Well folks all you need is a good heavy hammer.

*Scene from a comics shop. Two kids, about eight years old, are leafing though some new books. One of them has mistaken the bags and board that the owner puts the new books in for a polybag of yore, which he’s perhaps learned about from his parents.

Ooh. You wanna get this one. It’ll be worth more money some day.”

I rolled my eyes as I continued on with my important task of cataloging all of the “Comics Greatest World” books in the quarter bin for no reason other than my personal curiosity, but I kept listening.

What do you mean?” asked the second kid.

You see the price on this one?”

Two fifty.”

Yeah, well in a bunch of years, it’ll be worth more!”

Like what?”

Like in a while, when you’re fifty, it’ll be worth SIX BUCKS!!”

I involuntarily chuckled over my issue of “King Tiger”. I take it all back. The kid was much smarter than he looked.

Ed the Happy Clown #1 (of 9)

That is a gorgeous cover. One look is not enough. Here’s a black and white version, inked in a slightly different manner than the published piece. Here’s the penciled form. That black and sepia cityscape cut in the center by a dull green phallic growth with the warm pink and brown and blonde and blue of the title character’s tiny form, hanging on near the top; it’s a fantastic image. It makes you desperately want to possess this book.

It’s a good thing that such a fine first impression is made, since immediately subsequent surface impressions won’t be as positive. I’m probably just spoiled by modern comic book paper stock, but the newsprint used for the guts of this book seem tissue-thin; I guess this is the same grade as the stuff used for “Cerebus”, but it seems even more fragile. The book is slightly smaller than the average comic. It’s only 24 pages, although since there’s no ads things do even out. Three dollars. Fortunately, upon thouroughly looking inside, there is sufficient value for your money.

I was right when I described the plan for this series the other day, but writer/artist Chester Brown’s introduction gives even more detail. Brown, you see, is working on a revised version of this story (which, as you might know, was his first longform work), to be released in a while as an original hardcover book. Or maybe not; Brown claims that “I’m not sure what I think of it at this point in time.” In order to get the ‘original’ work back in print in the meantime, this miniseries will reprint the entire contents of the 1992 edition of the “Ed the Happy Clown” collection (which is not to be confused with the smaller 1989 edition), with brand-new annotations by Brown himself in every issue, covering the entirety of the work. And that’s what’s going to provide the big draw for this new series, in my opinion.

The comics themselves this issue basically act as an appendix to Brown’s short story collection “The Little Man”, since all of them are self-contained and a few of them don’t even feature the title character. There’s six shorts, ranging in size from one to seven pages, all of them culled from the earliest minicomic version of Brown’s “Yummy Fur” in 1983-84; that seminal series eventually saw the serialization of many of Brown’s major works. But this early on, there’s a notable sense of improvisation, duly confirmed in Brown’s commentary which discusses his early attraction to surrealism. Thus, characters’ legs shatter for no reason, pygmies are dropped from airplanes to battle a rat infestation, masturbation-crazed squids squeeze scientists until their brains squirt out, an elderly janitor’s hand goes missing only to later show up under someone’s pillow, and Frankenstein’s Monster bursts in for no reason. Seriously: Brown claims he had no idea what to draw next at one point, so upon examination of his comics collection he settled on Frankenstein.

And through most of it wanders Ed, only desiring to make people happy, but usually reduced to tears by the cold, strange world. But these stories are fast and funny, and Brown’s off-the-cuff style is largely successful at providing amusing twists and queasy laffs (in one story, Ed is introduced screaming “AAAA! The void!” at off-panel horrors). And of course the art is lovely, though a bit looser than Brown’s later work (I’m not sure if much visual revision went into the 1992 book from whence this material was culled, but the look is still a lot more fluid and broadly caricature-prone than Brown circa 2005).

The annotations provide plenty of insight into Brown’s beginnings, and his feelings on an evolving approach to craft, pure ink drawings in early shorts giving way to preliminary penciled roughs in preparation for the final product. A tiny dedication at the end of one short prompts a lengthy anecdote about a fellow cartoonist friend of Brown’s who originally began the story, and how Brown (partially out of secret jealousy) convinced him to give up comics art, then began dating his girlfriend, who eventually convinced Brown to get into minicomics, which eventually brought about the fall of their own relationship as the artist’s career began to blossom. The story is funny and revealing, and it takes up enough space that Brown’s notes spill out onto the back cover until he literally runs out of room without covering the book’s last three stories. He promises to get to them next issue, and with material this strong, both vintage comics and explanatory prose, I’ll be there to see him pick things up.