Let’s be honest : at this point a person could commit an entire blog to reviewing nothing but quarantine-centric diary comics, simply because so many cartoonists are filling their own blogs with quarantine-centric diary comics themselves. Which is, of course, to be expected given present(-ish) circumstances — but it also means that it’s getting more and more difficult for any particular cartoonist’s quarantine work to stand out from the pack, simply because there’s a real glut of this kind of stuff out there.
Fellow Twin Cities resident Lance Ward needn’t worry, however — autobio has always been his “jam,” as the young folks said a few years back (when they were even younger — but then, so were all of us), and diary comics are often just short-form autobio strips in and of themselves. What makes his new collection of them, A Good Man’s Brother, a bit different than his previous efforts, though, is that rather than concentrating entirely on material that’s either unique to him (as he does in the pages of Flop Sweat) or to those in recovery (as he did in last year’s Blood And Drugs), much of the contents here are pretty well universal, as the physical, mental, and emotional ups and downs of a more isolated, or at the very least socially distant, life are things that almost everyone can relate to at this point.
Ward sets the stage with a bit of pre-COVID stuff, both to help set a tone and to introduce certain life circumstances that will become more pronounced once the lockdown hits, but by and large the bulk of this material was created between late March and early May 2020, so we’re dealing with a tight, hermetic time frame that most of us won’t require too much by way of recall prowess to bring back to the forefront of our minds — and who are we kidding? It’s not like that much has changed between then and now. And yet —
Reading this in the here and now really does plant you firmly back in the then, and while Ward (no surprise) starts things off with daily (or thereabouts) strips about life in his (and our) then-new reality, in due course the effects of a locked down life take precedence over the specifics, and this is actually when things get more interesting : as the pandemic becomes a constant feature of life (hell, the constant feature of life) rather than something to adjust to on the fly, its presence is actually felt even more acutely. Ward responds duly, keeping his creativity sharp by splitting his attentions and following his muse in equal measure. “A Day In The Life”-type content recedes into the background a bit, then, in favor of parodies of “Sunday Funnies”-style strips, a recurring “Diary Input” done on his computer (or tablet, I dunno), annotated sketchbook illustrations, even philosophical musings. There’s still plenty going on that’s about the vagaries of the “COVID mindset,” but more and more what we’re presented with are strips that are the result of it.
Likewise, Ward’s drawing style morphs in accordance with his interests, his trademark heavy linework occasionally finding itself shuffled aside in order to experiment with finely-detailed illustration, classically-influenced cartooning, rapid-fire scrawling, and some time-saving stuff that’s uniform in appearance, sure, but entirely apropos for its subject matter. Obviously, some pages are more successfully-realized than others, but that’s the nature of diary comics even absent a pandemic — and the remarkable thing is that they’re all partially successful to at least one degree or another.
By the time all is said and done, it’s clear that Ward himself is still navigating his way through the morass that is the contemporary world, and even through his reactions to it — including the idea of making comics about it — but just about any artist worth following is usually questioning anything and everything, including themselves and the value (therapeutic or otherwise) of their work. It’s that fearlessness and honesty that Ward displays, then — not just when it comes to dealing with the pandemic, but with issues that will surely outlast it — that ensures that, although quarantine comics will be with us for as long as the quarantine is, in years to come, when I feel the need to remind myself what all of this was like, this is the one I’ll turn to.
Lance Ward is selling A Good Man’s Brother via Amazon’s (sorry) print-on-demand program. You can order one up for $10.00 by going to https://www.amazon.com/Good-Mans-Brother-Lance-Ward/dp/B08BWCBMGN
Review wrist check – Tsao Baltimore “Torsk Diver” green dial model riding an Ocean Crawler black-and-orange NATO strap.