Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Review: KLAUS 1 & 2, Dicky Short

Dicky Short | Self-released, 2010 | 2x 24p, black and white | Available now

When Umberto Eco described Charlez Schulz as a poet in his 1963 introduction to the first Italian collection of Peanuts, he openly admitted the statement was intended to grab the ire of the cultural custodians of the day. The gall of the man! By lauding Schulz’ ability to convey the complex emotionality of human existence through his dialogue and subtle manipulation of rhythm and visual language, Eco elevated Peanuts to the status of art. Today, although still ghettoised in the big, pop-cultural picture, you’d be hard pressed to find comic readers—of everything from Persepolis to Power Girl—who would dispute that status.

From the strip format’s syndicated newspaper heyday in the late 20th century to the web-comic rush of the internet era, very few artists have managed to capture the same lyricism as Schulz in their work. Stepping up to the Herculean plate is Richard “Dicky” Short, creator of Klaus, a four-panel web-come-print comic following the exploits of a pensive anthropomorphic cat of the same name. One part Peanuts, one part Jim Woodring’s Frank, Klaus transplants the myogenic spirit of the classic strip comic into a new, slightly stranger yet similarly robust body. Like a Hunt 102-weilding Victor Frankenstein, Short isn’t afraid to experiment, and readers may soon find themselves absorbed in the witty, contemplative, and warped world of cat-people, humanoid rodents, and metaphysical ruminations.

Whilst tributes certainly exist within the comic (the title character’s own stripes resemble Charlie Brown’s iconic shirt and an early plot arch in which he raises a baby bird appears to playfully riff on the Snoopy/Woodstock relationship, for example), Klaus is much more than left-field homage to Schulz’s work. Although always adherent to the four-panel construct, there is a considerable element of creative exploration to the comic, helping it veer away from format expectations. Gags are not always a given (or at least not always the primary focus) and the art style can be malleable to the purpose of the strip. For instance, moments of intense voyeurism are depicted with a greater realism than the otherwise constant cartoon aesthetic, and time and space periodically jump about, requiring the reader to engage in a much more active way than a strip comic usually insists upon.

As with any great strip cartoon, from Krazy Kat to Calvin and Hobbes, Short is developing both the visual and structural feel of his work as the series progresses. Sure, there are times where he strains the glue of the proverbial envelope a little too much with his pushing, and times where the troupes of the format are rested on a little too plainly, but these all part of the natural development of the strip.

To return to Eco’s comparison: Short might be best understood as the Ginsberg to Schulz’ Whitman, in that Klaus doesn’t so much recite the poetry of Peanuts as it does advance upon it for a different generation. If the reader thinks that comparison may be a little grandiose, please forgive me—it’s just my excitement for the strip speaking. Vexing, warm, and developing a genuine depth all of its own, it’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited about the format, and can’t wait to see exactly just how the comic develops.

  • You can contact Short via his blog to order a copy of Klaus
  • Also: check out his Flickr account for more Klaus goodness!

1 comment:

  1. These are amazing. I will find a way to make money right now and buy everything Klaus!