It’s been over a decade since Pete Sickman-Garner’s “Hey, Mister” comic quietly vanished. Existing first as a series of mini-comics and then as eight issues of a regular comic (all of which were collected into three volumes total), Sickman-Garner’s creation was easily one of the funniest comics published in its time. The characters of Mister, Aunt Mary, and Young Tim went through a series of strange shorts as well as longer, full-length stories with only two things in common: a certain amount of irreverence and the ability to make you laugh your head off. And now, apparently, we’ve all done something good and are being rewarded in the form of “Hey, Mister: Come Hell or Highwater Pants.”
The plot of the new “Hey, Mister” graphic novel seems simple enough at first; Satan is tired of ruling Hell and has once more decided that he needs to get out of Dodge. Meanwhile, Jesus is having a midlife crisis and wants to start over. God is getting progressively irritated at everyone. Mister wants Top Shelf to publish a series of biblical-themed pornographic videos, while Young Tim just wants Satan to be his best friend. And of course, all three characters are desperate to escape the clutches of Sickman-Garner. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Suffice it to say, “Hey, Mister” is a really strange comic. It’s definitely one of its many charms. In a comic where the characters walk back and forth through the fourth wall — with Sickman-Garner somehow co-existing alongside the cast even as the comics that he draws ultimately affecting their lives — and subplots can involve Satan’s real estate agent. And in many ways, that’s part of why “Hey, Mister” has been so badly missed since it went away. Sickman-Garner’s voice as a creator isn’t quite like anything else out there. It’s funny and crude in places, but at the same time there’s a certain level of human drama that’s also deeply infused into its oddball nature. That’s something that’s been present in “Hey, Mister” for quite some time — the final punishment in the Greek Gods story that appears in the “Hey, Mister: The Fall Collection” trade paperback is incredibly memorable and cruel because of how it cuts to Mister’s emotions — but because of the graphic novel length of this story we get much more room for it to grow. Satan’s strange sort of bumbling nature makes him surprisingly likable, and it’s the Virgin Mary whose speech near the end of the graphic novel that provides the emotional release needed to tie everything together.
At the same time, don’t worry, there’s still a lot of humor. Aunt Mary (no relation to the Virgin) gets a lot of the best one-liners in the comic, especially once she’s wandering Hell and tormenting everyone that she’s hated from history. (The fact that she agrees to go once she finds out that Ayn Rand is there, says it all.) Sickman-Garner’s humor is often less in-your-face and a little subtler, though. When Satan first shows up at Mister’s home, the sequence where he and Young Tim first meet is a great example. Those looking at the bigger jokes (like how Satan didn’t know that Mister had a “Grayson”) might miss some of the other bits, like the insinuation that Young Tim doesn’t have a soul available to sell to Satan.
Sickman-Garner’s art feels virtually unchanged from before. His characters are a little craggy and deliberately misshapen (yes, Young Tim is supposed to look like the strange crossbreed of a human and a muppet), but by god are they funny to look at. Some of the humor wouldn’t succeed if it wasn’t for Sickman-Garner’s art; there’s something just inherently funny about the way he draws a miniature Teddy Roosevelt trotting alongside God as a sidekick, for example. On the one hand, Sickman-Garner’s art isn’t going to blow you away; on the other hand, the first original art I ever bought was a page of “Hey, Mister” and I still have it proudly framed and hung in my home. It does the job and it does it well.
If you haven’t ever heard of “Hey, Mister” before, trust me on this one: it is really damn funny. This one isn’t the joke-a-minute nature of those earliest mini-comics, but I feel like this mellower, slightly matured “Hey, Mister” is still great. And if you like what you see here, well, just remember that there are three collections comprising all of the earlier material. “Hey, Mister” should be comic book required reading. “Hey, Mister: Come Hell or Highwater Pants” isn’t the first time that Sickman-Garner has tackled the afterlife (“Aunt Mary Climbs the Mountain of Life” not only does so but it’s one of my all-time favorite pieces from Sickman-Garner; it’s also available for free online), but it’s definitely the smartest take on it from him. Check it out.