Graphic Novel Recommendation: Johnny the Homicidal Maniac!
It pleases me greatly, Comic Booked readers, to bring you our latest recommendation: Johnny The Homicidal Maniac! This book has had the biggest impact on my life, changing my outlook on comic books and humor alike. Before reading this I wasn’t aware that there were companies other than Marvel and DC. I didn’t know about indie comics and the freedom they had to be as insane and inventive as possible. Now, I’m not saying that I wore black, painted my nails and started hating the world. It didn’t change my personality, but it did break down a barrier I had with trying new and different comics and I haven’t looked back since. The first time I read it was actually the trade paperback, the artwork jumped out to me so I picked it up. Having been a fan of Invader Zim, I thought something about it seemed familiar. Sure enough, it turned out that both were the work of the same mad genius: Jhonen Vasquez.
The story follows Johnny C. (or Nny as he is called by his imaginary friends), a skinny and sickly twenty-something who lives alone save for two pastry doughboy cut outs (Mr Eff and Psycho-Doughboy) and a dead bunny nailed to the wall, affectionately called Nail Bunny. He lives next door to a small boy named Todd, who he routinely terrifies. He is a former artist who now doodles stick figure drawings for the criminally insane and homeless. We follow Nny on his daily struggles of staving of depressed, suicidal rages brought on by Psycho-Doughboy, and the volatile murder sprees he indulges with glee, usually at the behest of Mr. Eff. Nail Bunny serves as the voice of his conscience, but is often silenced by the doughboys.
At first, we simply see Nny going on various killing sprees or torturing his victims at his home. Though it appears small on the outside, Nny’s house in fact contains many levels filled with innumerable torture chambers. Most of his victims beg for their lives, which amuses him slightly, though there are days when the noise gets on his nerves. Every once in a great while he meets someone who challenges his philosophy. Edgar Vargas is just such a man, and one for whom Johnny has a great deal of respect.
As the doughboys seem to gain more strength, Nny’s grip on reality becomes progressively looser. He feels as if everything is falling apart around him. Worse yet, he commits atrocities in broad daylight, or in a taco shop and never gets caught. He tries to commit suicide repeatedly to no avail. He confides in Nail Bunny that he may be immortal. Nail Bunny warns him that the doughboys are trying to control him and he lashes out. Nny tries his hand at dating, a cute bookstore clerk named Devi, but as with everything else in his life, it ends very violently, but this time, on his end.
He kidnaps Tess, a young woman trying to fit in with the goth culture, and Dillion, her boyfriend who happens to be in a band. After making a ruckus during Johnny’s favorite movie, they awake in his house where he begins their torture. There, they meet Krik, who is the epitome of misogyny. Johnny is afraid of a creature that may or may not be living on the other side of his wall. As Johnny becomes more disconnected from the world, he laments that he does not want to be controlled by some unseen force and chooses the only solution possible, killing himself. Krik gets free and rescues Tess as a creature breaks free, and they run for their lives.
Johnny journeys through both the worlds of Heaven and Hell looking for answers, and realizes that spirits from both planes can be incredibly rude, and certainly not above his brand of attitude adjustment. After lengthy discussions with both God and the Devil, Johnny is left even more confused than when he started. He then awakens in his house, to what either is a spiritual rebirth, or an insane nightmare. He now has a new life to look forward to, and may even change his murderous rage. Or maybe not…
The trade paperback, includes all seven issues of Johnny, minus the filler from the individual issues. The trade is notable for including the entire run of Happy Noodle Boy, a comic within the comic written by Johnny himself. The humor is rich and satirical, lashing out against pop culture, goth culture, the media, and anything else Jhonen sees fit to attack. The violence is brutal and chaotic, and can be well over the top, but it always seems necessary to the story. Johnny seems to be the typical tortured, intellectual artist, at least until the murdering starts. Although he appears sympathetic, you can never really empathize with him, because his every recourse is to murder those he doesn’t agree with. Once he learns his place in the world, he truly goes off the deep end. One thing I’ll say about the plot is that it reminds me somewhat of Donnie Darko. I don’t want to spoil anything, but if you’d like my interpretation you are welcome to email me.
The black and white artwork is amazing, and the way Vasquez illustrates the pages really make them jump to life. So many subtleties are placed in the art. Half of the jokes come from the background images, movie posters, character reactions, throw away word bubbles, sometimes even the borders themselves. Not content with just having a crazy comic in hand, the borders are mostly jagged edges and spell out phrases and words that are jokes in themselves. There is so much crammed into each panel that I’ve had to read it through at least five times to catch everything. The remaining hundred-plus times were all for fun.
As I mentioned earlier, the trade (specifically, the director’s cut) includes a bonus in the form of Happy Noodle Boy. Happy Noodle Boy is the comic created by Johnny C. as his last bastion of creativity. It is a hit with the homeless insane. There is no plot, simply panel after panel of pure insanity. The stories follow the titular character, a stick figure who spots out nonsensical ramblings to anyone who will listen, even inanimate objects.
Johnny the Homicidal Maniac is one of the most clever and inventive books I’ve read in a long while. Fans of dark humor and satire will love this story. But make no mistake, this title is very much for mature audiences, so you may want to keep the young ones away. You should be able to find this at your local comic book shop, at various online retailers, or even through the publisher, Slave Labor Graphics.