Writer: W. Maxwell Prince
Artists: Vanesa R. Del Rey and Chris O’Halloran
W. Maxwell Prince, best known for Ice Cream Man, is one of the most creative voices in comics. His writing pushes the comic book format to its limits and leaves a lasting effect on the reader. In this book, he teams up with Vanesa R. Del Rey, who is best known for her work on Redlands, and Ice Cream Man’s very own Chris O’Halloran. This one-shot issue has an amazing lineup of talent and that does not disappoint.
Considering Ice Cream Man is comprised of one-shot issues, it was exciting to hear that Haha #1 would be a self-contained story. However, while Ice Cream Man deceives you with seemingly innocent setups and friendly artwork, they usually lead to a heart-wrenching conclusion. Haha #1 is almost the reverse – from the cover you expect a hard and frightening story. Del Rey’s cover is eerie and captivating – it’s hard to look away but you feel the danger in the clown’s face. Once you start reading the book, however, the story almost seems innocent. That’s not to say it doesn’t get dark, you just aren’t given the clown you saw on the cover. It feels like a W. Maxwell Prince story but has a definite twist on the Ice Cream Man formula.
Additionally, the story hits on some ideas harder than most issues of Ice Cream Man. It may have similar architecture but each idea is written in bold. The nihilistic undertones that the main character, Bartelby, is constantly fighting against weight heavy on the reader. At times you take pity on him and hope he gives into them but he never fully does. He keeps an optimistic attitude out of fear of what would happen if he didn’t. Without getting into spoilers, it is easy to draw parallels between the predicament of Bartelby and some struggles of comic book creators.
Del Rey’s artwork in this issue is incredible, I found myself flipping back through the issue just to get a look at the pages. Her technical ability is undeniable but she comes through strongest with her imaginative depiction of the world. Dark sketchy houses surrounded by wild and spiraling trees set an unforgettable scene. And the way Del Rey melts panels together creates a unique narrative flow.
Chris O’Halloran’s coloring does a great job at complimenting her style. The deep shadows and textures add to the twisted but honest tone. It took me a while to find a single panel without solid black in the shadows. The deeply disturbed colors make the bright clown pop off the page. The lettering in this book is by another friend of Ice Cream Man, Good Old Neon (which his actual credited name). While his lettering doesn’t get too crazy it certainly adds plenty to the issue. The placement guides the reader, furthering the flow that Vanesa R. Del Rey started. His use of bold and italics help convey the character’s intent, something a lot of comics throw in haphazardly.
Needless to say, this issue is a must-read for fans of Ice Cream Man. However, those who could not get into that series should still give this book a read. The aesthetic created by the stylized art and carnival motifs will hook most readers. With any luck, this issue will be a great gateway into Prince’s other series for many new readers.
Captivating story, wonderful art, and altogether a memorable issue.