loved one and despite his own inward nature begins to assume a major role in the community's secret, ongoing drama.

In less assured hands, Percy Gloom might have been another offering in a recent wave of works featuring fairy-tale settings and hearts worn on sleeves. Malkasian, perhaps learning from the structural storytelling demands that come with directing feature film-length work, has put together a consistently rewarding narrative that builds to a series of satisfying climaxes, each of which re-casts the entire work in a slightly new way. Her artwork is somber yet attractive; her designs are sturdy and even spry; her understanding of comics pacing through panel structure and directing the eye are judiciously applied. Most importantly, her conceptual set pieces are strong enough to reward deeper exploration, opportunities for which prove ample because of the deliberate pacing. Unlike many cartoonists, Malkasian introduces ideas into her longer work that are clever enough you want to share them with people independent of the comic, and she uses them to make statements of value that correspond to her themes.

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Beyond testifying as to Malkasian's skill and describing the parameters in which she's decided to work, I'm not sure how much there is to say about Percy Gloom other than I recommend you read it. This kind of arch, adult fantasy is likely not everyone's cup of tea, and some may have no use for patiently dispensed life lessons no matter how seamlessly they're brought to light. For my part, I can't imagine we'll see a more assured and surprising debut this year.

*****

thanks to Rob Goodin for help with the art