Although Marc Bell has been publishing comics for a couple of decades, longer narratives like Stroppy are welcome rarities. Bell’s imagery is strong, full of the visual echoes of an auteur like Jim Woodring, where repeated shapes and motifs suggest continuity in lieu of a clearer story. The plot is minimal, yet complicated to explain: Our hero, Stroppy, works at a factory job, removing the brains of tiny yellow men to transform them into private security guards. Fired after an interloper named Sean backs up his assembly line, he also finds himself evicted from his apartment by the All-Star Schnauzer Band. The group, wildly popular, has taken over the entire building, creating a miniature golf course that also serves as a greatest hits album, while also running a songwriting contest with cash prizes. Schnauzers abound, although none of them, of course, resembles an actual schnauzer.
Bell is skilled at embroidery, both literal and conceptual. His cast of characters is large and his panels filled with tiny jokes (hashtags, graffiti, metafictional references). There’s an aplomb to the way he lays out his events, recalling Tony Millionaire’s (Sock Monkey) ability to push a plot forward like a game of exquisite corpse. One element follows from what immediately preceded, but the connected chain of happenings makes far less sense. With layouts of either four even panels or one big panel per page, and a title up top for each, Stroppy reads like a compilation of a serialized strip more than a stand-alone work.
In an interview with Dan Nadel for the Comics Journal, Bell explained that “Things become just so sprawling in my work, you just can’t get a grasp on it, which can also be a positive point with the work at certain points.” That’s accurate in Stroppy as well. The comic draws on the ‘90s revival of psychedelia, but with pleasantly muted tones in the coloring. This book’s a hard fit for readers who think in clear lines and attempt to comprehend material holistically. Conversely, this work is designed for the relaxed and the amused, providing an experience akin to floating on a lazy river: it’s not going anywhere except in a circle, but the ride isn’t unpleasant.