Robots and Monkeys
(W/A) Tom Manning
BW, 80 pgs $5.00 US
Two years after the final chapter of Runoff, Tom Manning returns to comics with ERIC, a brief, weird and ultimately successful sophomore effort that showcases the creator’s range as a storyteller, yet feels somehow slight when viewed in the context of his previous work.
As a follow-up to the critically acclaimed Runoff, comparisons are inevitable. And while ERIC’s story begins with scenes of a supernatural ritual reminiscent of Manning’s previous tale, it quickly shifts in tone to a character-driven story told on a much smaller scale. There are no complex mysteries or talking animals; just a sad, burned-out pop musician dealing with faded glory, paranoia and a loose grip on reality.
Eric himself is introduced through a new compilation CD that spans the highs and lows of his career through the decades, before being revealed as a paunchy, drug-addled hippie unable to cope with the world around him. He’s a strange hybrid of sixties musicians – think Brian Wilson, Jimmy Buffet and Bob Dylan – living in a small California apartment and grappling with increasing irrelevance and chemical dependency. As his mind slowly unravels, it’s clear his best days are behind him and his future is bleak. He’s a relic from another era, and his only escape from a society that has passed him by is to find solace and shelter in an altered reality.
And that’s more or less it. There may be a deeper meaning within Eric’s hallucinations, but that’s up to the reader for interpretation. Taken at face value, ERIC is a fleeting glimpse into the life of a washed-up celebrity, and though the book may well have some personal relevance to the author, the audience may wonder if this was a story that necessarily needed to be told, at least in a standalone book. Manning has hinted that ERIC’s strange adventures may continue, and in that regard, the book may work very differently as an introductory chapter, rather than a self-contained story.
Regardless of whether the journey continues, ERIC’s greatest value is as a snapshot of Manning’s evolution as a creator and artist. The loose, sketchy layouts of Runoff have been replaced with bold, confident lines and stylized detail, and ERIC’s bizarre visuals would feel right at home in a Top Shelf anthology alongside the works of other seasoned independent creators.
On its own, however, ERIC may leave the reader wanting a bit more. The reader shares Eric’s haze throughout his brief journey, yet by the time the conclusion is reached, there’s not much to consider other than what a short, strange trip it’s been, and to look forward to Manning’s next project, whatever it may be. (Dave Brennan)