For those who aren’t familiar, PENCIL HEAD is a five issue arc from Image Comics written and illustrated by the self proclaimed, “Bastard Stepchild of the Comic Book Industry,” Ted McKeever. Issue #3 is a continuation, of McKeever’s combative outlook on the industry and struggle of the creative process. It’s honest, unapologetic, and flat out strange. It’s a glorious exploration of a mind who has an alternate style of art and it’s on full display. The story and prologues have made it clear that the themes, and situations are semi-autobiographical. It’s very meta, and refreshingly real.
The art however, is guano nuts. The characters are deranged, gross, or quirky, as they are weaved into a highly detailed black and white foreground and background. If you’re a fan of truly unique constructions with strange people, you’ll love this! It’s beauty comes from it’s oddity and rich, bold inking. Even if it’s not your “thing,” it’s still a fascinating blend that should be appreciated.
PENCIL HEAD’s main character, Poodwaddle, is in the midst of a publisher change going from Happy-Time Comics, to Cleverland Comics. We see him battle with his own art, force himself through meetings, and survive obnoxious people. The comic makes it evident that Poodwaddle doesn’t quite gel with society. He’s very critical of obtrusive editors, and of the industry itself. It’s an internal battle that almost anyone can relate to, especially creative professionals. McKeever is definitely expressing his frustration and even digs at how the “Big Two,” Marvel and DC, operate. It’s very interesting to see how an outcast sees this world, or even just an inside look at comic book publisher operate.
The story also has lurking creatures following Poodwaddle. I can only speculate, but they seem to represent the struggle of creating art and the encompassing negativity of Poodwaddle’s mental and physical environment. It’s almost as if we are prying into McKeever’s daily life, as well as his subconscious.
Now be forewarned, it is weird. I would elaborate, but I think it’s better to explore this on your own. There are inappropriate depictions, so I can’t say this is for everyone. Also, the arc is criticizing pop-culture, with the superhero as the money making norm. Poodwaddle and McKeever know their style isn’t liked by everyone, but they can still lament over it. Everyone wants to be appreciated and validated, and frequently we are own harshest critics. This book is a deep look into ourselves, our work, and how we manage it all.
McKeever may be digging at the comic book industry, but he is also evaluating himself. It’s as open, as it is strange, so give it a chance!