Chad Agamemnon (2017) #1

Chad Agamemnon  2017  1

This first issue is, sadly, the only issue of Chad Agamemnon. Creator Nowak wrote and drew the book for the Ann Arbor Public Library and, whatever the arrangement, it wasn’t feasible for the book to continue.

A bummer, because it’s charming as all heck.

The titular Chad is a young wizard in exile, cast to the mortal realm, where people either don’t believe in magic or are completely indifferent to it (well, there’s the single dude who’s indifferent to it, everyone else is unaware). Chad’s got some binding bracelets to keep his powers down, which means he has to do things for himself.

He goes to live at a co-op with a bunch of other teenagers slash adult young adults and has to do things like help cook and weed the garden and be pleasant to his new roommates. He comically fails at all of it, sometimes because he can’t utilize his magic, sometimes—the times with the roommates—because he’s just a dick.

We get some insight in what’s brought him to Earth, with him composing a letter to his father in his head during a walk around—natch—Ann Arbor. Turns out Chad was just as big of a dick back in magic world but he’s trying to make friends. It helps someone offers him a bratwurst because they don’t have bratwurst in magic land.

The issue ends on the morning of Chad’s second day in the house, with a profoundly lovely scene between Chad, one of the roommates, and her guinea pig. See, Chad still can still communicate with familiars so he’s able to get the guinea pig’s real take on things. What makes the scene ever more interesting—and why it’s too bad there isn’t a follow-up—is the roommate can’t know Chad’s using the magic communications, so she’s going to think its his message, albeit with some cushioning.

There’s not a lot of detail to Nowak’s art—she’s got a heavy brush and the art has a great flow.

Like I said… real bummer this one didn’t get to continue.

To Be Seen (2014)

To Be Seen  2014

To Be Seen is this lyrical piece about an unnamed female tween narrator and her life at a particular time. There are six vignettes in the comic, with most of them echoing throughout others.

The strips are gentle, sometimes funny, sometimes scary—Nowak captures that period where in childhood where you’re figuring out the world isn’t what you thought but you also aren’t able to describe these new observations because you don’t have the vocabulary. There’s this great part about how the world is only ever two things—here and there—and its simultaneously giant and tiny. It’s just great. Especially with the expressions on the narrator’s face as she thinks through the big ideas.

But it also feels a little like a Peanuts homage—there’s a mysterious hole in the ground and it seems very much like a kite-eating tree and something about the lettering; there might even be a mention of it. I mean, there’s definitely a mention of “peanuts” but it’s unclear if it’s Peanuts or not. The narrator goes home to keep the kids who are in the TV company and someone on screen can’t eat peanuts. Nowak phrases it much better, profoundly better. Most of the comic just flows, but there are occasional great lines.

The narrator also has some bad dreams and, similarly to how she’s learning to comprehend the universe, she’s also learning to understand her dreams and why nightmares can utterly lack logic. But she can’t describe it, not even to herself. She doesn’t have the words.

There are some great other details, like the stuffed animals the narrator brings around with her. They serve different functions, the cat and the bunny, and Nowak does a great job implying what one’s presence or absence means for the narrator’s state of mind.

It’s a lovely little book, kind of haunting, but also not really. Haunting is a heavy term in a way To Be Seen isn’t heavy. To Be Seen is learning the world isn’t really magic but it’s kind of better for not being. Or something.

Great art too. The expressions on the protagonist are phenomenal.

Duh, Ha-Ha (2019)

Duh! Ha-Ha

Duh Ha-Ha is quick and lyrical. The nameless narrator sets up the ground situation in a page; she’s a listless early twenty-something who works in restaurant of some kind, probably not a chain. Her boss gives her a ride home and she thinks about what would happen if she his old bones. Would his gratitude outweigh his anger? Not a lot of time for the narrator to think about it because when they get to their destination, a staff party the boss is paying for (hence why I can’t believe it’s a chain), the younger guy next to her starts chatting her up.

And old boss man doesn’t like it, which convinces the now drunk narrator to come on strong to stranger guy, leading to a moderately big reveal—except creator Casey Nowak doesn’t want to tell the story of how that moderately big reveal affects anything. Instead, she moves on to the narrator just talking about her relationship with the guy, who becomes a (decent) boyfriend, which adds to the lyrical quality.

Nowak’s art is good, her sense of visual pacing is superb—the way she’s able to get past the expectation of a reveal exploration comes with a white text on black panel jump ahead, but also on the effectiveness of the postscript, where Ha-Ha becomes more about the narrator in the relationship than anything earlier had been about the narrator.

Nowak’s also a master of the abrupt ending. When the comic stops, you expect there to be more, but when there isn’t… the stop point makes all the more sense. It’s not groundbreaking, but for a twelve-page indie comic, there’s not much more you could ask for than Duh Ha-Ha.

Nowak’s Girl Town

Girl Town is haunted. Far more than it is haunting. Creator Casey Nowak often cuts right before it gets haunting, instead its cast is haunted. Town collects five different stories. At least two of them deal with heartache. Two of them deal with nonspecific ache. One of them is potential literature but in the modern podcast, fandom era.

Nowak has some similar themes and visuals. She’s got this “roofs off” shot she does into houses. Sometimes it’s for establishing shots, sometimes it’s for scene. Usually it’s establishing shots. Theme-wise, things are often in a near future of some sort. The first story has space being colonized and attractive women left behind on Earth instead of getting to go into space. The third story—by far the longest one (sort of the “feature”)—is about a woman getting a sex robot who proves, just like the T-800, to be the only one who measures up (no, not that way). Those two stories, the futuristic realism ones, are the two heartache stories. The first one—the first story in the collection—ends with this really awesome, really weird move from Nowak where she changes things up at the last minute, staying truer to the character than reader expectation.

It helps set the tone for the rest of the book. Like the second story, which has an unexpected finish as well. It’s a little bit more magical realism than futuristic; there are some mundane fantastics in it, but no specific sci-fi tech. The second story is really good too. Town just keeps getting better until the sex robot feature; after it, the intensity of the read changes. The fourth story is that aforementioned potential literature one. It’s all about these two podcasters who get their hands on a copy of a rare vampire TV movie from the early nineties. It’s got a cult following, even though no one has seen it since it first aired. It works out to be a really nice, really assured story. Different from everything else, but a nice show of range.

Then the finale is an encore of the quiet devastation Nowak does earlier. The last story has no futurism, no magic. It’s just about sadness and memory. The characters are so layered—Nowak’s got these aching leads opposite powerful, confident love interests and friends—and the finish to the story just makes the whole book ache. Just like the first story’s ending reverberates through the rest of the read, the last reveal shoots it back to the front. Girl Town is a literal mood.

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