Cathy Malkasian’s Temperance

by John Holbo on December 20, 2010

Here’s another best of 2010 comics entry for you. Cathy Malkasian’s Temperance [amazon] is like Franz Kafka’s The Castle meets Little House On the Prairie and goes drinking. No, it’s like rewriting Pinocchio as several Flannery O’Connor short stories, including (but not limited to) “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” and “Good Country People”. No, that’s not it either. Good thing there’s an 18-page preview from Fantagraphics (pdf). And here’s a very interesting interview with the author. She talks about how, in a strange way, this whole phantasmagoric nightmare tale is a meditation on the virtue of moderation. Strangely, that seems right.

A couple years ago I reviewed Malkasian’s first book, Percy Gloom, and said I liked it but felt the author could do even better. Well, I think Temperance is better. It’s not as funny. Percy was funny. But it feels – full and complete – whereas Percy felt like it wanted to be bigger and more serious, but wasn’t, and was sort of trying to compensate for that with the funny bits. Looking back, I notice that I said Percy Gloom – the character, an ‘aspiring cautionary writer’ – was a cross between Kafka’s Hunger Artist and Elmer Fudd. I probably should have added that he’s also a cross between Charlie Brown and the protagonist of Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts. If they went to Oz. At any rate, I am consistent in my sense that, somehow, Malkasian is Americanizing the Kafkaesque. Or perhaps I am merely so impoverished, adjectivally, that I fall back on that last refuge of the inarticulate scoundrel: ‘Kafkaesque’. Anyway, it’s weird as hell. This stuff.