In Review: Pencil Head #3

An engrossing tale that takes its readers through the joys and heartache of creating comic books.

The cover: Poodwaddle is continuing to have a terrible existence. As he stands minding his own business, a clumpy creature with a huge toothy mouth comes up behind him and wails out a QUACK! He thinks to himself that it’s a duck. It doesn’t look like a duck, but it could be because the creature came from his imagination. If an artist says this is a duck, isn’t it a duck? The reader has to accept the artist’s reality of what’s what. Because if it quacks like a duck…The subtitle for this issue is “Don’t believe everything you hear,” and that’s a good tagline for this cover by creator Ted McKeever. Overall grade: A

The story: The middle chapter of his saga opens with Poodwaddle in “the throes of creative constipation.” He doesn’t know what to draw or how to draw it. He considers many different styles, but remembers the words of a peer and begins to ink his work. After laboring over a page for some time and finishing, he looks upon his work and says, “It sucks.” He tears the page up in frustration and decides he has to get out of his room. The next day he goes to Cleveland Comics and runs into an unexpected friend. After talking with this individual he goes to see another friend, Alfie. As he’s waiting for the man, Poodwaddle is recognized in the hall and things don’t go well. What follows could be fact or fiction, because this series promises to be “mostly true.” Reading this book works on two different levels. The tale follows an illustrator who loves his profession, but has reached a point where he doesn’t know what to do with it: should he sell out or be true to himself? If Poodwaddle were allowed to work in isolation, without having to work with editors or other writers, he’d probably be okay. It’s the encounters with his peers that the book has its second level. The names have been changed but they’re close enough to real people in the comic book industry to be recognized. Is what Poodwaddle hears and encounters true? It’s hard to say. I hope these tales aren’t, but having been a hard core fan for almost four decades, one hears things, and some of those things are in this book. Even Poodwaddle is shocked by a story on Page 9. The final three pages touch base with the more fanciful elements of this story and a trio looks to be headed Poodwaddle’s way. This was a completely engrossing, though saddening, tale. Overall grade: A

The art: Ted McKeever’s skill as an artist are beyond question. He is able to create humor and sadness with an image. The first panel of the issue undoubtedly is the most accurate portrayal of a creator who has lost his muse, but knows he must still act. The second page is an excellent showcase of what McKeever is capable of, showing the same character drawn in six different styles, each giving a different flavor to the story. Poodwaddle’s frustration with his labors on Page 4 is palpable. The individuals that the artist encounters at Cleverland Comics are close enough to their real life counterparts to be recognizable, and when they have strong emotions, such as at the bottom of 6, their true natures are easily seen. The layout on Page 8 is great. It’s completely text heavy, but that’s the way it would be when someone who’s been in the industry for a long time is telling a story. The size of the illustration on the page is perfect for what’s being told. The most dominating character of the issue enters on Page 15, and without his being named I knew whom this character was modeled on. This character creates stress just with his presence, and his words will push a reader into an uncomfortable realm that will wish the character to be gone, just as those around him do. There’s a nice visual shout out on Page 20’s third panel to earlier work by McKeever. This moment then turns into a very dark reveal of the three elements headed Poodwaddle’s way. Perfectly beautiful and hideous visuals. Overall grade: A 

The letters: Narrations, sounds, dialogue, yells, menu text, signage, and exclamations constitute Ted McKeever’s letting work on this issue. His fonts can be powerful, such as the opening narration in an arrow, or painful, such as with the dialogue of the character from Page 15. Whatever he’s doing, it works. Overall grade: A

The final line: I can’t decide which is more horrendous: the life of Poodwaddle or the stories he hears and encounters? “Don’t meet your heroes” might be a message this issue, rather than “Don’t believe everything you hear” as two incidents have the title character feeling disappointed. What isn’t disappointing is this book, which is complete engrossing as it takes its readers through the joys and heartache of creating comic books. Overall grade: A

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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