Gutsman Comics Vol. 1

By Erik Kriek
128 pages, black and white
Co-Published by Oog & Blik and Top Shelf Productions

In the past decade or so, one of the trends I’ve embraced the most is the importing and publishing of comic books from different countries. It’s something that’s obviously been going on for quite some time, but the rate in which they’ve arrived in the English-language markets is certainly on the rise. Of course, it helps when your comic doesn’t have any actual dialogue, like Erik Kriek’s Gutsman Comics. This is a book where you certainly don’t need to know Dutch to get the full meaning of Kriek’s hysterically funny relationship drama comic.

Poor Gutsman. He’s all alone, thanks to a fight with his longtime girlfriend Tigra’s father. Now, aimlessly wandering the countryside, he tries to find comfort from both his artist friend, as well as his mother. But what he doesn’t know is that Tigra’s gaze might be wandering now that Gutsman is away…

Every time I thought I completely knew where Kriek was going with Gutsman Comics, it’s almost like he deliberately changed the rules to prove me wrong. This is an odd little book, with Gutsman wandering around in an outfit that looks a lot like Cyclops’s from the X-Men, to say nothing of Tigra and her family in their feline outfits. As the story progresses, it’s both very normal and very offbeat at the same time; Gutsman goes over to a friend’s house to unload his grief over Tigra leaving him… but the friend is in fact Gutsman Comics creator Kriek himself. Or, Gutsman goes home to see his mother, only to have a sudden revelation about his parentage revealed. There’s a certain air of innocence about it all as well, keeping a light and upbeat tone even as not-good-things happen to Gutsman and his friends. Maybe it’s in part due to Kriek’s decision to keep Gutsman Comics a wordless book, instead letting his characters communicate through pictograms rather than actual dialogue. It’s a clever way to both be able to have people talk to each other without breaking the “silent” rule.

Kriek’s art reminds me a lot of artists like Jay Stephens (Atomic City Tales) and Mike Allred (Madman, X-Force) with its smooth, clean lines. It’s almost an old-fashioned look to the series, with little domino masks for Gutsman’s parents, or the simple yet elegant outfits for Tigra’s family. A lot of the joy of Gutsman Comics comes from Kriek’s designs; in so many other hands, Tigra doing cartwheels would be a sleazy, T&A experience, but Kriek makes it feel sweet and light and completely natural. A lot of kudos also have to go to Kriek’s drawings of the pictograms that are used when characters talk to each other; because Kriek has turned their speech into drawings, they need to really convey their message and it does just that near-perfectly.

Gutsman Comics is nothing what I was expecting, but everything I was hoping for. It’s funny, it’s touching, and it’s a real delight to read. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of Kriek’s work before now, but I definitely am not going to make that mistake again. This is a blast from beginning to end; hopefully we’ll get a second volume before much longer. Highly recommended.

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