Critical Mob reviews Ed the Happy Clown

“Ed the Happy Clown - A nightmare to behold” / Critical Mob / PHIL GUIE / July 25, 2012

During the early 1980s, Chester Brown created the alternative comic Yummy Fur, which helped establish his reputation as a gifted and intriguing cartoonist. One of the book's serialized stories was Ed the Happy Clown, an epic that mixed science fiction, horror, and crime noir elements, albeit in dreamlike fashion. Newly reprinted by Drawn & Quarterly, the plot of Brown's bizarre opus remains difficult to describe, starting off with a man whose hand is missing, which leads to the title character being tossed in prison. From there it gets even stranger: Ed escapes thanks to the endless defecating of a fellow inmate, whose anus, it turns out, is the portal to a parallel universe inhabited by significantly smaller humans. That doorway is discovered when President Ronald Reagan of the alternate dimension accidentally crosses the gulf, resulting in his head becoming merged with Ed's penis.

The surreal narrative also features cannibalistic pygmies, a vengeful young woman named Josie who dies and returns as a vampire, and lots of moments that satirize politics, religion, even America itself. For example, at one point Reagan's head must make a public address, resulting in backstage shenanigans so that he can appear both presidential and human. Meanwhile, it turns out that all the excrement flowing through the portal is due to out-of-control consumerism; that is, the tiny America consumes so much that its citizens literally cannot stop using the bathroom. Given how the story was originally published over the course of seven years, Brown's artwork evolves and becomes more dynamic over time, though the early chapters already show confident line work and a strong sense of pacing. While the ending seems unnecessarily downbeat, Ed the Happy Clown is nevertheless a unique and powerful reading experience worthy of its reputation as one of Brown's seminal comics.

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