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Maakies With The Wrinkled Knees
posted February 20, 2008


Creator: Tony Millionaire
Publishing Information: Fantagraphics, hardcover, 120 pages, February 2008, $19.95
Ordering Numbers: 9781560978930 (ISBN13)

imageThere are few comics series whose new installments I anticipate to the degree I look forward to Fantagraphics' publications of Tony Millionaire's Maakies. I like just about everything it has to offer. I enjoy the feel of the project, the landscape design that's so ridiculous and ungainly it's almost an endorsement of Millionaire's status all by itself. The books are attractively produced, with playfully evocative design by Chip Kidd. The look of the comic strip provides me with a great deal of pleasure; it's one of the few strips in the alt-weekly world where you occasionally stop in disbelief that it looks as nice and labor-intensive from week to week as it does. The craft chops on display provide much of the atmosphere with which the strip gets over its jokes and serves as a subliminal aid to humor, like an elaborate stage design backing actors who spend a lot of their time drunkenly hitting each other with baseball bats. Andrew Lloyd Webber meets Duffy and Sweeney. The jokes are funny, and weird, and sometimes even accidentally revealing of the human condition the way that tired, drunk people can't help but speak the truth.

The feeling that distinguishes Maakies With The Wrinkled Knees from previous books is a bit difficult to examine in a way that doesn't make it sound like the work is diminished in some sense. This book seems looser, more openly pleasurable and laid back than the work in previous volumes. There are only one or two jokes in this volume as opposed to a dozen or more in previous ones where the energy comes from a kind of pent-up weirdness, watching the characters seethe in an almost lunatic state over nonsense, say, or someone make a declaration that so upsetting in a way that the emphasis pushes it just enough over the top to be funny. Maybe this is how to put it: whereas the fucked-up quality of some earlier strips painted a picture of Millionaire as a kind of cavalier, loose cannon who was one step away from being fired; similar strips here play more as feeding the joke of Millionaire as a loose cannon.

See how difficult this is? I don't know if it's just the nature of the run reprinted, but a lot of the jokes here seem to draw on the strip's other strengths than that one. I've read it five time: I think the material is just as strong, but the shift -- even if only temporary -- is the kind of thing where I could see certain fans, fans who like a very specific energy to the strip, a raw jolt, not find as many installments here right up their alley, the way that some people must have been disappointed when Peanuts moved away from more examples of striking rottenness in the mid-1950s. For the rest of us, and I think the majority, this is a creator in his prime and settled into the breadth of his strip as strongly as any alt-weekly cartoonist in history.