Fred the Clown
by Roger Langridge
(Fantagraphics, 2004)

Surely you've seen the comedic circus routine: a small car opens its doors and waaaaay too many clowns start pouring out. Well, think of Fred the Clown as that routine in reverse. Not unlike a clown car, Roger Langridge has packed a whole lot of stuff in a deceptively small graphic novel. Ranging from blatant to obscure, there are references to Dr. Seuss, Mickey Mouse, Max Fleischer, Lewis Carroll, Maurice Sendak, MAD Magazine's Spy vs. Spy and nearly any newspaper comic strip you can name.

Consisting of 10 chapters (or numbered "Steps to Happiness"), Fred the Clown follows the nonsensical misadventures of the title character, a smelly dimwitted outcast of society with a penchant for bearded ladies. The usual story repeatedly told involves Fred's failed attempts at picking up women, yet Langridge manages to keep each story relatively unique. One repetitive element does get very tiring very quickly: the preponderant perspective of Fred's poster. There are some odd tangential stories, especially the lengthy prose biography of Fred's publishing history in the second chapter/step.

The storytelling is decent enough, but the real showcase is the overwhelming variety of artistic styles. Flipping through this book, you'd think that at least 10 different artists contributed to this graphic novel. Even taking into account that some of the stories are mimicking past visual artists (Max Fleischer, Dr. Seuss, Walt Disney, etc.), there's still an amazing amount of diversity in the portrayal of figures. The broad artistic range more than overcompensates for the nigh-cyclical quality of the stories.

As mentioned earlier, Fred the Clown is like a jam-packed clown car. There's almost too much to digest, despite its "digest" size. While reading it, one is probably prone to wonder why it is taking so long to read a book about a clown. What's the point of all this? Doesn't it all seem a bit absurd?

But then, can a book about a clown be anything BUT absurd?

- Rambles
written by C. Nathan Coyle
published 29 January 2005

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