Pencil Head, as a series, is all about deep cuts. I don’t mean that it’s particularly acerbic or scathing, just that its industry jibes are super inside baseball. If readers are knowledgeable about the life and times of writer and artist Ted McKeever, then this book will probably yield some great little gems. For the rest of us, most of Pencil Head is a joke we just won’t get, unless an intrepid reader takes it upon him or herself to research each reference. And really, who has the time? Plus, wouldn’t that ruin the joke? Still, is there anything for casual readers to enjoy about this title, or is this just a comic book creator’s comic book?
Pencil Head #2 continues the misadventures of McKeever’s avatar, Poodwaddle, a comic book artist in the midst of making the transition from a Marvel pastiche to a DC analogue, all at the behest of a similarly-jaded industry friend. And for what it is, it’s fine. As I mentioned, there are vague references that will go over most readers’ heads (at least, they went over mine), with a voice that is just non-committal enough so as to not be truly biting (which is kind of a shame).
Most of its anger is directed at the inanity and ubiquity of superhero comics, which has, to me, become something of a tiresome and archaic argument against comics; only because, these days, there is so much more out there. But I do take its point that the moneymakers remain clad in capes and tights. That all notwithstanding, its main plot thread also suffers from weird pacing, jumping from reference to reference and scene to scene without much patience or payoff. It almost makes up for that lapse in the lovable grumpiness within which McKeever casts almost every character (none more so than Poodwaddle), but it still feels jumpy.
Where this series, and especially this issue, does get interesting is in the increasingly more esoteric and downright oddball sub-plots. These include an inept police force, led by a man who is mostly nose, trying to solve a hamburger homicide; and a penis monster cartographer, who apparently has a penchant for wearing hookers like leisure suits. Now that’s the kind of kooky shit I was expecting of this book, and it doesn’t disappoint.
In fact, I personally want to see more of Poodwaddle encountering these magically surreal breaches at the periphery of his little world, and am legitimately intrigued about how and why they will manifest in his life as a comic book artist. I understand that intimate struggle is where this comic book finds its foundation, and even its raison d'être, but it comes at the cost of making me, and I’m sure many other readers, feel lost. And if I’m going to feel that, I may as well be surrounded by creepy graffiti monsters and insidious dicks, am I right?
I still have to give Pencil Head #2 a positive score, not just for its non-comics-insider elements, but for how well McKeever expresses that on the page through his still iconic art. Sketchy and stained, it would be easy to call his black and white treatment “simple,” but there is a lot going on in his pages. He is also able to collide multiple styles within panels of each other - from hurried to intricate - yet make them all paint the story’s proceedings in an uneasy, monochromatic ugliness; which is, ironically, quite beautiful. Even if you don’t get the references and are not into batty shit happening in your books, do yourself a favor and at least skim through Pencil Head #2 for its art. You won’ be disappointed.
For anyone interested in a deeper read, however, I’m not sure what to say. Mostly because I’m not sure who this book is for. McKeever’s friends and colleagues? Industry veterans? The new blood who would acknowledge some of the references? I’m not sure, but barring the stuff with the weird little creatures, I’m pretty sure it’s not me.
Pencil Head #2 Writer/Artist: Ted McKeever Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 2/24/16 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital