Malinky Robot: Stinky Fish Blues

By Sonny Liew
24 pages, black and white
Published by Red Robot Productions

What the heck is a Malinky Robot? I’ve got no idea. Reading Malinky Robot: Stinky Fish Blues didn’t help. I’ve heard three or four (contradictory) theories as to just what a Malinky Robot might be. All I know for certain is that whatever the answer is, you don’t need it to enjoy Sonny Liew’s Xeric Grant-winning comic.

Atari and Oliver are two kids who wander the streets of a run down city. This isn’t a normal day, though. Oh no, it’s a stinky day. What’s causing the stink, though? Is it Mister Issi’s fish market? Or is it because as Mister Bon Bon tells them, the “stinky fish” (polonius filius) that eats human waste in the water supply has gone extinct? And most importantly, what are Atari and Oliver going to do about it? It is, after all, a very stinky day.

Liew’s story in Malinky Robot: Stinky Fish Blues doesn’t so much progress as it meanders, but that’s half of the charm. With a rambling, stream-of-consciousness style of plotting, we watch and learn about Atari, Oliver, and their world as they deal with it being a stinky day. In some ways it reminded me a lot of the writing in children’s books, with an innocent outlook on the world around them. At the same time, there’s a very worldly view of their situation, with Atari and Oliver wondering if they’d be able to go to school instead of having to get put to work like everyone else in their ghetto. This is a quiet, sweet story and I really want to see more written by Liew and soon.

The art in Malinky Robot: Stinky Fish Blues is rendered entirely in rough pencils, with guidelines still present and ink nowhere in sight. Normally I love this style of art, but it’s a little frustrating here because it felt like the pencils didn’t always reproduce at the printer as strongly as they needed to. There are some pages which look perfect, where it’s very easy to see what’s going on, and then others where I found myself squinting at the panel to see just what was going on in the backgrounds, or exactly what Liew’s very, very small lettering was saying. The character designs here are fantastic, though, from Atari’s spiked cap to the top-heavy Mister Bon Bon and the scraggly-looking stinky fish. It’s almost as if Bill Plympton and Mike Kunkel merged their creative styles into a single individual. Slight printing hiccups aside, this is one fine-looking book.

I read elsewhere that Liew is working on a mini-series for Vertigo/DC Comics, and this makes me happy because it means that more people will get to see Liew’s genius at work. Until then, though, Malinky Robot: Stinky Fish Blues will have to do. The Xeric Foundation picks far more hits than misses for their grants to aid self-publishers, and this is definitely one of the hits. While waiting for the promised Malinky Robot: Bicycle, I’ll probably re-read this one over and over again—and love it every time.

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