2 out of 5
Based on the previous Pakiz book I’d read, Condiment Squad, I was admittedly expecting The Flying Sausage to be more of a comedy. To Pakiz’s credit in setting the book’s tone, it’s clear from the outset, even if our lead character is an underbiting, anthropomorphic pug (and the only anthropomorphic character in the book…), that Sausage won’t be written for laughs. There’s mirth ‘neath the surface at points, truly, but it’s absolutely much more of a drama, and perhaps becomes a tragedy as it drags the pug – boxer-turned-soldier Beaufois – through the highs and lows of humanity, set in the early 1900s when France and Germany are shredding at each other’s dignities during the first World War.
I’m not a history fan, but that’s not what put me off. Part of what Keith accomplishes here is the abstraction of war; fighting far from the people in rooms disagreeing about things. Beaufois has a promising career as a pugilist but a chat with his friend, who was joining up, has him consider doing the same, and thereafter, he practically stumbles from horror to horror, not incompetent, but truly just running left and right and happening into the nearest of misses. There’s no sense of vehemence for the Germans so much as everyone following orders, and some blindly doing so. Moments of kindness are followed by Beaufois rededicating himself to moving forward, only to witness vile things on both sides of the line.
And there’s a great story in there. Pakiz’s loose artwork and wispy coloring from Condiment Squad returns, and flipping through the pages offers a lot of fantastic eye candy of busy layouts and momentum-paneled pages. There are absolutely moments of The Flying Sausage where I felt that great story surfacing, Keith (and Beaufois) pausing to consider something peaceful, or grotesque, and then soldiering on. Alas, reading the book is a different thing: because it’s very, very unreadable most of the way through.
I went back and reread parts of Condiment Squad and Pakiz didn’t seem to suffer from the same, there, but in The Flying Sausage, his layouts from a comic perspective are atrocious. Randomly sized panels lead you all over the page, leading Keith to employ numbering some panels or using directional arrows, but these are also inconsistently placed and so they’re easy to miss. Add to this a poor sense of dialogue pacing, in which long farts of text suddenly pop up, blemishing the page flow further – though it should be said the dialogue is well written and, in itself, interesting – and equally (to the panels) wandering word bubble placement, and you’ll find yourself swimming on any given page, hopes of that Great Story diminished as you reread a panel or section you already read, or ruin the need to read a previous panel because the eye direction has jumped you several panels ahead accidentally.
It’s a shame, because of the positives mentioned, and because of how much it tarnishes the reading experience. Later in the book – perhaps 2/3rds of the way through – you see this calm down a bit, but the damage has already been done, and that it still appears (just less so) is salt in the wound.
Pakiz has a lot of great stuff available on his site, and though this experimentation in paneling doesn’t seem like it’s absent from his later (post this book) work, The Flying Sausage does seem like an especially egregious example of it, and so perhaps there’s some purposeful commentary on war in its addled design. Knowing now what to expect, it’s something I’d like to revisit down the road, but the first readthrough was not an easy one.