4 out of 5
I don’t know if I’ll ever tire of Eric Haven’s weirdass cavalcade of superheroes. Half dream fodder, half parody, his writing sits in that (delightfully) uncomfortable realm where you can’t tell if it’s being serious or silly, as it’s so committed to its silliness.
Cryptoid is like a roll-call of ideas, linked by Haven’s wandering-camera style of storytelling – we check in with one creation, get a few pages of narration, or of them doing their thing – and then drift across the landscape for a page or so until we find another. This may not seem like an actual “story,” but there is a flow to it that feels like it’s linking each character to the next, and that gets a nice little cyclical-storytelling touch via a Kirby-esque god who appears at the start and end of the 70-page book.
Each one of these things is hilarious – the half-man, half-ankylosaur “mankylosaur;” the female, anthropomorphic eagle “Resister” who emerges from the tip of the Washington Monument – but then is given enough context to have us actually take them relatively seriously within the ridiculous tone of the book. I love it. Less patient cartoonists would just roll out these ideas as comedy and call it a day, but we get to watch Mankylosaur consume 150+ lbs of salad, which he has to to survive.
Fantagraphics have done a couple of these small collections / books from Haven, and the undersized format and bright colors are a perfect design for the cartoonist’s flat, indie style – it’s something special and yet unassuming.
Knocking off a point for politics. I don’t mind politics in my comics when they fit, and I’d even find it rather hilarious to just include Trump and Bannon proxies as characters in a book of “cryptoids,” but Haven pauses to do some very specific parodying – tweeting – and names names, and that temporarily takes us out of the fantasy of the book; i.e. an example of politics not really fitting. It swings right back after that, but it sticks out for the few pages it’s present.