Sunday, October 13, 2002

You may have already heard of Rich Kowlowski's Three Fingers but thought I'd point it out in case you haven't. It's a graphic novel (published a few weeks ago by the cool people at Top Shelf) that mimics a film documentary about the dark history of toons. It follows the story of filmmaker Dizzy Walters and his discovery of the talented toon Ricky Rat (like Who Censored/Framed Roger Rabbit toons are real creatures) as they become incredibly popular and the rumors and politics that followed. It's a mildly interesting concept that is certainly tightly done and with one part that'll have you watching cartoons differently, at least for a week or two. The whole thing is certainly of more interest to animation buffs than casual viewers.

Still, I don't think it's entirely successful: For one thing that "behind the scenes" genre doesn't translate entirely sucessfully to comics; for another the dark truths are a bit too predictable (base motives are pretty much the only ones displayed and the racism issue was done better in Roger Rabbit, not to mention the X-Men); and finally the close parallels to reality--Warmer Brothers? Buggy Bunny?--are distracting more than revealing, though the identity of one mysterious witness is a laugh-aloud moment. (And the attack on Walt Disney is tame compared to the genuinely disturbing one in Ellroy's L.A. Confidential, a major part of the novel completely omitted from the timid film version; gee wonder why?). The characterizations are also a bit too obvious: Bunny as a Saturday Night Live "thespian," a German-accented cinematographer, etc. If Kowlowski has a good grasp of film and animation history it's not obvious. He confuses the end of WWI with 1921 (though that may just be sloppy writing), doesn't seem to understand what "feature" means, and doesn't really go beyond the Disney/WB continuum.

A mild recommendation with reservations. (For highly recommended "dark" rethinkings of pre-existing fictional characters try T.H. White's Once and Future King, David Thomson's Suspects and Gregory Maguire's Wicked, all first-rate and the White one of the dozen greatest novels I've read.)