This is more like a project from Top Shelf or Fantagraphics than the publishers of Warhammer comics. So, a hearty pat on the back to BOOM! Studios for expanding somewhat. Never As Bad As You Think is a 64 page hard cover collection of several on-line comic strips wackily produced by husband and wife team Kathryn and Stuart Immonen. Both are successful creators in their own right but it’s a joy to see them work together. Stuart is known for his work on Superman as well as the over the top beauty of Nextwave with writer Warren Ellis, and is the current penciller on Ultimate Spider-Man. Kathryn’s most familiar work would be writing Hellcat for Marvel.
As explained in the introduction, NABAYT has an unusual impetus. Starting with a random word choice, Kathryn would write a script, with Stuart setting his skills to the art soon after. I haven’t read anything like this I must say, and it was a breath of fresh air, with a hint of surrealism and a mild odour of the odd. It reminded me of the kinds of films I had to study while at film school. Randomness, with a loose connectivity between multiple short sequences with different charcters. It’s kind of like Seinfeld for those with ADD.
Most of the people shown don’t have names and we are given glimpses of their lives to let their character shine. Yes, most of the time these people are angry and amusingly ranting at something or someone. The beauty here lies in the pace. The script carries from scene to scene as if it’s carried by a whirling breeze. It’s not jarring, and most of the time the characters actions and speech isn’t comprehensive. It’s like being a voyeur of a tiny town, letting the Immonens guide our attention to where they see fit. That’s what gives it a sense of magic realism though. All of us have moments of daily nonsense that only make sense to us. That’s not to say that NABAYT is baffling or incoherent like a smelly pensioner at a bus stop. It’s more free form like a smelly poet at a café.
Stuart’s art is simply delightful, including the quirky lettering and simple colours. I adore the lightness of his more high-profile work, but here he strips back the details yet allows every situation to have its own flavour and every character to have their own distinct appeal.
What begins with an irritable couple at a café ends up with a balding man at a used car lot, via a urinating dog, a kidney carrying cyclist, a mermaid promoter, a waiter who could’ve been a doctor and more. Most of these vignettes (including two new strips) are only a few pages long, but that’s all you need. The Immonen’s year long web experiment has paid off. They make beautiful comics together. Let’s have more.