The Bogie Man TPB – John Wagner, Alan Grant

4 out of 5

Wonderfully dumb, and the rare kind of comedy comic that, frankly, feels specific to its UK creator’s roots – a kind of pointless ridiculousness that American writers’ funny books can’t often achieve.

The Bogie Man is Francis Forbes Clunie, mental patient, so nicknamed as his delusions have him crafting the world around him into an ever-evolving noir mystery, with internal monologuing ripped right from the tough-talking detectives of Chandler-informed movies that might star, say, Humphrey Bogart – whom Clunie is drawn to look like. There’s no context or meaning provided beyond that, and the two series collected here – The Bogie Man and The Bogie Man: Chinatoon – are purely escalating hijinx, with Clunie escaping the hospital, inevitably procuring a trench coat and cigarettes, and then finding some scenario onto which he projects aspects of Casablanca, or The Maltese Falcon.

This largely succeeds because of how writers John Wagner and Alan Grant embrace the silliness, but with a straight face; that might be the UK spirit of it, in which hapless hanger-ons join “Bogie,” wrapped up by his prattle regarding lost treasure and promised riches, and the various people chasing the character – doctors, cops, the criminals whose activities Bogie somehow stumbles into – are all operating somewhat independently and with their own goals, just going along with the scenario because it kinda sorta makes sense at the time. When Bogie has to “rewrite” a scene to match his narrative, it’s hilarious – not troubling, not suggestive of any past traumas – it’s all for a gag. This leads to – in the opening story – the insanity of a truck full of turkeys which were accidentally stolen by some dumb criminals being purposefully stolen by Bogie, believed to be the key to a big score of some type or another; and in Chinatoon, Bogie’s perpetual interruption of an arranged wedding between two Chinese families, also running afoul of a protection racket run by some hoods.

The initial story is perfect. Wags and Grant excellently pace out Clunie’s escape from the hospital, and keep dual plotlines of the pursuing nurse and police and the whole turkey gambit going full-steam the whole while. There aren’t stakes, exactly, but we feel the convergence of everything; it’s always in motion, and thus requires Bogie’s story-telling insanity to be working at full bore as well. The woman who falls for Clunie’s shtick always is appreciatively balanced between naivety and some questioning of why things aren’t exactly lining up… until the next happenstance when Clunie can force things to fit his askew picture.

“Chinatoon” is often very funny, but it’s firstly rather a product of its less-enlightened times in terms of its presentation of race – reminding of the way the Dreddverse started bringing in other countries into its world, for that matter, basing them around the most stereotypical aspects of any given culture – and secondly much more ramshackle in terms of storytelling. Clunie’s partner is now a dullard, the butt of jokes, and though we get reminders of the police still looking for Clunie, there’s hardly any beats that serve that in the story, so the entertainment more comes from the character forcing his way into things than the comparatively organic nonsense of the first book. The racism isn’t really too far off from anything else in comics that depicted Asian culture at the time – the early 90s – it’s just… ignorant. A modern book could’ve gone really far with this, comparing Bogie’s internal narrative – which is filled with loaded language due to being “written” like a pulp character – to others’ reactions to it; here, Wags and Grant posit Glaswegians – Glasgow being the setting for all this – as collectively ignorant of stereotyping, but no one’s really making much point of it. So the jokes sit in a middleground between making fun of that ignorance, but then also maybe just making some racist jokes. Ultimately, because the story leans into Bogie’s POV more often than not, it remains entertaining, but the waters are definitely murky.

Artist Robin Smith is a champ throughout. Toned down in boisterousness from his Dredd work, Smith’s rather formal style here fits the faux noir tone, and has the cleanliness of European comics. He lands the comedic beats, and casts everyone in this state of innocence – you can immediately tell the tone of comedy, overlain with a 40s pulp shtick.

The trade includes a “MacGlossary” of Glasgow slang.