Oddville! TPB – Jay Stephens

2 out of 5

Jay Stephens’ work has a couple of barometers by which I’d rate it: humor, and creativity.  Two general buckets, I know, but the scales go up and down a bit depending on what he’s working on, with Land of Nod stuff at the top of both and his Oddville! newspaper strips rather hitting low marks.

Appearing in bits and pieces across various indie rags, Oni reprinted / collected the strips in 2002.  They are “funny” and they are “creative” but its moreso an idea of both of these things than their actual effectation; these characters – Jetcat, Giant Radio Controlled Robot, etc. – would be put to better use in other strips, whereas here, their appearances feel like the quickest sketches of Jay’s abilities; newspaper gags which don’t always have a gag because they’re whipped out to meet a deadline.

Accepting that weekly (or daily?) comic writing is rather daunting, Oddville! still doesn’t display, to a notable level, Jay’s cartooning and humor timing abilities.  This stuff is very (seemingly) quickly drawn, capturing only the most basic attribute of each character – they’re funny; they’re angry; etc. – and filling in panel time with off beats that don’t help to sell a joke.  Adding to that, some of these strips don’t even tell a joke, just mugging to the “camera” as though you’re supposed to laugh.

The concept fully meets those ‘funny’ and ‘creative’ marks, as Melanie (Jetcat) and Tod give birth to an alien baby just by sharing a kiss, and said alien baby – Daisy – starts flying around town, prompting people to shoot at it.  This is outlandish, and wonderfully random and totally wild in how much violence it enacts towards a child, and admittedly elicits a giggle at its outset, but once Jay has put it to paper with the intention of delivering the remaining story in page-by-page chops, you can feel / see the creator just sort of stretching for whatever the next random interaction will be to get the strip to another page.  Some of this still definitely displays Stephens’ inventiveness and tweaked humor, but it’s all from afar; leftover gags from a tighter, more dedicated series.