Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 37: Stray Toasters #3
Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to a single artist. First up: Bill Sienkiewicz! Today’s page is from Stray Toasters #3, which was published by Marvel (under their Epic line) and is cover dated 1988. Enjoy!
I’m going to be honest with you, friends. I haven’t read Stray Toasters, Bill Sienkiewicz’s whacked-out masterpiece, in probably 20 years, since I first acquired it, and I’m not sure I understood it then. I’ll get around to re-reading it someday, but that doesn’t mean we can’t check out the first page of “Model Three,” as this issue is labeled, and see what’s what. Plus, it’s so goddamned gorgeous that I’m not sure if it matters whether I get it. This is pure, unadulterated Sienkiewicz, right at the moment he became too freakin’ avant-garde for mainstream comics, and it’s glorious.
Look at that page there. Seriously, what the fuck? We get a cubist painting in the center of a man hiding his eyes, a man who looks almost simian. Sienkiewicz’s insane coloring makes no sense, but it doesn’t have to, man! The relative size of the painting in the middle of the stark white makes it stand out even more, sucking us in until we can’t escape. Never mind the scrawling around the frame of the painting. Jim Novak lettered this, but I have a feeling this is all Sienkiewicz, and it’s even more disturbing than the painting. We have the doctor, “M. Violet,” with his/her twisted writing, making us think that the doctor might be not all there even before we realize what he/she is writing. The incessant tic-tac-toe, the reminder to get a sharp blade, the creepy notes at the bottom (let’s do unnecessary surgery, let’s restructure the patient’s will, let’s practice human emotions in front of a mirror!) – all of these tell us of a person not in their right mind. The fact that “M. Violet” is a doctor does not fill us with confidence.
Does this page make the reader want to continue? Beats me. It’s the third issue of a four-issue series, so perhaps that’s not the point. Sienkiewicz is way beyond the pale with this series, and I suppose he doesn’t really care if you follow or not. I imagine his work with Frank Miller not too long before this meant he had some pull with Marvel, so he just did what he wanted. The image itself is disturbing enough that I can’t believe it wouldn’t pique everyone’s curiosity – just what the hell is going on here? But then again, I find this kind of comic art hauntingly beautiful. Your tastes may vary!
One final thought: Marvel published this. MARVEL PUBLISHED THIS. Sure, it was under the Epic line, but still … MARVEL. PUBLISHED. THIS. Man, times have changed.
Next: Our final day of Sienkiewicz first pages. It’s totally not what you think, suckers!