"The saying goes: 'Everybody loves a clown.'" Thus, the opening line of Clown by author James Maddox encapsulates the tone of his story, the way an overture gives a brief taste of the entire piece without giving away the nuance and detail which follows as the story unfolds.
The life of Jared Bastian (a.k.a. "Willie the Worrier" hobo clown) is anything but easy, but in the dystopia in which he lives, he's joined by about 99% of the population. In a world like that, which reflects much of our own, you follow the words of your friend and mine, Andy Dufresne, and either get busy livin' or get busy dyin', a task which our Mr. Bastian takes with aplomb. In a depressionistic economy you take work where you can get it, so hanging up his journalist pen and picking up a rubber nose isn't a far cry from possibility. Like it says in the book and by countless others, "Entertainment is recession proof." Usually, that entertainment being referred to is the sex industry, but that's the way it is, to make money in entertainment you have to "whore" yourself out. The more viewers, the more income, and in times when hopes are few and far between, distraction helps fill the gaps.
Circus life is a carousel . . . has its ups and downs. Living with the people you work with all day makes for strange bedfellows, especially if there is a falling out between bedfellows and you have to work with them the next day. Falling for someone so close, but them already being involved, or fear of asking and falling without a net can be painful enough. Moving from one place to another, changing venues along with the town's political views, having to occasionally scratch a demanding back or "donate" a portion of the proceeds to local officials is all part and parcel in the world of traveling entertainment. Sometimes, government representatives insist the scratching must be done in order to the show the public how much the circus does (and how much the audience should) respect, honor, and remain loyal to the empire and aristocracy. "Thanks for coming out, folks! And, a bigger thanks to the government 'and what a great government it is!' for allowing us the honor of so on and so on and so on . . . " 'Twas a situation like this that put Jared "Willie" Bastian on the map.
Being asked to put a bit of pomp and circumstance in the opening of the show to honor the Queen seemed as menial (and frankly less expensive) as anything else, so waving a few flags here and dancing to an empiric anthem there was a drop in the bucket. Easy as pie, until the anti-empire resistance shows up, sets off an explosion or two, and creates havoc under the big top. Ain't that always the case? Seems that Mr. Bastian can drop his hobo clown persona, "Willie the Worrier" at the door when needed, and step up to protect his people and himself. Doing so caused him a blessing and a curse at the same time. As with most things these days, someone is always recording. Recording everything they see, on a camcorder or phone. Why embrace life as it happens, when you can watch it anytime? Frequently, these videos are uploaded online to be seen by the world . . . or more specifically in certain cases, the government. Wiping away the blood and greasepaint from his eyes one minute, to being escorted by empire security agents to the most luxurious flats in town, just five hours later, is quite a juxtaposition. From being a good man doing a good deed, to being told you are a hero and champion of the people and that the luxury flat you're standing in is now yours . . . well, in only a five-hour time span makes it juxtapose just a little bit more. Sometimes, things that come can come (semi-) easily, mostly those come with a catch. This catch involves not hobo clown Willie the Worrier, but Jared Bastian, man who those in charge wish to parade in front of its citizens as the foppish clown who champions the empire. Jared Bastian is a man, not a clown . . . not a clown the empire can play dress up with in a silly costume. The empire has taken it upon itself to strip him of his anonymity and make the man in clown's clothing the empiric mascot to show off, to demonstrate that even a clown can take down the resistance. When you take a man's identity from him, you force him to forge a new one. I'm intrigued to meet him.
James Maddox wrote a wonderful book that combines much of what could be, with more than a sprinkle of what is. It wouldn't be difficult to believe that he is a fan of Frank Miller, Alan Moore, or Warren Ellis were I to find out. Specifically Ellis, who wrote about a journalist, just as Jared was and his pink slip was sent from a Mr. Samuel Jerusalem, which may be a nod to Spider? Jared Bastian seems the man that finds a way to get by no matter what and does what needs to be done.
Artist Brandon Lauhon does well-crafted work, emphasizing with subtle detail what needs to be noticed, without taking away from the rest of the panel. He has a sly way of directing your eye and a great sense of space, most importantly the need to or not to fill it. Some artists find a need to cover every centimeter of a panel with ink, some barely use any, making things seem more impressive and dynamic than how they are. Lauhon finds a sweet balance between the two, embracing the use of scope to convey importance and perspective.
Clown is one of the best reads I've had in a while. I believe it is to be a series, but I'm almost afraid to see a #1 stamped on it, as this works stupendously as a standalone story. It's hard for me to believe that readers can purchase this book in digital form for only $.99! It costs more to buy a candy bar these days (said the curmudgeony old man). If you're going to treat yourself, skip the extra 400 calories and download a copy of Clown.
You can thank me later.