2 out of 5
I had a comic shop lady friend back in the day who was cool enough to have procured an old Arsenic Lullaby issue which was foisted upon my in the formative years of my comic-reading tastes. Leaning towards darker and subversive humor in movies and books, Douglas Paszkiewicz’s oddball tales mixing Lovecraftian horrors and taboo topics with humor was right up my alley, and I eventually got around to tracking down other issues of the series (and its spin-offs) thereafter. Procuring more of that stuff unfortunately exposed that Douglas’ well of jokes was not bottomless – the pacing was predictable; concepts were often reskinned for just another variation with different characters. New issues were infrequent enough that it was still nice to see a new Arsenic Lullaby on the racks and to sort of get a refresher on Douglas’ humor, but towards the series’ conclusion, it started to especially feel like a stretch: the list of potentially offensive topics of Nazis and child abuse were already run through, so everything was on repeat, and the misspellings that were excused as being “purposeful” for the humor lost their charm as well – after a decade and more, surely spell-check was a thing.
Douglas has been trucking on with additions to the Lullaby world here and there, and we now have The Big Stall, 45 pages of gags which follow in the tradition of recycling mentioned above. Cthulhu shows up as a hitman-for-hire of sorts, one of the few ongoing gags in the collection – most are single page strips – but like a lot of Paszkiewicz’s longer running attempts, the structure is geared toward end-of-the-page zingers, and it starts to fall really flat when welded to a narrative which the writer has troubly logically carrying past that zinger. Elsewhere, Twinkie and Donut mascots return for familiar abuse, but for every laugh, we get some jokes that just… don’t make much sense. Sugar is low carb? Sure. This, alas, starts to fall into the same bucket as those misspellings, still super frequent; it feels more like rushed filler than something that took time and thought.
Which is unfortunate, because this stuff does take time and surely does take thought, and, as mentioned, I did laugh on occasion. I like Paszkiewicz’s narrow characters and downtrodden environments, I like the “attitude” of Arsenic. However, after several decades of repeating the same exact gags, I have to believe the creator can find some ways to expand his palette so that I can’t predict exactly what the end of a page looks like nigh every time.