Review: The Lizard Laughed, by Noah Van Sciver

(I’m recovering from TCAF, which was this weekend. I got plenty of great comics, but I haven’t had any time to read them yet, so this review is from work I read prior to the show. It was great to meet so many talented artists and publishers!)

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A long-standing relationship is like a worn-in baseball glove – your fingers fit smoothly and effortlessly into grooves that have been defined by use, over and over again. Even if that glove isn’t a great glove, you still understand the way you feel with it on. But what about the new relationship, the one you were supposed to have, but never did? Noah Van Sciver takes on the concept in The Lizard Laughed, and the result is something more splintered and raw.

The Lizard Laughed is a 28-page risograph mini from Oily Press that came out as part of their Spring 2014 bundle. The comic itself is black and white printed on yellow paper (black and yellow?), but has a lux 2-color riso cover in blue that really pops.

The comic details the shambling, directionless life of Harvey, a deadbeat dad who abandoned his wife and 9 year-old son Nathan at a younger age, and comes face-to-face with his now adult son. Nathan meets Harvey at the bus stop “on his way through New Mexico”, and the rest is an exercise of mounting tension and the inevitable payoff at the end.

Undeniably, Harvey drags his past with him, and uses it both as a crutch and a weapon. His misguided attempts to connect with his son often end up doing the opposite. Nathan shares that his mother has died, and within a span of hours, Harvey is talking about her sex appeal. He abdicates all responsibility for the troubles that Nathan and his mother had after Harvey ran out. How wretched is a man that gives relationship advice to the son he walked away from?

At one point, it almost feels as though Van Sciver is breaking the fourth wall – Nathan looks into the camera and says “unbelievable” in response to the New Mexico view – but I don’t think it is Harvey’s story he is amazed at.

The title of the book comes from an apocryphal tale Harvey tells about a peculiarly shaped rock formation at the end of the trail. There’s an interesting correlation between Harvey’s story and his own personal life that is clear, but not overstated.

It’s also clear that Nathan has his issues. His insecurity and anger is very clear. The damage is very clear. But Van Sciver moves the narrative in such a way that makes me feel that, unlike his father, Nathan can escape the self-destructive path he has chosen. But as Harvey spends this encounter blowing his shot at redemption, it’s clear that The Lizard Laughed is the end of the line for these two characters.

Noah Van Sciver blogs at Van Sciver Comics, and his newest book, Youth is Wasted, is being published by AdHouse books this Summer. You can find a PDF preview of the book here. You can get  a copy of The Lizard Laughed from the Oily Comics shop here, and see more Oily Comics at snakeoily.

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