ADVANCE REVIEW! Snarked #9 will go on sale Wednesday, June 20, 2012.
Roger Langridge has long been the finest comic writer in the world, and has been ever since I met him a few years ago and he told me so. That's a lie, but the fact remains that Snarked #9 records a ninth consecutive comedic hit in a row. Based on the world of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, the series sees a Walrus, a Carpenter, a group of degenerate pirates, a shouty Princess and her baby brother go off on a quest, in the most questing of manners.
Issue #9 sparks the final leg of the voyage, as the disparate group of characters finally reach their final destination and now have to work out how they're going to get back home. Langridge makes full use of the "treasure island" setting of this final destination, filling each page with numerous traps, monsters and strange plantlife. This is all drawn in his signature style, with each character having a different central feature to focus on, which usually relates to their personality. The fast-talking walrus, for example, is dressed smartly, which emphasizes his lawyer-esque desire to seem sharper and more refined than he is. Each different pirate has a different look, and that makes them more fun to see on the page.
The characterization is top-notch as well, with even the background characters backing up their intriguing designs with the odd idiosyncratic turn of phrase or silly comment. Langridge struggles to keep the spotlight away from the Walrus in particular, who is such an entertaining character that it's hard to blame him. And in fact, the continual speeches from the Walrus only serve to enhance the fun whenever a different character chimes in to contradict or back up his claims. Snarked is a book filled with classic vaudevillian-style characters, who bounce against each other without any mean-spirit or long-term repercussions. In the old music hall performances in Britain — and still echoing whenever Pantomime season approaches — big grand characters would overact right next to each other, fostering an air of competition which never took a turn for ugliness. Even though the characters would try and out-act each other, they did so in order to make the whole narrative seem extroverted and grandstanding, to the benefit of the show as a whole.
That's what you get in Snarked every month — big characters, trying to outdo each other, but in a friendly atmosphere. Langridge not only writes some of the funniest dialogue you'll read this side of the decade, but he does so in a universal manner. These are jokes which are funny no matter your age. There are classic gags and pratfalls, but also some brilliantly timed comedic setpieces which Langridge translates to the page effortlessly. For example, there's a recurring gag in the series wherein the Walrus strides over to a problem and tries to solve it in the most complicated fashion possible, only for the Carpenter to then step in a solve it without pausing for breath.
This has happened so many times now that we're all expecting it to happen when, in this issue, the Walrus attempts to pick the lock of some handcuffs. But Langridge paces the scene over several pages, cutting away and returning, while keeping the Carpenter out of sight. This builds up and builds up the moment of his arrival, so when he does finally show up and whack the thing with a hammer, we've forgotten and remembered the recurring joke twice before it gets revived. It's a simple sequence, but Langridge's mastery of the pacing is what allows the joke to hit home one more time, every time.
The overall narrative is simple, which has allowed Langridge to build up the story at his own pace, in his own way. This means a focus on characterisation and dialogue, but also lets Langridge play around with the way he tells the story. This means several poems (which is excellent, because Langridge is also the World's foremost limerick-writer) and silly narrative techniques. He can introduce a character and then dismiss them, or he can dismiss a character and then introduce them. Throughout the series so far, and again in this issue, he takes nothing seriously and allows for anything to happen. It makes the book seem more surprising and innovative than it is, but emphasizes just how much value there can still be in a simple story, told well.
Snarked only has three more issues left before it wraps up, but it's a welcome reminder that comics can still be, y'know, comic. All it takes is the involvement of the best comedic writer/artist in the business, complete creative control and a beaver.
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet's 139th most-favorite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. He's on Team X-Men, you guys.