by Brandon Beck
When I was a kid, one of the first things I wanted to be when I grew up was a cartoonist. Having gorged myself on Calvin & Hobbes, Foxtrot and, oddly enough for a 4th grader, Dilbert, being a cartoonist seemed like the coolest job ever. If growing up and realizing that I’m a terrible artist hadn’t already squashed that dream, reading “Tim Warner’s” Silver Lining HELL would have swiftly taken that dream out in to the woods and shot it in the head like John Turturro in Miller’s Crossing.
Silver Hell is presented as a collection of comic strips from happy-go-lucky cartoonist “Tim Warner’s” daily strip, Silver Lining. Chronicling the tepid “adventures” (and that’s being generous) of benign everyman Tim, his dog Doggy and his cat Squiggles, Silver Lining makes Garfield look like The Wire. This collection, however, is a collection of the “lost strips,” created while “Warner” underwent a very severe nervous breakdown due to, among other things, a horrible divorce. The strips start out innocent and cheesy, but then the lines start to falter just a bit, then the jokes get a little darker, and darker, and dark until all hell breaks loose. By the end of the book there are pages covered in the horrific scrawlings of a mad man that could barely be considered “art.” It’s a deep, dark look into the mind of an artless creator driven mad.
Of course, this is all a joke, and by God it’s hysterical. In actuality, this book was created by James Jajac and it’s a deeply scathing parody of the most obnoxiously watered down, catchphrase driven newspaper strips and a pretty accurate glimpse into what it feels like to be a writer/artist of any kind. His manic, frightening scribbles perfectly represent what it feels like on those days when you want to tear your hair out because the work just won’t happen, or when all you can think about is how much your job sucks or your girlfriend dumped you or your parents are assholes, those negative thoughts manifesting themselves into your art in a way that you really don’t have any control over. That being said, this book would still be funny to just about anybody. Its sense of humor reminds me a bit of the early, John K. era Ren & Stimpy: It seems bright and happy, but there’s a layer of scariness lying beneath that could jump out at any moment. Jajac perfectly nails the tepid nature of the worst daily comic strips, offering nothing remotely close to clever or innovative, instead settling for writing that seems more suited to a greeting card or a coffee mug that the “funny pages.” It’s also a really fresh critique of what strips like this represent, both critically and psychologically. Why do we need to see Squiggles do something adorable every day? Why do we need to know that Tim, no matter what, will always come out smiling? And what would happen if he didn’t? Silver Hell is a tragic look at what happens the day the catchphrases stop, the cat stops goofing around and Tim stops smiling, seemingly forever.
Oh, and did I mention it’s hilarious? Yeah. It’s hilarious. I shout-laughed at several points early on, and by the end I nearly fell off my couch.
Silver Hell is one of the funniest comic books I’ve read in a long, long time, and in its own twisted way kind of affecting. It’s wonderful to watch this cartoonist slowly lose his mind, but by the end, despite laughing your ass off, you’re kinda rooting for him, hoping that he might be okay.
TL;DR: Silver Hell is a collection of the “lost strips” of the Garfield-esque comic strip Silver Lining written while its creator was having a mental breakdown. It’s a dark, twisted hilarious look in to the mind of a soulless creator and what happens when he finally snaps. It’s also very, very funny.
Silver Hell is written and illustrated by James Jajac, in the voice of his character Tim Warner, his comic strip alter-ego. The book and other merchandise can be purchased through his Etsy shop. You can also check out Silver HELL online.
A review copy of Silver Hell was graciously provided to Spandexless by the creator.
Brandon Beck is a writer/director/improviser living in Brooklyn, NY. He recently finished his MFA in TV Writing/Producing at the TV Writer’s Studio at Long Island University and is now working on bending the entertainment industry to his nefarious will. He is more than happy to talk to you about Phish. You can see inside his mind on Tumblr or by following him on the tweetbox at @hellyesbrandon.