Well, that’s a mouthful of a title!
Puffed was a three-issue mini-series from Image in 2003, yet this trade is from 2005 and published by IDW. That’s the way it is with creator-owned stuff, I guess! John Layman wrote it, Dave Crosland drew it, and IDW charges $17 for it.
I usually wouldn’t review it because it’s, you know, so old, but Layman himself handed it to me and didn’t charge me for it, so I would feel bad about not reviewing it. It’s not like it’s super-duper well known, right?
Layman, of course, is the writer of the excellent series Chew, although he’s been around the comics scene for some time (the dude wrote Gambit, for crying out loud), and Puffed is somewhat in that vein. It’s not as good as Chew, but you can see the twisted sense of humor that Layman brings to his latest series, even if it’s somewhat less refined. Yes, I just implied that a series about a cop who eats parts of human beings is “refined.” But I’m talking about the humor – Layman never overdoes it in Chew, while in Puffed he goes a bit too far. As in, the main character walks around with shit in his pants for most of the series. That’s what I think of as “lazy humor.”
That doesn’t mean this isn’t fun to read, however. Layman introduces us to Aaron Owens, a worker drone at an amusement park whose punishment for showing up late one day is to dress in the dragon costume rather than the bad-ass Big Bad Wolf he wants to be. Meanwhile, he draws the ire of an unbalanced and fairly stereotypical redneck because he’s flirting with a girl at the park – naturally, said girl doesn’t like the crazy redneck, but the crazy redneck believes that she’s meant only for him. So after his shift, Seaton – the crazy redneck – beats him senseless, loads him in his pick-up truck, and takes him to the Big City, where he dumps our hero in an alley.
It’s already been established that it’s difficult for Aaron to get the costume off without some help, so he’s kind of trapped in the costume. And then he shits in his pants. And witnesses a murder. C’est la vie!
Aaron gets away from the murderers, drives around the city for a bit in a limo he happens to jump into, goes to a bar and hears an old dude tell a story of lost love, gets caught by the murderers, and manages to escape with his life. I couldn’t get the Jeff Goldblum/Michelle Pfeiffer movie Into the Night out of my head while I read this – yes, it’s much cruder and features a dude in a dragon costume, but it has that fish-out-of-water-in-the-big-city kind of vibe, and it takes place over the course of one long night. I’m sure there are other movies in this vein, but that’s the one I though of. Sue me. Layman and Crosland follow it up with two shorter stories, one that features Seaton fighting the war in Iraq and another that shows what happens when both Seaton and Aaron end up in the same hospital. They’re both goofy, much like the main story.
Layman doesn’t stretch his muscles too much, simply allowing lowest common denominator humor to rule the day. The best part of the book is the old guy’s story about the love he had and lost, which isn’t funny (nor is it meant to be). Layman can write humor very well, but these few pages that aren’t funny are really well done, especially when we consider the lessons Davey – the old guy – learned about the woman, what she really wanted, and who serves him his drinks every night. It’s a twisty little noir story shoved into a truly silly story of a guy in a dragon costume. Again, there’s nothing really bad about Aaron’s story – even though I don’t think it’s all that hilarious – but when we get to Davey’s story, it’s interesting to see how good Layman can be.
I have nothing but praise for the art, though. Crosland is magnificent, and I’m kind of stunned I’ve never seen anything else by him.
I’ve been poking around his web site and it appears he doesn’t do a ton of comics work, focusing instead on other media, and that’s cool, but this book is almost worth it simply for the art, and I’d love to see more of Crosland’s work. When I first saw it, I immediately though of Jim Mahfood, which is odd as Mahfood introduced Layman to Crosland (as we’re told in the sketch section in the back of the book). Crosland’s work is a bit softer-edged than Mahfood’s (that’s not, in my opinion, a bad thing) and, if possible, a bit more energetic. He does a great job with character design, making Seaton, for instance, almost inhuman, and the full-page shot of what the stoned limo driver sees when he looks at Aaron is marvelous. Crosland also shines on Davey’s story, during which he goes even further in eschewing traditional panel layouts, blending every part of the story into an almost dreamlike swirl of drawings. He also does a nice job with the frenetic fight scenes, one at the beginning when Seaton beats Aaron up, and one at the end when Aaron gets a tiny measure of revenge. This is a fantastic book to look at, and it smooths over some of the weaknesses of the narrative.
I can’t unequivocally recommend Puffed, but if you like potty humor, you might love it a lot more than I did. However, I do think it’s worthwhile to check it out for a couple of reasons: Layman is obviously a talented writer, and parts of the comic are very, very good, while Crosland’s art is stunning. And there’s a bear! And pin-ups by people like Frank Quitely and John Cassaday! And a bear!
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