I am also a figure of action, in that I can't be moved without the aid of others.

Action Figure #1

I remember this one being announced a while ago - it was previewed in publisher Baboon Books’ Free Comic Book Day 2004 sampler A Bunch of Baboons. The company’s been around for close to a decade, actually; I recall someone at one of the shops that I frequented back when I lived farther up north showing me a copy of Baboon’s Petey (by Jeff Kilpatrick), so the name of the place has kind of stuck in my head.

Action Figure is a new series by Baboon founder Richard Marzelak, a longtime veteran of the toy and greeting card industry; he worked at Hasbro on the initial Americanization of the new Transformers line of toys, and later moved on to Hallmark. He’s also created some comics, like the two-issue late ‘90s series Bastard Tales. Action Figure is a bit more germane to the past, though; it’s a semi-autobiographical account of moments from the writer/artist’s life in the toy and card industries. Its milieu affords it some unique appeal, and it’s got a few nice flourishes of outright fantasy, but a healthy appreciation for wordy, low-key workplace comedy will be required.

It’s hard for me to not get reeled in by a comic that opens with a prologue that looks for all the world like a visual homage to Dave Berg of Mad Magazine fame, and that’s just what Marzelak seems to be doing in this issue - there’s something about the mannered postures of the characters and the drained shading and the typeset dialogue that coalesces to give off the feeling. The sequence actually details the events of an estate sale, in which all of Marzelak’s worldly possessions are snapped up by buyers following his death . A young couple discovers his journals, which proceed to reveal the actual comic to us. And it’s at times an ingratiating comic, executed in black, white, and red, though the lattermost is only deployed for the intrusion of fantasy on the everyday world. An early dream of flying is thus kissed entirely by red, and there’s a certain vigor to the art that brings to mind some of Rick Veitch’s sequences from Rare Bit Fiends.

But mostly the comic is thinly fictionalized workplace autobiography, in which young Marzelak toils at “Hasmark,” chats with friends, encounters annoyances, pines for both pretty women and fine assignments (like that new transforming robots line that’s coming in from Japan), and generally introduces us to his world. I tended to like the story better when Marzelak dialed down the amount of dialogue (there’s quite a bit of it, though Marzelak is skilled enough a designer that his pages never look terribly cluttered with words) and let his sleepy fantasies drift into his life; there’s a striking panel where Our Hero looking up from his drawing board, having just envisioned the characters he’s drafted going to war with swords and teeth, and all that’s left of his dream are red fantasy bloodstains on his shirt and desk.

Otherwise, there’s a lot of character introduction, joking about annoying bosses and coworkers, and other workplace comedy staples. Marzelak’s character art conveys the requisite feelings of angst and distraction decently, with a particular fondness for exaggerated facial expressions that will amuse some and annoy others (I think it works well, given the book’s tone - samples are here). I think what emerges primarily from all this day-in-the-life employment focus is the notion that working in an office devoted to toys and greeting cards in an artistic capacity isn’t all that different from many other offices, though I think it would be more useful to hit on the unique properties of such a workplace in future issues, as one would expect a fair amount of the interest would come from the particular time period and setting.

Fair enough material; you can order it (along with other titles) from Baboon Books’ online store.