Anyone who’s ever tried to make a living drawing comics knows it can be a tenuous existence fraught with countless personal and situational oddities. Ted McKeever capitalizes on this experience and his own background in the surreal and semi-autobiographical “Pencil Head” #1, where disillusioned artist Poodwaddle finds no solace in his encounters with an editor who shamelessly fiddles with his work or the friend who drags him into situations best left avoided.
McKeever draws himself in a modest, unflattering manner, using his unique abstract style to make sure McKeever — that is, Poodwaddle — is a non-descript and everyday kind of guy trying to make it in a world full of crazy occurrences. McKeever takes the odd characters from his world and turns them into strange and often hilarious caricatures, and these friends and foils drive his story, easily making readers laugh and inviting them to have as much fun with his plight as he clearly is.
For example, Poodwaddle’s editor, the almost poetically named Gargle Plottz, is an obnoxious and interloping lout who’s all mouth, so McKeever illustrates him as such: with prominent and protruding teeth that would look all-too-natural on one of Charlie Adlard’s zombies over in “The Walking Dead.” Plottz’s meddling with Poodwaddle’s finished art takes a huge bite out of Pood’s creative freedom, so McKeever’s design for the character is dead on. The beady-eyed, pudgy assistant Plottz “credits” with marring Poodwaddle’s art bleeds fanboy turned wanna-be professional and, at first appearance, he is succinctly portrayed as the kind of individual that most would love to see get run over by a truck.
These hyperbolic characters play perfectly into McKeever’s intent, carrying his message loudly and brutally in an offbeat but delightfully satiric manner. The surrealism isn’t really brought into full play, though, until McKeever focuses on the shadowy monster skulking in Poodwaddle’s tracks. With it, McKeever seems to indicate that something dark and ominous is never far off; whether this represents the constant weight of unending deadlines or some greater fear is unclear, but it instills a sense of foreboding into McKeever’s story that balances out its satiric aspects.
As the cover boldly states, hamburgers and dead strippers also figure into the story, but only as part of McKeever’s wry and mildly-twisted commentary on the life of this professional comic book creator. “Pencil Head” #1 is the kind of inward examination that will be most appreciated by those who know the industry, but anyone who works for a living can enjoy its observations. McKeever’s rough and blocky style won’t please all at first blush, but it’s a style that’s ideally suited to the absurdities that plague both McKeever’s world and many others.