Tightening The Web: 1-800-MICE #5

Posted by on January 1st, 2011 at 6:18 AM

Rob reviews the fifth issue of Matthew Thurber’s series 1-800-MICE.

If you haven’t read any issues of Matthew Thurber’s brilliant series 1-800-MICE, you’re missing the best that comics has to offer.  It’s part satire,  part farce, part epic. My reviews of issues 1-3 and issue 4 detail the ways in which Thurber effortlessly weaves a complicated plot and a huge cast of characters in and around comic, absurdist and/or horrific set pieces.  Thurber is always pushing his story forward even while he takes the reader on side journeys and freakouts, developing characters in unexpected ways while putting them through weird experiences.  Those side journeys jolt the reader away from plot developments temporarily, as Thurber always wishes to keep the reader off-balance.  In this issue, vicious cop Tom Chief is apparently possessed by the ghost of dead cop Nabb.  He then happens upon the “Center For Reproductive Research” when he sees a woman photocopying her genitals and a man wearing a penis sheath.  Moving to arrest them, they scold him by telling him they’re research biologists trying to improve population control by slowing down the act of sex.  The image of the man reading Wikipedia and the woman splashing water on herself from a water cooler was as disorienting for the reader as it was for poor Tom Chief.

With a fairly simple line, Thurber controls the pacing and emotional content of his page through his remarkably varied compositional style.  For example, Thurber gets across the desperation of a chase sequence in a forest by making his panels odd, angular shapes and putting them at unusual angles.  After a page of claustrophobic images, Thurber announces the escape of Groomfiend the Mouse into an elaborate building that seems like an homage to Jim Woodring.  A few pages later, Thurber literally blows up a scene with a “musical note” bomb and then flips to a full-page, psychedelic splash of one of the series’ most fearsome antagonists in space.

If one’s paying attention, there are any number of serious ideas that Thurber’s tackling, including corporate culture, conspiracy theories, terrorism, materialism, careerism and ecological issues.  Every time things seem to be getting a little ponderous, Thurber lightens the mood with a good gag.  He’s as deft at delivering a joke with his dialogue as he his with his images.  In this issue, Peace Punk (a character who’s a one-man satire of various youth/hipster movements) checks out the ass of a fairy creature with the “Sherlock Holmes app”, and then makes a joke about the “noble ends” to which he’s using his Smartphone.

Thurber manages to make his comic both complex and accessible, absurd but pointed, funny but not rudderless.  1-800-MICE is a synthesis of so many trends in comics over the past decade.  It taps into genre conventions but does so with an outsider artist sensibility.  It provokes like an underground comic but has the iron-clad plotting of the best adventure serials.  It has elements of absurdist humor and folds them into nuanced character work.  Each issue simply enriches and deepens the story, never remotely running the risk of repetitiveness.  When Picturebox no doubt collects the finished story in a few years, it should be a landmark event in comics.  Until such time, I’m happy that Thurber enjoys the rhythms of serial publishing, right down to the letters page, supplemental material and guest covers (this issue was done in sumptuous color by Rebecca Bird.

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