Review by Frank Plowright
Barry Loser novels have been thrilling kids since 2012, and the formula is no secret, but requires the talent and imagination of Jim Smith. He feeds a smutty irreverence into surreal nonsense plots with a recurring cast of dim and troublesome children. Smith’s simple illustrations are liberally scattered throughout the series of children’s books, so testing the waters with a Barry Loser graphic novel isn’t a vast step, and Total Winner! provides the same high percentage of laughs and sniggers as the earlier work.
Barry is no loser, just a kid stuck with an unfortunate name, Barry Gary Larry Loser to provide it in full, and therefore constantly having to defend himself from teasing. However, while that was a greater part of earlier stories, Smith has moved on to let his surrealistic sense of humour take over. Total Winner! relates the time Barry changed his nose, shows him and his pals capturing yawns, and the horror of the combined birthday party. Barry’s life reflects reality, but with a twist, so his favourite Twidl game is Leaf Blower, which requires guiding a falling leaf to a pile of other leaves. When a hundred are collected they can be exchanged for a bug spray to wipe out insects eating the leaves. It’s laugh out loud parody for adults that’ll sweep over kids’ heads.
Barry narrates his own books, which are written and scrawled as if representing his diary or notebook, and Smith populates the pages with footnotes and arrows explaining matters, and his viewpoint is hilarious. The simplicity is deceptive, as a lot of thought has gone into both story and art, and it’s difficult to imagine the joy and chaos better realised as comics.