Well, this is where I officially step out of reviewing Ted McKeever’s Pencil Head. I do so not necessarily because it’s a “bad” Image book, but because it continues to feel like a joke shared between a group of old friends, of which I am not part. This time, McKeever’s fictional envoy, Poodwaddle, encounters several insider stories and anecdotes about the real comics business, with names slightly changed so as not to incur litigation, presumably. These tales tall-and-true include a particularly verbose and visually off-putting block of text about how Gil Kane tried to steal pages from Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and John Romita. There’s also a decidedly unflattering retelling of the time McKeever apparently met Frank Miller. And as someone who has a lot of time for these and other narrative gems hiding throughout the history of the comics business, those found in Pencil Head, for whatever reason, feel... cliquey, I guess?
The way this book is set as a framework of those stories reminds me, in a way, of a Joe Sacco joint, but without the intensity or urgency; more like he’s taking a bitter spin in the rumor mill than anything else. For the keen-eyed observer (or anyone willing to do some Google research), cameos from a host of characters abound. However, most are, if not completely lost on me, then unapproachable in their intimacy. Altogether, it comes off as an intensely personal memoir, or like something that would be better confined to a diary.
That being said, I am glad it exists, if for no other reason than the art. McKeever’s visual direction remains par excellence for the iconic artist, who absolutely deserves his storied rep in the field. His work in Pencil Head may be narratively vacant to outsiders, but artistically it is this perfect mix of endearing and hideous; a beautifully warped tapestry of tight lips and gaping, toothy maws, where uncomfortable intimacy is actually a plus. Pencil Head affords a weird dichotomy that way.
Even though it stands starkly in a black and white palette, it’s impossible not to be warmly enticed by his art here, in an equal yet opposite measure to its story, which, as I mentioned, leaves me oddly cold. McKeever’s visual versatility is unquestionable, not just in the page where he expresses various styles by way of mood, but throughout the entirety of Pencil Head #3. This is a work of caricature, of course, and as such, it works well, even in the absence of insider knowledge.
Honestly, if this book focused in equal measure on its very personal history within the comics biz, as well as its more surreal elements, I would be more inclined to stick around. As it stands, the more metaphorical, fantastic portion of the story I find most interesting - that being represented in the spiky freakshow, the quacking penis and the hovering dumpster baby, respectively - is unfortunately under-sung in this book.
This will be great for past and current comics professionals, obsessive students of the medium and personal friends of McKeever, but for everyone else, Pencil Head is beautifully illustrated, but is ultimately a forgettable series.
[button btn_url="" btn_color="pink" btn_size="large" btn_style="default" btn_outlined="no" link_target="self" link_rel="" icon_left="Score: 3/5" icon_right="Score: 3/5"]Score: 3/5[/button]
Pencil Head #3 Writer/Artist: Ted McKeever Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 3/23/16 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital