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Doot Doot Garden
posted December 31, 2001

Title: Doot Doot Garden
Creator: Craig Thompson
Publishing Info: Top Shelf Comics, $7, 52 pages, 2001
Ordering Numbers: None

Doot Doot Garden purports to be from something called the "small batch series" -- a great idea made even greater in my own mind by the fact that at the time of this review I couldn't find any information on it. The Top Shelf web site advertised on this comic's back cover didn't have the book listed under any of the appropriate sub-designations, and the copy I received lacked a price. From the looks of this work, the "small batch series" seems designed to feature mini-comics format books from Top Shelf regulars, collecting previously published minis work and other oddities. The reduced expectations of the mini-comics format make this a savvy publishing choice, if that's indeed what's intended.

Doot Doot Garden reprints the Goodbye, Chunky Rice cartoonist's 24-hour comic, the best of his two major mini-comics, and a few magazine assignments. It's interesting given the context of his recent alternative comics notices to re-examine the work that kicked off the Chunky Rice pre-buzz. Although Thompson's 1999 graphic novel was by far the most visually accomplished debut last year, the art connoisseur's appetite for new blood combined with a really sub-par year for sustained work across the art form to result in more than a few disproportional claims on the book's behalf -- and I say that as a fan of Thompson and Chunky Rice. The mini-backlash that followed was a rarity in alternative comics circles in that it seemed based less on jealousy and kicking the new guy in the teeth than on a specific critical oversight: how the overwhelming romanticism of Thompson's writing bordered on preciousness, which given the extremely stylized nature of the art the book made it even harder for the reader to find emotional entry into the situations presented.

All of this proves important to our understanding of Doot Doot Garden, because I think that those who lost themselves in the first-rate visuals and back-of-the-station-wagon, end-of-summer-vacation romanticism of Chunky Rice will find Doot Doot Garden to be a horribly disappointing, even ugly book -- even though the art is accomplished even in the early pieces. For others, it may provide a wish list of items one might see in future Thompson works. Personally, I don't miss the Jay Stephens-style self-awareness as much as the underlying sense of rudeness and horror -- animals being chopped in half, characters whose interaction with Chunky Rice is too brief to give them a humanity and background that might undercut their effectiveness as antagonists, even giddy explorations of man's undying appetite for self-inflicted loneliness -- that might help provide emotional ballast for Thompson's more frothy and poetic flights of fancy.

Originally published in The Comics Journal #234