Survival Skills: Troop 142 #1 & 2

Posted by on February 24th, 2010 at 5:32 AM

Rob reviews the first two issues of Mike Dawson’s new minicomics series, TROOP 142.

Mike Dawson has two chief virtues as a writer: writing dialogue with an almost painful level of verisimilitude, and an understanding of the dynamics of teenagers that manages to emphasize the Darwinian nature of their relationships along with the naivete’ of youth.  The first two issues of his latest project, TROOP 142, put the viciousness of the interplay between teenage boys in the context of a Boy Scout outing.  One thing that Dawson hammers home in these comics is the tension between the ideals of being a Boy Scout and the reality of being a teen.  In one great two-page spread at the end of issue two, the Scout law is recited, noting that they’re supposed to be “friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful,” etc., with those virtues matched up with characters who were entirely unrepresentative of those ideals.

Through the first two issues, we only get hints and pieces of the personalities of the different characters.  There’s a certain sameness to the characters at this point, an awkward brutality as the boys struggle to bolster their place in the pecking order.  The dynamics between the scout leaders (fathers of several of the boys) was filled with the same sort of conflicts as that of the boys, only tinged with the adult concerns of both responsibility and authority.  Dawson makes clear that there is a clear difference between the latter two qualities, with the Scout hierarchy creating an arbitrary sense of authority that resembled the military.

In the first issue, we’re introduced (by way of a deliberately awkward, rambling first person stream-of-consciousness narration) to one father, Alan,  who feels out of place with the “blue collar” types at the camp.  Dawson emphasizes his milquetoast nature with his glasses and slightly doughy physique and contrasts him with moustachioed Bill, a hardass with a son who is very much his opposite.  Alan’s sons are both rambunctious troublemaker types, one of whom Bill took a special delight in chewing out after the boy skipped a meeting and then lied about it.  The fathers are further contrasted with “Big Bear”, the older Scoutmaster who personally reprimanded the boys for filling out a Mad Libs book with dirty words.

Dawson mixes a naturalist style with cartoony flourishes, like a nose so pointy on one kid that it looks like a long triangle protruding from his face.  Other kids have a certain lumpiness to them, while Big Bear is drawn with an impressive squat quality.   “Blue collar” Bill has a big forehead (with a slight, Cro-Magnon bulge) and a Dan DeCarlo-esque nose.  The cartoony nature of Dawson’s line is what allows him to quickly differentiate the large cast of characters: a looped chin here, an exaggerated set of eyebrows there, and lots of unkempt hair.  Dawson uses a thin line and a minimum of shading, hatching or extensive use of spotting blacks.  Visually, the key to this comic’s success is his ability to convey body language, gesture and character interaction, especially since subtext is such an important part of what’s occurring in the narrative.

The comic raises interesting questions regarding the idealism of Scout law and the realities of being a teenager in 1995 (the setting of the story).  Joining the Scouts implies a certain kind of adherence to ideals, but what Dawson raises is that sometimes this may be more the ideals of the parent rather than the boy.  And even among the parents, the Scout ideals fall by the wayside when it comes time to wield authority.  It’ll be interesting to see how the conflicts and potential disasters (like a solo acid trip in the woods) get resolved over the next five issues.

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One Response to “Survival Skills: Troop 142 #1 & 2”

  1. I just read these and was surprised at how much I enjoyed them. Dawson has really grown as a cartoonist, he’s developed a really welcoming style and a great ear for dialogue.