3 out of 5
It becomes clearer with the third volume of Bughouse that, had the series continued – or should Lafler pick it up again – it would likely focus on a different member of the titular jazz troupe, and their particular tribulations. The first Bughouse felt, to me, like the series was going to be centered around lead sax Jimmy, and that volume was, but the second series wandered its way into focusing on bass player Bones instead, just as Scalawag – volume 3 – switches to piano man Dennis, after a fashion. This all happens in Lafler’s particularly woozy fashion, though, which means about half the book pings around moderately confusingly – What era is it? Why is this character dead and then alive? – before settling on its POV.
The links tend to be thematic: relationship rockiness and confusion; declarations that are made and broken a page later; and different monkeys on different backs, with Dennis having a penchant for drinking and gambling.
Lafler’s art is pretty tamped down in this volume, sticking to straight panels and a solid line, and Dennis’ story is a good one, once we get to it, bouncing around through some Lafler dream / drug logic (the pianist meets his doppelganger “Dennnis” in one such dream) and offering up a pretty funny cartoonist-as-a-superstar character who drops into the story with a bit of whimsy, maybe jumbling up various autobiographical details into the mix.
Both Baja (volume 2) and this one never quite get to the sprawling, more deeply affecting life-and-death musings of the first series, but latter Bughouses are also told from a more mature perspective, and Steve’s loose writing style tends to keep these things eminently readable, regardless of whether or not it takes 70 pages for an actual plot to appear.
Lafler also offers up an appreciated recap / afterword at the end, giving us some more context for the series.