Are we this far into 2008?

Hickee Vol. 3, #3

(this lil' thing first appeared in The Comics Journal #286, Nov. 2007; I broke up the paragraphs more and added new images for the online version)

There’s a nice little story by Scott Campbell in the latest issue of this continuing humor anthology. It’s called Gladiating, and sees two pals in archetypical Ancient Roman times attend a gladiatorial event. They speak in cheesy, period-inappropriate slang, buy concession snacks, etc. A full 1/3 of the six-page short is spent illustrating the combatants in the main event, ranging from such classics as a guy with a mace and a guy with a trident, to a man wearing the top of a tank and a man carrying a potted plant.

Eventually the obligatory ‘guy holding a net’ somehow wins, leading to a frenzy of underdog-supporting enthusiasm. One of the pals buys lots of merchandise, and gets the surviving “net dude” to fill out an autograph. The net dude mentions he’s happy he won, since it means he gets to go free. The pals are happy to meet him, but they don’t really understand what freedom means to him, or possibly at all. “I am going to frame the crap out of this.”

It’s cute. Very simple, very light, but it makes its point in a fast and attractive manner, filling some space with modest, effective visual flare without losing any humor value. It’s also, somewhat unfortunately, the peppiest thing in this particular issue. None of the contributors are especially lacking in funny picture skill, mind you - Graham Annable and Nathan Stapley in particular are good command of visual nuance and panel-by-panel pacing.

But the skits and sketches in this Hickee are low-key to the point of spontaneous memory loss on the reader’s part, which seems odd to say about a book featuring chainsaw dismemberments and competitive face-farting, but that’s how it is. Several of the contributions give off the feeling of rejected Mad or Nickelodeon Magazine pitches, the sort of material that might seem better if shored up by more varied (if not substantial) surrounding content, which is lacking here. Did we really need two board game parodies? Maybe the cartooning aptitude here will be enough for some to lay down three bucks, but others may wish there’d been enough good stuff to carry the fair.