Review by Fiona Jerome
Der Struwwelmaakies is the fourth Fantagraphics collection of this daily strip series by mysterious penman Tony Millionaire. Millionaire grew up reading old newspaper strips by the likes of Herriman, Crane and Feininger. In college he mixed a love of the draughting skills of traditional American newspaper strip artists with some of the sensibilities of the American Underground, particularly the more gross and extreme creators like S. Clay Wilson and Spain Rodriguez – although his visual style is much closer to Robert Crumb in its finesse.
His debt to greats like Windsor McCay and George Herriman is evident in every line he draws and the eclectic and often challenging cast of characters whose adventures he chronicles. Maakies is certainly a very adult strip although its humour is often puerile, and by this stage in the strip’s history it was becoming increasingly crass and scatological (if that were possible), as Millionaire added new wrinkles to his basic roster of stories.
In Millionaire’s rather grim universe the characters repeat the same actions over and over again, never learning their lesson, like Charlie Brown with that football. Millionaire has created an especially memorable pair of characters in Drinky Crow, a huge eyed, cute looking bird with an alcohol problem and suicidal tendencies, and Uncle Gabby, an equally addicted ape, both of whom are crew members on what can only be described as a dysfunctional pirate ship run by the brutish Captain Maak. It’s an approach to modern humour you’ll find hilarious or it’ll leave you cold, mixing extreme behaviour with bathos and yet somehow retaining an elusive sense of the romance of the high seas. This tiny, distant possibility, in a world turned to crap, is like a pinprick of light on the horizon and makes all the awful things that happen seem even worse, if that were possible.
As with previous collections, Der Struwwelmaakies features strips showcasing a broad cast of absurdist characters, mixing acerbic commentary on the world with delightful visual gags such as the one in which Uncle Gabby is bemused to find his model boat has been ‘rigged’ by a spider with its webs. This occasional softening and diverting of the tide of bile present in most Maakies strips gives the collection balance.
The Maakies collections are beautifully produced in an extended landscape format, to present the strips in original, single bites. Hardcover, with tasteful bindings and cover designs that reflect the children’s stories the title references, in this case Heinrich Hoffman’s Der Strewwelpeter, they are things of beauty to own.