In the title story of Nick Maandag’s new collection, Harvey Knight is Assistant-to-the-Master of the Solarists, a religious sect founded on the premise of light versus dark, sun versus moon. Solarists walk about the streets of Toronto in nothing but black g-strings, attend church meetings before sharing communal sunbeds, and vow to murder any “Shadowmen” they come across. Harvey, bobble-skulled and ostensibly loyal to the cause, harbours plans to replace the Master. So begins his “odyssey,” an erratic tour through Maandag’s alternative world where owls – creatures of the dreaded night – are eaten at the dinner table, and the musical Harvey and the Amazingly Multi-Hued Human Flesh Coat, is played to an audience of hundreds.
Harvey Knight’s Odyssey Drawn & Quarterly
Harvey Knight’s Odyssey
Drawn & Quarterly
Harvey Knight’s tale is, however, arguably the least successful sequence of the collection. In “The Plunge,” for example, the absurdities build up against a mundane office backdrop. Following a fictionalized Nick Maandag after he decides to buy himself a French coffee press to use at work, “The Plunge” is a fantastic play on daily anxieties. “I wonder if people will think this is pretentious,” Nick wonders, on his first day using the press at the office. But after convincing himself that nobody will in fact care, everybody does. The plunge of the coffee press eventually develops into an office ritual, in which every single employee fills into Nick’s cubicle to watch. Here, no panel or close-up of a bemused character’s expression is wasted.
The trouble with “Harvey Knight’s Odyssey” is not that the jokes and sight gags aren’t funny, but that they’re executed in an entirely absurd world. By the end of the book, Harvey’s egoistic, murderous tendencies seem less strange than the ritualized coffee plunge. The last story, “Full Day,” returns to Maandag, who finds himself caught up in an endless series of irritations, each one funnier than the last. It is in these quiet, uncomfortable stories that Maandag’s natural comedic timing, and his ear for dialogue that is both true to life and completely disarming, have the space to breathe.mRb