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February 07, 2008

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Chris Mautner

Interesting. I always thought Odds Off was one of Madden's weakest efforts. Now you've given me food for thought.

Craig Fischer

I think I'm with Chris on this one. Charles, you make a strong case for the quality of ODDS OFF. Why is it, then, that I don't like the book more?

The problem here may be my own personal artistic preferences. You’re exactly right when you write that Madden isn’t “the sort of cartoonist whose work lives and dies by rendering.” Madden’s first priority is with creating pictures that transmit information as clearly as possible, and he’s not as interested in the grace and beauty of the pictures themselves. But I’m selfish; I want both clarity and beauty, and I’m not sure that ODDS OFF gives us enough of either.

The understated, naturalistic tale Madden tackles here calls for a style that captures gestures and faces with razor-sharp clarity, but I found Madden’s line--a thick, sloppy brush line of relatively unvarying width--a poor vehicle for conveying facial emotion. I didn’t like Lance very much, and I think that's because Madden’s style makes him look ugly and off-putting. This brush style also sinks Madden’s representation of the televised French lessons that Morgan watches (instead of relating to Shirin). It looks to me like Madden tries to draw Chantal and Patrick, the characters in the French show, in a thinner pen line, in appropriate emulation of the ligne claire, but he just doesn’t have the chops to pull it off: they just look like thinner versions of the slackers that populate the rest of the book. This is disappointing, given Madden’s witty mimicry of styles in 99 WAYS, just a few years later.

Charles, I also have to disagree with your characterization of the conclusion to ODDS OFF as “emotionally disappointing but also, I think, spot-on.” You call the conversation between Shirin and Lance “disarmingly frank,” but I found it implausible. Given Lance’s inability, earlier in the narrative, to bring himself to even speak to Morgan, the fact that he would blurt out “Yeah, I really wanna fuck him, hee hee hee!" to Shirin doesn’t make sense to me. (Plus, the line “Yeah, I really wanna fuck him, hee hee hee!” isn’t exactly an advertisement for Madden’s dialogue-writing skills.) And in the last panel, Madden gives in to sentiment and manufactures a forced happy ending when he introduces a new character, similar in looks to Morgan, who begins to chat up Lance at the party. Ugh.

For me, ODDS OFF is a failed project by a good cartoonist (another example of which is Ariel Bordeaux’s NO LOVE LOST [1997]). Madden’s a smart and creative guy, though, and I'm eager to see DRAWING WORDS AND WRITING PICTURES.

CharlesWHatfield

Hey, I can't talk you into digging ODDS OFF; de gustibus non est disputandum, and all that. But, by way of reply:

Lance's outburst at book's end is very much in character. Check out the first scene in the book, at the New Year's party: there's a similar awkwardness, a similar bid for contact, a similar social bungling (replete with a gauche confessional quality: a crack about sex). Lance may be shy, but he says some pretty outrageous things to try to break the ice. The start of the book sets him up pretty well, and what comes later (including his conversations with friends) follows through credibly enough, IMO.

Also, believe it or not, it never occurred to me that Lance might be finding a new "Morgan" at book's end; I didn't see that, or, rather, didn't see it as anything more than a vague potential. Sure, another guy starts chatting up Lance, but do we know it will lead to anything? Madden's touch there, I thought, was light.

I do agree that Madden's brush line sometimes isn't up to it; as I said, the drawing is inconsistent. Sometimes it looks labored. But check out again that page I posted that shows Shirin and Morgan hugging, in the doorway; dig the subtle furtiveness of her expressions in that bottom tier. Very economically done, but telling. What gets me about ODDS OFF is that it's so clearly the work of someone working at the very frontiers of his ability; remarkably, he undertook what must have been a difficult project for him, and stuck it through with a consistency of approach, if not evenness of finish, that, from my POV, ends up being quite impressive.

I don't want to push TOO hard for ODDS OFF. As noted, the plot is vanishingly thin; the book lives and dies by its characters. What's more, I think that Madden is better at grace notes than at carrying the melody, if that makes any sense. This is a book of contracted scope, similar in heft and impact to a quiet literary short story (again, ARTBABE comes to mind), one of those here's-your-epiphany stories. But it's still my favorite book by Madden, the one that best shows his human gift for characterization and observation.

Re: wanting more "beauty" in the images themselves, yeah, I think ODDS OFF is pretty spartan. I tried to suggest that it belongs to a particular and perhaps already dated aesthetic (1990s-ish), something quite different from today's trend-setting art comics. If the trend in art comics is, to cop from Groensteen and Beaty here, toward the liberation of the image, well, ODDS OFF ain't going that way. Sort of an anti-ARRIVAL. :)

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