Harvey Knight’s Odyssey

Writer / Artist
Harvey Knight’s Odyssey
Harvey Knight's Odyssey review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Drawn and Quarterly - 978-1-77046-632-6
  • Release date: 2023
  • Format: Black and white
  • UPC: 9781770466326
  • Contains adult content?: yes
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no
  • CATEGORIES: Humour

There’s a healthy sense of the absurd about Nick Maandag’s comics, and a straw poll indicates you’ll either tune into that and revel in his taking a ridiculous idea and running with it, or it’ll entirely pass you by. The first of three strips exemplifies the method, concerning a man figuring he’s paying too much for substandard coffee, so brings his french press into the office (that’s a cafitiere for UK readers). His co-workers are curious, so he describes the process and his reasoning, and more and more people gather each morning for the ritual of the plunge, as he pushes the rod down compressing the ground coffee.

A few other touches escalate what basically serves as the definition of the shaggy dog story, where the beauty is in the telling, not the result or the climax, or anti-climax. However, that’s just Maandag’s warm-up exercise.

He ramps up the dry absurdity with the title story of a fringe religious sect believing everyone is born half dark and half light, but the percentage of light can be increased by exposure to sunlight. A crisis begins when the sect leader’s personal tanning bed is stolen. He turns the investigation over to his assistant Harvey Knight, who begins a nutty escalation of nonsensical techniques. It’s sustained over sixty pages with Maandag’s simple matter of fact style, with hilarious homo-erotic imagery and dialogue presented as if innocent. In any other type of story Harvey’s revelations as his memory comes back to him would be irritating contrivance, but here they meet the intention of well dropped comical effect.

However, just as the comedy is sometimes hidden, Maandag has some comments to make about organised religion’s capacity for shaping reality to their needs, gullibility, and how self-reinforcement in isolation fosters delusion. The format also permits diversions into other silliness, such as a parable about a man with two heads, speculations as to what paradise is like and the surreal experience of ‘Harvey and the Amazingly Multi-Hued Flesh Coat’, complete with song and dance number.

It’s a return to office life for the final strip, this time the accumulation of petty annoyances that destroy any sense of well being, often in the name of efficiency. Maandag supplies a labyrinthine path of interviewers attempting to solicit precision from vagueness, and runs another parable, this time a twisted avoidance of responsibility for people leaving the company. The day turns increasingly surreal as the put-upon office worker manages to remain calm in circumstances that would drive others to violence. Of course, most humour is based on the misfortune of others, and anyone who’s ever worked in an office will recognise the pattern of annoyances if not the specifics.

As in his previous book The Follies of Richard Wadsworth, Maandag bookends the trio of stories with pages of single tier gag strips, all funny, and several obscene. Tune into his sense of humour and this is another well-textured, rewarding experience offering several laugh out loud moments.