Saturday, July 10, 2021

(Cover Not Final)

It's tough to make a book that is simultaneously high-concept, inventive, and laugh-out-loud funny, but that is exactly what Max Huffman pulled off here in (Cover Not Final). This collection of mini-comics portrays a world with a logic and rhythm of its own, a place where the madcap energy of Harvey Kurtzman comics collides with noir genre conventions and our contemporary world. It is a place where chemical companies send a message to a snooping private detective by leaving a modern art installation outside his apartment. It's silly and somewhat random, but also hilarious. The logic of the place makes for great story and dialogue beats. Just check out this sequence:

The line about Uncle Chest is gold, and this book has quite a few similar deadpan zingers that made me chuckle. There are a number of different stories in this book, and the glue holding it together is the nogoodnik Career Criminal who appears in each. He is an agent of chaos and mayhem, the snappy dresser who appears on the cover of the book. He embodies the book's energy and style. 

The illustrations remind me some of 1960s tiki art, which is part of what contributes to its retro feel. The geometric artwork adds to the ambience of the book, providing a strange, angular perspective that contrasts well with the madcap twists and turns. The size and format of this book also recalls a vintage paperback vibe, which adds to its charm. The stories in this book are relatively short and zippy, and taken together they constitute a brief visit to a zany world that invites multiple re-readings. Reading (Cover Not Final) is flat-out fun.

This book's creator Max Huffman is the Print Graphic Designer for Cat's Cradle and the Small Press Director at Peel Gallery. He speaks about some of the inspirations and process behind these comics in this article.

The reviews I found about this book have been positive. Brian Nicholson wrote that "the comic’s great. It’s constantly delightful, and the pleasures accumulate with each new short story." Ryan Carey opined that "works that defy conventional description or, at the very least, can’t be boiled down to the old reductivist 'elevator pitch', are often the most rewarding to spend some real time with, and, despite its admittedly short length, this comic definitely lends itself to re-reading and careful examination."

(Cover Not Final) was published by AdHouse Books, and they offer a preview and more information here.

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